Makers love SUVs because they’re a global phenomenon. The same car will be snapped up in Milwaukee, Milan or Nanjing with comparatively few changes. The resulting economies of scale are great for the bottom line.
But some tastes are annoyingly regional and that can get costly for makers given the smaller numbers involved. Take for example mainstream D-segment cars in Europe, such as the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat. Production figures from the region show that 58 percent of cars made in this segment are station wagons against 22 percent for hatchbacks and 20 percent sedans.
Of the big markets in Europe, only Spain prefers sedans over the other two styles. But their relative unpopularity across the region isn’t a problem chiefly because the rest of the world prefers a sedan. Hatchbacks and wagons on the other hand ARE more of a problem. Some makers now don’t offer hatchbacks in this larger segment and others are pulling out. The new Renault Talisman for example won’t be sold as a hatchback, unlike the Laguna it replaces.
Only the UK, Europe’s second largest car market, prefers hatchbacks over the other two bodystyles and that sustains Ford’s continuing production of the Mondeo 5-door, one of the few remaining large hatchbacks.
But no company can afford to dump the station wagon, despite it being almost entirely a European phenomenon. In this segment, Germany is 90 percent wagon, as is Italy. Sweden is 95 percent. Clearly you can’t survive in this segment in Europe without one, but creating different versions of models are costly, especially as the overall D-segment in Europe has more than halved in the last 10 years.
It wouldn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that without digital prototyping, these regional bodystyles would have died out a lot quicker. Research from one analyst company shows that development time has halved from the 1990s, primarily thanks to simulation. With far fewer physical prototypes needed, the savings can be ploughed back into satisfying local demands.