An ancient philosopher once said, “Change is the only constant”. For better or worse this applies to everything in life. Twenty years ago you could not have imagined reading this on your current device. Who knows, in no time you may be listening to it in your car, read by a fancy AI.
Speaking of cars, we have to note that the winds of change are once again blowing in their direction. We are experiencing auto innovations on all levels. New engine technologies pop up, artificial intelligence gets better at driving, even the design itself evolves constantly. And what is the one certain thing about evolution? Those that fail to adapt… disappear.
The fact that American car companies are struggling is nothing new. We have known that for several years now. But large companies do not usually go under without a proper fight. So what can we say about their recent move against the current? Let’s examine the death of the American sedan!
The sedan decline – a series of unfortunate events
The sedan has remained a staple with cars ever since personal vehicles have become a thing. Most iconic cars out there are actually sedans. Throughout history, that car body type has consistently been the most prevalent one out there. But that all changed when people began looking for more specialized alternatives.
When most cities became filled to the brim with vehicles, there was an obvious need for a more compact car. That, in turn, meant that companies could put in a weaker engine, and a more efficient one at that. Did I mention that made the entire car cheaper? All of a sudden the trusty sedan became the big car around the block, and a more expensive one at that.
Of course, families could not rely on small cars. Because of that, the sedan remained a viable option for quite some time. It was big enough for a family of four (or five, even), but not a workhorse like a pickup.
The real issues for the sedan began when car designers started experimenting with bigger bodies. They tried with estate cars, though they did not catch on in the States. Then came the minivan, which was quite popular (and still is in some circles). Still, for a lot of folks, it was too much “family” and not enough “business”. So car manufacturers scratched their heads and came up with the straw that broke the camel’s back – the SUV. Or did they?
Is it too soon to write the sedan off?
I know that many people see the rise of the crossover (or SUV) as the main cause of the sedan’s demise. However, I believe things are a bit more complicated than that. It can actually be the case that the sedan is not dying – perhaps it is just now finding its niche.
The main issue of the sedan is simple – it is a jack of all trades and master of none. You could argue that that the leap to an SUV is not that big if you are not concerned about size. Alternatively, the sedan body will be too bulky for a person, who wants a more compact vehicle.
So on the surface, it seems like this body design is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Dig a bit deeper though, and you will see things in a different light. Sometimes people just want a car that looks classy, gets the job done, and does not feel like a truck.
Do not get me wrong, sedan sales are indeed trending downward overall. Yet a lot of people refuse to give up on those vehicles. In fact, certain companies are actually keeping their sedan production up. It does not take a lot of research to see that there are plenty of that body type among the best selling cars of 2018. Honda and Toyota, for example, are having a blast. But are you reading between the lines? There are no American sedans there…
Why American car manufacturers ditched the sedan
Does it not seem weird that no American companies want to pursue the sedan market? They are doing great with their SUVs. Their pickups also take top spots. So what is stopping them from crushing the sedan market too? Well, a couple of things.
For starters, you have to look at the overall picture. The Japanese manufacturers sell their sedans just fine, alright. But you know what the funny part is? Their own SUVs and crossovers are selling even better nowadays. Considering Japanese sedans have quite a great reputation, that should tell you something about how the demand is shifting.
This leads us to the main reason American-based companies ditched the sedan – it was simply not worth the competition. US car manufacturers have always struggled to develop a cost-effective sedan to beat the Japanese staples. That is because the margins on these vehicles are not big at all (compared to SUVs). At the same time, investment continues to grow. That made the American sedans fall behind the competition in terms of both quality and price.
There is still some hope though. The Big Three just need to focus their efforts on the next big wave in vehicle development. Would it not be ironic if that actually turns out to be sedan EVs? If we take into account the demand for Tesla Model 3, that prediction may not be too far off. Sadly though, with all the trouble US-based companies face, they may not have that chance.
The bad situation of the Big Three
We have to mention the glaring issue, which lies underneath all the problems of the Big Three. It is the fact that they have hardly any market outside the US. We all know Europeans are not big on pickups and even SUVs. At the same time, other companies dominate the Old Continent with much better prices and reputation. Ford still manages to keep its presence there, but things are not looking good.
All in all, the Detroit-based manufacturers do not have room for error. Plus SUV and pickup sales in the US are largely dependent on the economy as well. All those factors put quite a strain on these companies. They have been virtually forced to trim their lineups to focus on safer options. Testing the market at this point has too high of a cost for them.
The light at the end of the tunnel
To be fair, car manufacturing is a tough business in general. Many companies have gone out of it through history. But as I have already said, big manufacturers do not disappear in mere seconds.
So here is the thing – something has to happen. In our age of disruptive innovation, I would not be surprised if Ford, GM, and Chrysler turned the tables. Should they come up with a high-quality sedan model that also has a good price, people will jump all over it for sure.
Personally, I am already a lost cause. SUVs are my thing, so going back to a sedan will be a hard pill to swallow. But what do you think? Will you buy a brand new sedan from one of the US companies if they bring them back? Or will you be like me and stick with your old buying habits?