February 16, 2011

Fortune: Outrageous! Volvo Station Wagons Not To Be

hamlet_volvo_bbc.jpg
Hamlet drives a Volvo XC70.via

240 or not 240, that is the question.

You know, it seems so apt, I was going to transform Hamlet's soliloquy into a lament for the end of the Volvo station wagon, and with it, once again, the death of the entire, noble, beknighted class.

But then the guy in Fortune spends the last 2/3 of the article pointing out how screwed up Volvo's strategy has been for like 11 years, and so it's not that they're actually killing station wagons, so much as stumbling around with mortal wounds they've inflicted upon themselves.

And so wagons/crossovers/MPVs, what's in a name? A wagon by any other name doth haul as sweet.

And anyway, no one really seems to read those things, and I'm not in the mood to wallow in Volvo's misfortunes.

Let's just say that Volvo wagons are shuffling off this North American coil, and in that sleep of death, what dreams may come is up to the new Chinese overlords at Geely. In other words, not my problem.

Death of a Suburban Staple | The Station Wagon [fortune via dt reader rolf]

16 Comments

Ah, Wallander. We were amused to see him driving an XC70 in the films.

I was just watching a couple of episodes of Wallander last night. The whole show is like a big Volvo commercial. Of course it is Sweden. I saw one old Saab in three hours.

I just bought a used Volvo V50 myself, with the sport package, appearance package. The damn thing is a hoot and a half. While Fortune seems to think the wagon is dying (and Lord knows, in the land of automotive sales data maybe it is), Acura is spending buckets of money advertising its new wagon whip. Of course, their "new" wagon is nothing more than a rebadged European version of the Accord wagon, but there must be something to the segment if Honda is mining the market!

With no new products in the pipeline, as evidenced by the derth of new models appearing at the major auto shows this spring, I fear Geely is going to drive another decent brand into the ditch, much as GM did with Saab back in the 90s.

I guess I'll have to get as many miles as I can out of my V50 and my 19 year-old 240, because the lights in Göteborg are beginning to dim!

@Jeffrey
I too am sad to see the wagon market shrinking and would like to see more options on our shores. But I would hesitate to look to Honda as an indicator of whether or not a market is worth pursuing. Honda (and Acura) is on a pretty bad losing streak when it comes to rolling out new models at this point. See Crosstour, Insight, CRZ and ZDX. I wish the TSX Wagon well but I don't think we can declare a revival of the wagon market just because some suits at Honda see one.

The XC70 will still be sold. This headline was really misleading on the original article. They say they're marketing the XC70 as a crossover but come one, it's a wagon.

@Seth

Well said, Seth. You bring up a great point. It would be interesting to see the sales data for BMW's, Audi's, and M-B's wagons (even VW's) ... my guess is all are in decline. The only thing that might differentiate them is how willing their parent companies are to hanging on to the segment and/or sustaining losses.

I then go back to my concern with Geely and what they're going to do with Volvo to keep the brand relevant and healthy. They've promised a Golf competitor ... I'm not certain that going down market is the right move, unless they can control their costs, which seem to me to have been traditionally high (though I have absolutely no way of backing that assumption up).

There are some Volvo sales numbers in this post from last Summer, when the company last announced the death of the station wagon, because they were busy killing it with a strategy to move upmarket and towards SUVs just as the economy tanked.

http://daddytypes.com/2010/07/08/no_playtime_for_us_new_volvo_v60_sports_wagon.php

@Greg

Hmmm ... I think I remember seeing numbers like those myself. American's love of crossovers must surely have fueled the increase in XC60/XC90 sales, but I wonder if Volvo's pricing had anything to do with the decline in V70/V50 sales. I mean, why spend $40K on an optioned V70 when you can spend a similar amount on an XC60?

Plus, I have to wonder if attractive leasing plans contributed to the rise of XC60/XC90 sales and the decline in V70/V50 sales. One look at the Volvo lot might be telling ... gee, look at all those off-lease XC90s!

The fall of wagons is directly related to the crossover market being so strong. They can charge more for crossovers and more importantly, they're selling better than wagons.

The only wagon bucking the trend is the Subaru Outback. Toyota went more wagon with the Venza and it failed miserably.

So there are case studies for both sides.

However, it looks like hatchbacks overall are on the rise so you'll see more "little wagons."

PS: I own two wagons myself but am loving the new VW Touareg I'm testing this week.

@David Thomas

Good point on the hatchbacks, David. Sorry ... can't help but get back to Volvo ... it's interesting, given that hatchbacks are on the rise, especially high-end "hatchbacks" (if you can call them that) like the BMW 5-series Touring, Audi's upcoming A6-based hatch, and possibly even Porsche's Panamera, that Volvo decided not to bring its V60-based hatch to America.

Then again, I'm wondering if the 5-series Touring hasn't already proved itself a miserable failure.

Also ... you're testing a Touareg ... it sucks to be you! ;-) Enjoy. I bet you'll have a blast with it. I wish I could check one out myself.

OK gents ... just one more comment on Volvo and I promise to shut up.

While competitors like Audi expand their lines (a new A3-based sedan is reportedly in the works), it looks like the best that Volvo can do is come up with diesel hybrid:

http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/news/autoexpressnews/264535/volvo_v60_diesel_plugin_hybrid.html

I'm sure it's a bit of interesting technology ... but they'd better do something fast to keep themselves relevant on a broader scale or else they can turn off the lights permanently!

The wagon was essentially killed by seatbelt and carseat regulations. Not that these are bad. But I have memories of the Little League team fitting in my parents Volvo. Now, Volvo makes exactly one car that can easily/legally fit a family that needs more than two carseats and that car is the XC90 which, with a smallish 3rd row is merely adequate in this regard.

And to fill the void, now there's this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dglwkIvuEmo&feature=player_embedded
Who knows if it's coming to the US. I'm sure the price will be outrageous (as it is on the 9-5 sedan) but it looks really, really nice.

@Seth

Nice car. I'm guessing the average sticker will be well north of $40K, making it far too rich for me. But you're right--it's a looker! If anything, it's nice to see Saab back on its feet (kinda).

And here's another looker. Hyundai hits another one out of the park. But this one isn't planned for the US. Maybe with all their recent success Hyundai will get cocky and try to sell this to US consumers but, unfortunately, they're probably too smart for that.
http://blogs.insideline.com/straightline/2011/03/2011-geneva-auto-show-hyundai-i40.html#more

I have a 2004 V70R that is a blast to drive. I love versatile the car is for picking up the kids from daycare, hauling 60 gallon water heaters home from home depot and hauling ass down the freeways and on-ramps.

I should mention that have also modded the car a little bit. I added sway bars and upped the power with a "tune" that gives the car an added 35+hp and 57+ ft.lbs or torque on top of the ample stock 300 hp.

I think the Volvo R wagon is a great baby mobile.

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