Why don’t we like estate cars in Ireland?
As I write here, I am looking out at an airstrip, where Opel are demonstrating their new trailer stability assist, which prevents your boat or caravan fishtailing all over the road thanks to some clever ESP. And we have just arrived here in an Insignia OPC, and it is the estate version, the Sports Tourer. Opel told us yesterday at the press conference that around 45 per cent of their Insignia sales come from the Sport Tourer and it really isn’t hard to see why. They have just added 4×4 to the diesel version (which you can read a review of in next week’s Motors) and in terms of an all-round all-weather package it is remarkable. But it is likely to be largely ignored in Ireland.
When you talk to the German executive manufacturers and look at their figures for sale of estates, then you see that in the case of Audi, 52.6 per cent of their A4 sales in Germany are Avant (Estate) yet in Ireland just 7.5 per cent of all Audi A4s are Avant models. The results are similar for the BMW and Mercedes-Benz too, with estate models occupying tiny fractions of the overall sales mix here in Ireland.
Perhaps it harks back to a time when estate cars were absolutely rubbish. And it really isn’t that long ago. Early estate cars tended to be developed as something of an afterthought and as a result, felt like you were driving a wardrobe. Modern estate cars are developed from day one and with technology such as ESP and 4wd added to many of them, they are every bit as agile as their saloon or hatchback cousins.
But we are not alone in ignoring the estate. Across the Atlantic in the US, the estate car is pretty much ignored. Some of it stems back to a stigma attached to the early station wagon cars, which were often bought of necessity and were largely replaced by the SUV. And as a result, with 50-60 per cent of all cars in the SUV being high SUVs, it becomes a dog-eat-dog world on US highways. Who is going to send out their loved ones in a low, estate car when you could be taken out by someone piloting a Dodge Ram?
It does seem a shame though. I’ve just driven the OPC Insignia ‘enthusiastically’ around some twisty Italian roads and it is remarkably good. You would never guess that there is up to 1,530 litres of boot space behind you. I’ve personally owned estate cars and they make trips to Ikea a doddle and if you have an ‘active’ life like some people in car commercials do, you can throw a bike in the back. Or perhaps some scuba gear.
In Ireland, for a time anyway, the SUV was king, but since July 2008, when we changed to an emissions based tax system, this has changed and sales of large executive SUVs dropped by an estimated 92 per cent and that, perhaps, has paved the way for a return to favour of the humble and overlooked estate car.
And about time too.