A recent story in The New York Times said that the factory-installed cassette deck is dead. I found that notable, but not that surprising. I mean, I was mildly surprised that the last car to have a cassette deck as an option was a Lexus, not a Buick, but is anyone shocked that there's not much incentive for manufacturers to offer tape decks in cars in 2011? (Tapeheads, you can still rock out to wow and flutter with a new car receiver, but your options are limited. Crutchfield sells four head units that play tapes. Best Buy, according to its website, sells one.)
An even more ominous headline in Fortune, however, caught my eye: The death of the station wagon. The essay is pinned on Volvo, which will soon stop selling wagons in the U.S. The last Volvo wagon being sold stateside is the V50, but it won't be around dealers for much longer. The company sold fewer than 500 of them here last year.
According to Fortune, "Edmunds.com, the online-car buying site, lists 115 kinds of SUVs and 92 types of crossovers but only 31 varieties of station wagon. Even that count is suspect. It includes a Ford Flex, which is a minivan in disguise, and the bizarre Dodge Caliber."
Unlike Fortune, I actually think there's good news for American car buyers who dislike the compromises inherent in SUVs and crossovers. From what I have seen, there are plenty of new wagon-like cars out there. They're just not all called wagons.
Acura, for example, recently introduced a new TSX wagon, but it prefers the term "Sport Wagon." The five-door flavors of the Mazda 3 and Subaru Impreza are called hatchbacks, but you sure would have a hard time explaining the difference. And more hatchbacks are arriving every year, with companies like Mitsubishi and Kia recently bringing five-doors to the U.S. The Germans still seem to be selling wagons — or at least trying to. And some of the oddball Japanese boxes-on-wheels like the Nissan Cube and Scion xB might not be wagons, but I am not sure what else you can call them.
I doubt the station wagon will ever regain its total grip on American suburbia, but I think it's too soon to call the wagon dead. The name might be passé. They probably won't be as boxy. You might see fewer of them out there. But I have to think cars — and I do mean cars — with five doors will be around for a long time.