Americans Love To Drive Hatchbacks And Don't Even Realize It

Editorial

And no, we're not talking about hot hatches.

For years European automakers who also do business in the US, mainly Volkswagen, couldn’t figure out why Americans had little to no interest in buying hatchbacks. A hatchback offers more interior space, cargo room and easier access to it all via a rear hatch, than any size sedan. Because they’re built on the same platforms, hatchbacks are also just as fuel efficient as sedans. So what was the problem? Euro brands couldn’t figure it out. For example, only a relatively small handful of Americans bought the Golf.

In Europe, by contrast, it was (and still is) one of the best-selling cars. Americans preferred Jettas. The GTI also has a loyal US following, but VW, or any automaker for that matter, can’t rely on sales of a hot hatch for big profits. Thing is though, Americans have loved hatchbacks since around 1998, and that love affair is stronger than ever. In fact, automakers left and right have altered their entire product lineups (and effectively killed most SUVs in the process) in order to meet demand for this "American hatchback." What is the "American hatchback," you’re asking? Simple. It’s the crossover. That’s right. The damn crossover. The Nissan Pathfinder, for example, used to be a cool body-on-frame SUV.

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Now it’s a unibody design. A more appropriate name for it is "Mallfinder." Yes, crossovers are hatchbacks, altered just enough to make millions of Americans think they’re driving a stylish SUV with better fuel economy. Right, because those owners care about the environment more than looking good behind the wheel. But at least SUVs serve a purpose. Let’s call it off-roading. Crossovers, by contrast, don’t. If you need more space, buy a minivan or a wagon. Wait. No. Crossovers killed wagons, too. Think about it: crossovers are also built on platforms originally designed for sedans. All automakers had to do was jack up the ride height a few inches and redesign the body to make it more SUV-like. That’s it.

Lexus was the first to try this little experiment with the original generation RX300, which was (and still is) Camry-based. And the floodgates opened from there. To attempt to lure disgruntled SUV buyers (and offer up some Subaru competition) to crossovers, all-wheel drive has become a common option. Volkswagen, now fully realizing American crossover obsession, is quickly adapting its US lineup to meet this demand. For its part, Chevrolet and Buick have taken what’s nothing more than the Chevrolet Sonic, applied the crossover formula and voila! You’ve got the Chevy Trax and Buick Encore. In Europe, VW is also turning the Polo into a compact crossover because, apparently, buyers there have also caught the crossover disease.

Yes. It’s a disease. There was nothing wrong with hatchbacks, wagons, minivans, and SUVs. They had their faults but what car of any sort doesn’t? But the crossover, a raised hatchback with SUV styling, is replacing all four. This trend isn’t likely to change anytime soon because, for automakers, business is business, and crossovers make for excellent business. The hatchback has finally been vindicated in the US. It only had to look like an SUV.

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