June 11, 2014

Confession #47: There aren't enough selfish people anymore to buy two-door cars

Photo: Honda
Just because a car only has one door on each side doesn't make it sexier than something that has four. But try telling this to people who insist on only having two-doors. Like a surprising amount of people I've known in my life. They tend to be single, or divorced, or childless, or not very practical. Selfish is probably too strong of a word, but it's something along those lines.

Perhaps it's the more pragmatic times we're living in these days that are making people a little more caring – caring enough to buy more and more vehicles with four doors and at least two rows of seats. And that's killing the (relatively) inexpensive two-door car. That includes coupes and convertibles.

Last week, Justin Hyde over at Yahoo! explained why no one wants convertibles anymore, and the segment is going to be an even smaller blip on the US auto sales radar in 2014 than in years past. One thing's for sure, people won't be buying new convertibles for a while. There are very few mainstream brands making them anymore, so if you're looking for a convertible that isn't a cute and tiny VW Beetle or Mini or Fiat 500c, you're forced to look at offerings from luxury brands that usually kick off near $50,000.

A similar problem faces buyers of the basic coupe these days. Among traditional three-box shapes, you're limited to Honda, Hyundai and Kia if you want a small coupe. The next level up gets you a little more choice in the form of the Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Hyundai Genesis and the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S twins. Oh, and the Honda Accord Coupe, which is the only one of that set that's remotely practical as you're only car. That still isn't much selection.

Photo: Mini
I would've guessed the small two-door hatch might be safe from this trend, but Mini has recently shown off its four-door hatchback, which promises to be practical like the four-door Countryman with less of the flab. The looks are odd, but the packaging is compelling. This won't be good for the traditional Mini Cooper hatch.

And then look at the way VW has packaged the 2015 Golf and GTI lineup for the US. Want sunroof, navigation or anything like that? They want you to buy a four-door version. Or maybe a Beetle.

Full disclosure: I make payments on a Mk6 VW GTI with two doors (three-door, whatever). It wasn't by choice, I just wanted a Shadow Blue GTI with a sunroof that I could afford. I apologize to anyone who has to get in the back, as they usually tend to be claustrophobic coworkers, six-foot-tall men and my mother.

Photo: Land Rover
Of course, there are the oddballs. The premium brands love to experiment.

I've seen about a dozen examples of the Mini Paceman on the streets (they're getting more frequent, though) and they don't look any better or make any more sense. Seriously, just get the normal hatchback. But then there's the Range Rover Evoque Coupe, and someone from Jaguar/Land Rover I was seated next to at dinner a few months ago was surprised I would go for that one over the four-door Evoque.

The Evoque is far from the most practical compact posh crossover out there, so if you already place looks over rear-seat access, why not just go all out and get the least practical version? Best of all, this is a two-door car that has all-wheel drive and ground clearance and a higher driving position. That's what everyone who lives in a place with seasons apparently wants.

Photo: Nissan
Here's the part where you say the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet did nothing to persuade people they wanted a two-door convertible based on a four-door all-wheel drive crossover. Here's where I remind you it was almost $50,000 and said Nissan on the front and back. It's a badge issue, what can I say?

New convertible sales will get a boost with stuff like the Audi A3 and BMW 2-series soft-tops, and of course the 2015 Ford Mustang. The segment is rather stagnant right now, especially for one so dependent on flash. I don't know what to do about coupes, though. Companies like Volvo prove they can design beautiful two-door stuff like the Volvo Concept Estate, but they probably want to add doors to it for production.

Photo: Volvo
New-car buyers are less and less willing to pay a premium for cars with a mainstream badge. As Bloomberg noted two years ago, a convertible adding a $5-6,000 hit to the price of a car is way less desirable than big ticket option packages that add the same price – and that includes a big panoramic sunroof that lets very nearly the same amount of light and wind in. It's fewer sacrifices in practicality. You get your full two rows of seats, you don't need a windblocker to stop it from being too drafty inside, you can fit all of your luggage in the trunk – roof open or closed.

Evidently we're just used to being more comfortable all the time than we used to. At least some of us.

Early on in his article, Hyde dismissed the Jeep Wrangler from the convertible contest as a truck. But really, that's exactly the convertible most people want. It comes in two and four-door formats, giving selfish people an outlet. It's four-wheel drive, which is what an increasing amount of people think is essential in their year-round commutes. Never mind the older people who keep buying new cars, this is key to the Wrangler's appeal for image-conscious new-car buyers.

Of course the Wrangler is an off-road vehicle first and foremost. And when you take the roof off, everyone can see the skin on your passengers' faces wiggling when you hit that deep pothole. But not yours, because you've looked out for yourself and prepared accordingly. With facial exercises, probably. 

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