The Cost of a Sixth Seat

March 9th, 2021
cars
When I posted about cars, several people suggested we might want to get something with more than five seats so we'd have room for friends. This would make a lot of sense, except that it's surprisingly expensive.

The cheapest new (2021) car you can get in the US right now, as far as I can tell, is the 4-seater Chevy Spark, $13,400 MSRP in its cheapest configuration. The cheapest 5-seater is the Mitsubishi Mirage, at $14,295. The cheapest 7-seater is the VW Tiguan, at $25,245.

(What about 6-seaters? Sedans seating three in the front and three in the back used to be common, but the last one in the US was the 2013 Chevy Impala.)

Why do you pay $11k (+77%) to seat more than five? Sure, most people don't need a car that big, but there are still a lot of price-sensitive families.

This is not how it used to be: it was once common for sedans to offer a station wagon variant with a third row. They were more expensive, but not by that much. In the US this disappeared in the mid 90s; the 8-seater Buick Roadmaster Wagon was discontinued in 1996, as was the 7-seater Toyota Camry Wagon.

The full-size wagons disappeared because people were switching to minivans, and then later SUVs. Some of this was fashion, but there was also a legal aspect: being technically "light trucks" they had less strict emissions and fuel economy standards.

I think this explains the cost jump: what was once a relatively minor change to a standard sedan is now a relatively minor change to a standard SUV, but an SUV is a more expensive place to start. For some combination of fashion and regulations, no sedan maker is interested in producing a cheap three-row wagon variant, though there is a small market for fancy European station wagons that seat seven, such as the Volvo V90 at $52k and the Mercedes E-class Wagon at $67k.

I wonder whether there's an opening for a three-row station wagon variant of a standard sedan starting at ~$19k?

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