Automotive trends are definitely interesting to watch: just a few years ago, body-on-frame SUVs were all the rage. Then they were replaced by unibody CUVs and today CUVs are being replaced by wagons. Why is this so? It’s simple, really: SUVs offered increased ride height, perceived by many as more secure, along with greater utility (more space). CUVs offered fuel economy and handling improvements over SUVs. Wagons take those improvements even further while retaining the increased utility that a fifth door brings. Lately, a few car-nut friends have posited that GM is on the verge of missing the “return of the wagon” era.
Just last month we got word that Honda is planning on releasing a wagon variant of its Accord midsize sedan (the Crosstour). And Toyota launched the wagon version of its ever-popular Camry in February of 2009 and called it the Venza. So while the two biggest Japanese manufacturers are releasing wagon interpretations of their bread-and-butter sedans, what’s GM up to?
No matter what you think of wagons, it would appear that GM could be missing out on an important change in consumer tastes in the US (on average, European buyers prefer wagons/hatches to sedans). But if we take a closer look, we can see that’s actually not the case.
The 2010 Chevy Equinox, built on the Theta II architecture, is for all intents and purposes a direct competitor to the Toyota Venza and the upcoming Honda Crosstour. Even though it’s three inches taller than the Venza, it’s essentially a Chevy Malibu wagon: the Theta platform is based on the Malibu’s Epsilon architecture. It competes with the Venza in size, price ($25,975 for the Venza, $26,560 for the Equinox), as well as performance and styling (which can be very subjective). It’s safe to say that the closest competitor to the Venza is the Equinox.
But let’s take a look at how GM is doing with other wagons/hatchbacks. It’s speculated that the Chevy HHR will be phased out upon the availability of the Chevy Orlando. Both the HHR and the Orlando ride on the Delta II platform that underpins the Cruze, Astra and Cobalt. But whereas the HHR uses the “regular” version of the Delta, the Orlando will be underpinned by a long-wheelbase variant to accommodate “comfortable seating for seven passengers.” For all intents and purposes, the Orlando is the modern version of the mini van. If rumors are to be believed and the HHR will in fact be discontinued after the Orlando hits showrooms, this would not help GM one bit, since compact hatch buyers will no longer have an option in the GM portfolio. They will cross shop a Mazda 3, Toyota Matrix, VW Golf/Rabbit, and so forth. This is why I believe that GM will introduce an HHR replacement that mechanically will be the “Chevy Cruze hatch.” Rumor has it that the folks at GM Holden are already working on such a vehicle.
CTS Sport Wagon
And let’s not forget the awesome CTS Sport Wagon that competes with the likes of the BMW 5 series Estate, Volvo V70, and Audi A6 Avant (Audi speak for wagon).
From where I’m sitting, GM is not even close to missing the return of the wagon. In fact, it’s leading the charge!
As always, GO GM!