At times it may seem like I’m a truck or SUV guy, as I’ve ranted a few times about the fact that I truly don’t believe that large vehicles are going to be leaving the North American market any time soon. We tend to have larger families here than they do in Europe and have greater distances to travel due to the rather expansive continent we live on and we need the room to carry more stuff. I have often asked the question: “how do Europeans get their kids to hockey without an SUV?” Seriously. You can’t put 2 kids worth of hockey equipment in a Fiat 500 now can you?
The answer? Station wagons. Shooting brakes. 5 doors. Estate cars. Whatever you choose to call it.
In truth, I suppose I’m a wagon sort of guy. In my teenage years, my Step Father drove a 1978 Dodge Monaco wagon. You know the one, it had rearward facing seats just like the infamous Vista Cruiser. This monster had a 400 cubic inch V-8 that would spin the back tires until, well – at least 5 feet! In more practical terms though, it could transport 7 passengers in relative comfort, while still having more storage space than most modern SUV’s. It could tow pretty much anything you could dream up and carry the ubiquitous 4×8 sheet of plywood. It was ugly as sin, but with all the seats folded it became a funhouse on wheels. Hmmm – better keep this PG.
A few years later, I discovered the original (arguably I’m sure) Euro wagon. Mrs G and I bought an ’84 Volvo 240 Turbo wagon, otherwise known as a 245T to those faithful to Uncle Olaf’s fave ride. It may have been boxy, but it went like hell, was comfy, had the same number of seats as that old Dodge and looked as wicked as a Swedish brick could possibly hope to look. Oh yes, it too could tow and placed properly could also carry some home reno products. Years later, that wagon was replaced by a 745T sporting many of the same character traits. Even more years later, I missed out on a BMW wagon of some sort that came in on trade. The tech that beat me to the trade is still driving it with next to no repairs.
Yes, I like SUV’s but only as a replacement to a proper wagon that also has off road capability. Given that I am one of the half percent or so of the population that ever ventures off the beaten path in their truck, they just don’t make a lot of sense.
A Euro style wagon, that carries a bunch of people and/or stuff however makes a bunch of sense. The all new 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon is a pretty decent Euro style sport wagon.
Unless of course you are:
Wagons died with the Pet Rock. They’ve been replaced by CUVs. Nothing anyone can do in the U.S. will ever put them back in the mainstream. Appealing to the car-noscenti is all well and good, but the CTS wagon, like the MKT, is a niche machine from a mass automaker that needs a HUGE hit. This ain’t it.
Make no mistake about it, wagons are the red-headed stepchildren of any car range. Probably conceived in a dank corner of an automakerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s R & D lab, complete with trollish engineers, clip boards, and antiques. Lots of antiques.
Farago is right, General Motors needs an out of the park hit but does it need to build 1 vehicle that everyone wants or will a collection of niche market hits do the job? I can’t recall who the GM big wig was that said it, but about 6 months or so ago someone up near the top acknowledged that the dynamic of the market has changed and they need to adapt to a market made up of many different niches. Success that comes in tens of thousands of units rather than hundreds or millions of units.
Look at Subaru. Throughout this whole market crash, they were the only company that managed to keep their head above water the entire time. Here in Canada, they actually managed to continue making money while others floundered. While some companies aim for 15 or 20% growth projections, Subaru works in the single digits. They understand that they are a niche product and have built their company around that reality. Am I saying that The General should think the same way? No, the economies of scale are too vastly different. What I am saying though is that a collection of really good niche market models, with decent profitability, might be just as effective as selling a zillion mass market vehicles with little profit.
I’ve never claimed to be a business guru of any sort, but it seems to me that selling 5 widgets with $5 profit is better than selling 15 with $1 profit. Perhaps this is part of the plan to actually resurrect The General. Ok, I admit I haven’t read all of the proposal. I fell asleep part way through it!
The traditional denizens of this niche have included the likes of Subaru, Volvo, Audi and BMW. Subaru’s wagons offer go anywhere capability and reliability coupled with horrible plastic interiors (until recently) and an affordable (in this group) entry fee. Volvo offers what Volvo has always offered: practical, affordable (again, in this group) implements that won’t win any style awards but keep you cozy on the way to the ski hill. Audi glams things up a notch with some of the best interiors in the biz, the history of Quattro all wheel drive and pricing that keeps the riff raff out. Likewise, BMW’s wagons come at a rather steep price and are agruably the least useful of the bunch but the neighbors know that you enjoy the finer things in life.
So where does the CTS fit in to the mix? Honesty, it probably sits somewhere square in the middle. Certainly it is the most visually interesting of the group though fans of the German marques will disagree. The interior is more stylish than what Subaru & Volvo offer and of similar feel to BMW. Audi? Forget it, nobody can touch the quality of their interior but at least you won’t cry if the kids have a spill on the Caddy’s leather. On the road, the drive is more Ultimate Driving Machine than it is Swede or Japanese. Certainly more Germanic than the Caddy’s of old. For practicality, it may not offer as much space at the Subaru or Volvo, but pretty close. None of them is going to tote a 4×8 sheet of drywall any time soon but the CTS excelled in a place I didn’t expect it to: The Three Hockey Bag Test. That’s right, 3 full hockey bags, a trainer’s bag, team water bottle carrier, 3 sticks and 5 passengers all fit in the CTS! That’s impressive!
GM set their sights on a niche market with the elongated CTS and they’ve hit the target right in the middle. Quality that is right up there with the pack with some visual and visceral excitement to appeal to a buyer’s passion. That buyer surprisingly enough might be pretty familiar. They’ve got a couple of kids and live in the suburbs. They’ve always driven a full size SUV like a Tahoe or some such and are tired of the neighbors looking down their noses at the Exxon Valdez parked on the street. They have pride in their home town and don’t want to buy a traditional import. Maybe they still have enough youth left in them that they don’t want to look like a librarian on the way to work, but still want a vehicle that can get the kids to hockey without renting a trailer for their gear.
It is beginning to sound like this niche makes more sense than some people give it credit for. Just like the CTS Sport Wagon.