The four-door sedan is being driven to extinction by a fleet of vehicular frauds.
I refer to the crossover.
Most examples have the bones of a sedan but with modestly more interior space. Almost all elevate the driver’s seat, giving buyers the impression — a decidedly mistaken impression — that they could forego the shopping mall parking lot for the Serengeti should the lure of the African outback prove irresistible.
I find it a bit painful to ponder the demise of this fixture of the American road, the vehicle that, notwithstanding the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, has borne more bickering families to more vacation mishaps than any other.
The American versions, anyway.
That distinction is crucial because our increasing indifference toward the sedan has a strong domestic flavor.
While Honda continues to move hundreds of thousands of Civics and Accords in this country, and Toyota sells even more Camrys and Corollas, the U.S. automakers over the past year or so have announced that they will stop building models that not long ago seemed indomitable in the marketplace.
The change is most dramatic at Ford Motor Co.
Among the models disappearing from Ford showrooms are the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus, each of which is a traditional sedan or has a sedan version.
This will leave Ford’s lineup with only one model that meets the classic definition of “car” — the iconic Mustang, a two-door coupe.
The rest of the venerable company’s roster, in common with those of other domestic manufacturers, will run heavily to crossovers and other SUVs, and pickup trucks.
General Motors is shelving six sedans — the Chevrolet Volt, Cruze and Impala, the Buick LaCrosse and the Cadillac CT6 and XTS. (Caddies, it saddens me to note, no longer bear such gaudy monikers as Fleetwood Brougham and Coupe de Ville, so redolent of velvet upholstery and chrome-lined ashtrays in the door handles. Current models are instead sullied with anodyne alphanumeric badges that strike me as wholly inconsistent with the marque’s grandiose reputation.)
Fiat Chrysler, meanwhile, has deleted the Dodge Dart and the Chrysler 200 sedans from its offerings.
The explanation for these decisions is obvious even to someone like me, who blundered through the Econ 101 textbook in a manner that suggested to my professor that English not only wasn’t my first language but wasn’t in the top 5.
Americans are buying lots of new vehicles, to be sure.
We signed up for more than 17 million in 2018. It was the fourth straight year we exceeded that figure, a major renaissance after the recession caused sales to plummet from 16 million in 2007 to 10.4 million in 2009.
But increasingly we’re making payments not on sedans but on pickups and SUVs — and especially the smaller, usually car-based crossovers.
Of the top 10 best-selling vehicles in 2018, the first six on the list, and seven of the top eight, are trucks or SUVs.
Three sedans barely made it into the top 10, but none is built by an American company — the aforementioned Camry (No. 7), Civic (No. 9) and Corolla (No. 10).
I read a fair amount from the automotive industry press and there is universal consensus about certain reasons for America’s growing demand for SUVs, and in particular the smaller ones.
There is the aforementioned spaciousness. Crossovers are also more likely to offer all-wheel drive as an option — a major draw for drivers in snowy regions.
With gas prices remaining low, historically speaking, the relatively fuel efficiency advantage that many sedans offer is a weak selling point.
Many buyers prefer crossovers for their higher seating position and their greater rough-road prowess — although the latter, as noted above, is more advertising puffery than reality. The typical crossover, which has the same or similar mechanical bits as one of the company’s sedans (which is why these vehicles are sometimes referred to as “car-based,” to distinguish them from old-fashioned SUVs or pickups which are designed to be brawny from the start), would be as helpless on many of Baker County’s roads as a skateboard on Phillips Reservoir.
But of course buying a new vehicle is rarely a matter determined solely by practicality — if it were the minivan would rival crossovers for sales dominance.
(Also, how else to explain the proliferation of wheel diameters of 20 inches or more, which all but require tires which have a sidewall as wide as a fingernail and offer as much cushioning as an oak table.)
I can offer only anecdotal observations but it seems to me that America’s shrinking interest in driving sedans has been less noticeable in Baker County than in some other regions.
Partly this is due, of course, to pickups and traditional, truck-based SUVs having been popular hereabouts for decades.
Except we drive these rigs not because they’re in fashion, but because we need, or at least we use more than occasionally, their special capabilities. You can’t haul a horse trailer with a sedan, for one thing — at least not well. And a crossover wouldn’t make it 200 yards up the road to Pine Creek Reservoir without spewing vital fluids and discarding trim pieces in a grim Hansel and Gretel style path of plastic.
Pickups, unlike crossovers, have been among the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. for decades.
Indeed, the top 3 sellers from 2018 are all full-size, half-ton pickups — led by the Ford F-150, perennially the most popular vehicle in the U.S., followed by the Chevrolet Silverado and the Dodge Ram.
Crossovers — the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V are the archetypes, and all three were among the 10 best-sellers last year — have made major inroads in the American market. And although they’ve taken far more sales from sedans than from pickups, I’m skeptical that these diminutive vehicles will ever lure a significant number of pickup or truck-based SUV drivers in our area.
Try to get a load of topsoil or gravel in a crossover — they don’t have much towing capacity, so never mind a big trailer — and you’re going to make an awful mess.
And possibly bury temporarily any small passengers watching videos in the back row.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.