Station wagons are as old as the automotive industry. They were born as work vehicles to transport goods. Over the years, they became the perfect mobility solution for families who wanted the comfort of a sedan, but with more cargo space.
They gained market share in North America and then in Europe. Today, however, you'll hardly see one in the streets. That is, with the exception of the Old Continent
The fate of station wagons – or estates in the UK and break in France – began to change when the first minivans were introduced. The enthusiasm faded in the US market, just as it never really took off in most Asian markets. However, Europe continues to be a safe haven, even though these long-roof family machines have clearly lost their appeal due to the growing popularity of SUVs.
64 Percent Of Global Station Wagon Sales Are In Europe
Even though their sales volume dropped by 20 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year, demand for station wagons in Europe is by far the highest in the world. Volume represented nearly two-thirds of all global sales at 64 percent, with just over 1 million units sold out of 1.6 million total.
In fact, Europe is the market in which station wagons have recorded their highest market share in passenger car sales. Last year they accounted for 8.3 percent of the volume. Not bad considering the stiff competition from SUVs.
The rest of the world bought 574,000 station wagons last year, up 4 percent. Sales in the United States and Canada were 183,000 units, down 4 percent. The third largest market was Russia and the former Soviet republics with 140,000 units, up 4 percent. Traditional Lada wagons are still a valid choice for many consumers in this region, to the point of reaching second place in terms of market share, at 7.1 percent.
Japan-Korea was the fourth largest market and China came in fifth with only 107,000 units, but up 34 percent. Although demand has increased since 2020, wagons are not an attractive product for most consumers in those geographic areas. This is why the segment is more or less doomed. Without China, it is difficult to see future developments.
A Question Of Perception
Public perception of station wagons changes according to the market. For example, you hardly see them on the streets of Latin America, and that's because people there associate them with hearses. They are simply "uncool" cars to drive.
On the other side of the world, they are considered quite cool in markets such as Italy. Consumers there barely consider a sedan, but still look at wagons as real family cars with a sporty, useful, and appealing soul. The same goes for Germany, where it's not uncommon to see an Audi RS6 Avant cruising at high speed on the Autobahn.
Further north, station wagons are still very much valued as capable family vehicles in countries like Sweden and Norway. They are considered the ideal mode of transportation for difficult winter conditions. Volvo and the late Saab are two good examples of popular station wagons.
In the United States, the wagon situation changed dramatically after the arrival of the minivan. The latter are larger, more spacious, and have a higher driving position, just like SUVs. Today, consumers in the States have less than 10 wagon options to choose from.
The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is JATO Dynamics Automotive Industry Specialist.