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The End of Sedans is Nigh!

The automotive industry has been through a lot in the last couple of decades, and from some perspectives, it looks like the worst is yet to come.
Of course, that is only a personal opinion, and it's most definitely time-specific. In other words, it's my own personal outlook, and I reserve the right to think entirely different in a year or more from now.

Until that time comes, I'm sticking to my carefully constructed view on three-box sedans, which pretty much implies that they are steadily heading toward extinction.

Before I get into answering the “but, why?” part of this diatribe, let us first take a look at the history and definition of a classic, three-box, sedan, otherwise known as a “saloon” in the formerly European United Kingdom.

Apparently, the whole thing started somewhere in Italy, with “sedan” being most likely derived from a Southern Italian version of the word “sede,” which means chair. Back when European roads weren't exactly a comfortable place for wooden wheels to spin over, most high-class citizens traveled by human-powered, wheelless vehicles called litters or sedans. Think of an enclosed chair that's carried by two or more people using horizontal poles.

Despite some voices implying that the word “sedan” comes from the eponymous French town, the theory lack historical evidence, not to mention that sedans are called “berlines” in France.

With the history of the word out of the way, we should now focus on what a sedan actually is, since its exact definition has suffered some pretty extensive modifications over the years, some of which will probably force it to its demise.

According to most sources, a typical sedan is a three-box automobile with four doors, but depending on who you ask, that definition would also fit a Mercedes-Benz CLS or a CLA. As Mercedes-Benz says, those are actually four-door coupes, not sedans. Believe it or not, from some perspectives the nutty marketing men and women in Stuttgart are actually right, despite a lot of people calling them liars.

For example, there is such a thing as “the original four-door coupe,” which was a version of the 1958 Rover P5, available in both four-door sedan and four-door coupe guises. To make matters worse, there is also such a thing as a two-door sedan, which is something different than a full-blown coupe, but that is a story for another time.

So, going by the “standard” definition, a Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a sedan, while the CLS and the upcoming Mercedes-AMG four-door are coupes; four-door coupes, that is. If you want to be more Catholic than the Pope, the AMG four-door is actually a five-door liftback, like the Porsche Panamera, since it will have a hatch at the rear, but I digress again.

OK, OK, but why is the classic sedan dying, you ask? Well, by far the biggest culprits are definitely the SUVs and crossovers that have been spreading like an out of control wildfire in recent years. With no more room to expand, some carmakers are already thinking about replacing some of their classic sedans with crossovers.

This can be easily confirmed just by looking at the current lineups of most mainstream automakers, as only a couple of exceptions have remained faithful to ye olde sedan. In 2017, Cadillac is the only premium brand with more sedans than SUVs or crossovers in its lineup, although this situation is expected to change in the next couple of years or so. Coincidentally, despite a pretty well-made range of cars, GM's crown jewel is lagging concerning sales even on home soil.

In other words, yeah, everybody jumping on the SUV and crossover bandwagon is one of the biggest reasons behind the slow disappearance of sedans. It's not the only reason, though.

For the past year, I've been daily driving a crossover myself, and the biggest plus that I see for choosing almost anything else other than a sedan may seem childish for some, but I think it's very real for a lot of people.

No, it's not the higher ground clearance and the commanding driving position, although those things help also. Plus, you can always buy a Volvo S60 Cross Country if you want those features and don't really fancy SUVs.

It's not the all-wheel-drive system either since many sedans offer that also nowadays. No, the biggest gripe I have with classic sedans is simply their lack of rear-window wipers. From my knowledge, there isn't a single three-box sedan that has a rear-window wiper on the market today, and I feel that this little detail may also be behind their fall from grace.

Modern aerodynamics can do a lot to clean your rear window, but they can't be compared to a good ol' fashioned wiper and a spray nozzle. In my slightly autistic opinion, if carmakers would only fix this little detail and add a piece of technology that's not that expensive and has existed for years on hatchbacks, liftbacks, station wagons and SUVs, some people would have even fewer reasons to go for a crossover instead of a sedan.

I haven't seen checked any sales statistics, but I'm willing to bet a nickel that the European version of the Ford Fusion, known as the Mondeo, has better sales in liftback guise (with a rear-window wiper) than as a sedan.

The newest generation of the Opel Insignia only comes in a five-door, liftback design, and despite this, it doesn't feature a rear wiper, which I find to be a lost opportunity. Of course, if you talk with approximately 87.48 percent of Porsche 911 owners, they will tell you to stick your rear wiper where you usually wipe, since “it totally messes with the lines of the car, you nincompoop!” In other words, I might just be crazy for wishing a metal and rubber blade that sticks out of the rear of any car, but I'm sticking to my opinion. I really don't think that the stark functionality of this technology is something to be condemned just to improve the look of a car.

That being said, I believe that the real reason behind the gradual disappearance of sedans is simply that they have been left behind in many areas, not just one. Carmakers keep saying that the market is continuously evolving and that they only offer what the customers desire and nothing more. In other words, people are no longer infatuated with sedans, and that's that.

I'm more of a coupe guy, I drive a compact crossover, and a perfect car for me would probably be a five-door “shooting brake” with rear-biased all-wheel-drive and variable ground clearance, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the classy lines of a well-built sedan. I don't want them to go the way of the Dodo, like roadsters and station wagons seem to do. If the current trend keeps up, in 5-10 years, you will be lucky to see a sedan after twenty or more cars pass on the street.


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