With Ford recently putting the proverbial last nail in their sedan offering coffin, I was taken aback by the realization that the sedan appears to be going the way of the dodo. But why?
Speaking as a man who owns a sedan, albeit one that has been accused of being blasphemous to its 2-door Charger namesake, I still dig them. There is nothing wrong with having a little junk in the trunk out back with a few more entry points to make life easier. Don’t get me wrong, I also love wagons with their cavernous utility and own one of them as well. I am a romantic and hope wagons make a comeback. I digress. I am positive the car manufacturers and their bean counters are vastly more qualified to monitor market trends than I could ever dream to be. If they are saying the sky is falling I should probably at least look up to see what’s coming my way.
What could be the culprits to the slow demise of my beloved sedan? First off their utilitarian extra two doors have always been seen as a compromise to car design. Up until recently, the old car collecting world thought of having four door handles instead of two as sacrilege. Scarcity evened the playing field a bit, but for many the stigma still exists. Styling aside, it does make getting the kiddies in back a whole lot easier. This practicality is a blessing and a curse. Consumers’ need for practicality might be a major contributor to the sedan’s ultimate demise.
So if the sedans death sentence was solely based on design aesthetics how do you account for the car buying masses’ love affair with mini-vans (initially but their affinity is now wavering), SUVs and now CUVs? As I stated above, the practical aspects of a sedan eventually were taken to a new level with the advent of hatchbacks and large sliding doors found on minivans. Plus the extra size and presence of the full-sized SUV with off-road and towing capabilities opened our eager wallets. So it must be the ultimate practicality of the new and improved vehicles that did the sedan in. Perhaps, but that seems way too flimsy of an excuse for our buying habits to turn on sedans.
The invisible hand of the market has shown ebbs and flows. A lot of this has to do with oil prices and the wildly fluctuating gas market. With the influx of economy compact cars in the 70s the traditional sedan took a hit. Those small cars had to find a way to become efficient with their space as much as their fuel consumption. Hatchbacks were a way to open up some of that space; the trunk out back was using valuable real estate. Even with these gas-sipping compacts hitting the highways there was still a need to seat 4-5 people comfortably so the good ol’ sedan kept on motoring.
Gas prices swung once again and buyers wanted more space and comfort. This was good news for the full-sized sedan. It was the 80s and the box shaped sedan was in its glory. Good times can’t last forever. In 1984 there was a void to be filled in the car market. Chrysler fulfilled the need for a “family friendly” vehicle with its new minivan. This new high-roofline and easy access vehicle took what made the 4-door sedan appealing and super-sized it. In hindsight this was a major blow to the sedan’s popularity.
Not long after the introduction of the minivan the SUV craze starting to heat up. SUVs were nothing new and had been around for a while. Arguably, many consider the 1949 Willys Jeep Station Wagon the first capable 4WD SUV. There were others before it such as the Chevy Suburban but they were more suited for pavement than dirt and mud. The 1986 Jeep Cherokee entered the market and paved the way for the car-like SUV and the creature comforts that came with it. In 1990 Ford changed the game with its Explorer and the buying public rushed to the truck capabilities melded with car amenities. This was yet another blow to sedans.
Once again gas prices reared their ugly heads into the market and the $4 plus/gallon prices weighed heavily on full-sized SUV owner’s minds. This gave a little breath to the wheezing sedan sales. People still needed to haul their families and sedans were a tradeoff between gas mileage efficiency and size. This created another automotive market void. The Crossover SUV, aka CUV, entered the game. All the sizzle of a SUV with sedan sensibilities created a whole new genre of automobile. Another contributing factor to the rise of the CUV was the need for easier access for occupants. The Baby Boomers and their children made up the lions’ share of SUV sales in the past two decades. Those knees and backs don’t bend the way they used to! The SUVs were too high and the sedans were too low. The ultimate in “Goldie Locks” design placed the CUV just right in the middle. With the CUV, if the sedan is not dead it is definitely on life-support.
The humble sedan has been taking shots left and right for its whole life. Is this the knockout blow? Only the market will be able to answer that question. Automakers are in the business of making money and will usually give the consumer what they want [with exception of the Cadillac Cimarron]. Currently, the emphasis is on CUVs and trucks with their high margin of profitability, but an uptick in gas prices and that could change in a heartbeat. Seeing this blog is directed towards old car lovers, we will love our “blue collar ” warriors of the automotive world no matter what the market dictates. The lowly sedan will always be near and dear to us even if it takes a knee to whatever the automakers newest conglomeration might be.