The death of the sedan
The death of the sedan, the rise of the crossover. Co-written by Martin Wenglinsky
Every enthusiast can speak sadly on the death of the sedan. We seem to live in a world increasingly dominated by SUVs and Crossovers, where, as we sit on a turning point in automotive history, sedans are being dropped in favor of vastly more profitable SUVs, crossovers, and luxury vehicles.
But why should you buy an SUV? Most people would tell you that they bought an SUV because it's safer and more practical than anything else on the road.
However, that doesn't make much sense because while an SUV might be more expensive, it doesn't have a single redeemable quality that I can think of. They're noisier, stupider, and more expensive than any of their sedan counterparts.
Yet, 70% of the cars sold in America are SUVs, because, for some reason, soccer moms and hip-hop artists all over the world have decided that they want a truly terrible car. Yet, manufacturers don't even seem to give a damn that they have now been relegated to making seemingly nothing more than iterative SUVs. What happened?
Let's look at BMW as an example. They currently make seven SUVs. Seven!
Now I'm sure that the focus groups have spoken, and I'm sure that there are seven different types of consumers who all need a slightly different SUV. But if you think about it, BMW's entire lineup works on a trickle-down sales model. The X5, for example, is a perfectly competent family vehicle that is comfortable, relatively good-looking, and can operate as a fairly decent off-roader should the circumstances require. However, not everyone can afford an X5. So… how about an X3?
Or, if that isn't sporty enough, we have an X4, or if you don't know what the hell you want, there's always the X6. The way I see it, BMW makes one SUV (the X5), which makes sense, and then six others for those who are either too poor or feel that they are above the X5.
The thing is, this hierarchy of the BMW lineup is a relatively new thing. Not too long ago, BMW truly built the ultimate driving machine, three of them, in fact. The 3 Series, the 5 Series, and the 7 Series.
All of which made sense; you knew where you stood. Want a fun, comfortable little sedan? Buy a 3 Series. Want a cushy, long-legged executive express? Buy a 7 Series. Want something in the middle? Just get a 5 series.
For almost 30 years, that's the way it worked, no tricks, no re-badged Minis, and definitely no X6s.
But see, the X6 brings me neatly onto my next point, as the BMW lineup expanded it became harder and harder to re-use cars. But with SUVs you can develop one platform, for example, the 3 Series, and turn it into the X3, the X3M, the X3M Competition, the X4, the X4M, the X4M Competition, the 4 Series, the 4 Series 'Gran Coupe,' the M3, the M3 Competition, the M4, and finally, the M4 Competition.
That's 12 different vehicles!
All of which can be re-badged and sold to 12 people who don't know what the hell they actually want.
But to be fair, the reason behind the death of the sedan isn't really the SUV, as I, and just about every automotive journalist has previously stated. It's the crossover.
A crossover is essentially the opposite of a minivan. While a minivan is a sedan or wagon stretched out to be longer, a crossover is a sedan stretched up, making it taller. Both minivans and crossovers have fantastic fuel economy for vehicles their size, are cheaper than a comparable SUV, which is basically a unibody truck, to engineer and build, has tons of space and comfort. However, while a minivan is seen as an uncool ride for soccer moms, a crossover is seen as a car for the adventurous. Sure, many people would prefer a sedan, but those people are usually perfectly happy to accept a crossover in its stead.
Now, this article opened talking about car enthusiasts, and many of you are probably now wondering why we haven't mentioned them since. Enthusiasts HATE the SUV and have been some of their most vocal opponents. Why aren't manufacturers listening to their customers? The answer is simple: enthusiasts aren't their customers.
That might seem ridiculous, but it's true. Enthusiasts generally purchase cars used, which doesn't make any money for car companies. The only enthusiasts with the money to buy fun sedans new usually choose to spend it on the used market. For the cost of a new corolla, you could get two or three used Porsche Boxsters! The only people buying new expensive sedans are usually older and are more likely to buy a more comfortable luxury sedan.
Special thanks to Martin for co-writing this article with me, please go check him out for some truly excellent Toyota and occasionally non-Toyota related content.