We’ve heard a lot about the impending death of normal cars, in the face of the all-consuming onslaught of SUVs; accompanied by the revelation that Ford spent a shocking $1 billion on the Lincoln Continental, a car that sells primarily in two countries and has no direct mass volume equivalent for economies of scale. Obviously, spending that sort of money in a declining market is going to lead to trouble. Ford has either confirmed or hinted that every single passenger car they make, expect for the Focus and Mustang, is on borrowed time in North America.
But, there are still hundreds of thousands of people out there that prefer cars over light trucks - it may be a declining market, but it is still a huge market, surely there must be some way to offer new car product to people that still want cars, without spending $1 billion to do it?
It occurs to me that, with crossover vehicles already becoming more and more carlike with each new generation, the answer might be there.
For example, the Edge and the Fusion use the exact same platform. If the Fusion sells 209,000 units a year and shrinking, but the Edge sells 142,000 a year and growing, does it really make sense to have totally separate sets of tooling for each model? Different front doors, different hoods, different fenders, different glass, etc. etc. Why not just design the Edge, then spin a sedan off of it with as little design changes as possible? You’d be talking about a lowered suspension, smaller wheels, deleted body cladding (not that the Edge has a lot, by SUV standards), with most of the changes occurring aft of the C-pillar - you’d need to drop the D-pillar and do a whole new rear windscreen area and increased overhang for a notchback trunk, but all the sheetmetal forward of that could be shared. The result would not be terribly elegant, but modern buyers aren’t interested in elegance, and it wouldn’t be any uglier than a Nissan, anyway.
There is a precedent for this sort of thing. Chrysler famously cut down on tooling costs for the Airflow by making the front and rear door stampings interchangeable on both sides, but the biggest penny pincher (by necessity) was American Motors.
The stylish AMC Cavalier concept car was designed to use the same stampings for both front and rear fenders, one stamping for each pair of doors, and the hood and trunk lid were also interchangeable.
Later, American Motors spun two different models in two different size classes off of the same platform, sharing most of the interior and all the body shell forward of the B-pillar, essentially developing two cars for only slightly more than the cost of one.
Basically, what I’m saying, is that if an automaker were to decide to stay in the car game, the way to do it is by tightening the belt and sharing as much with their crossovers as possible, significantly cutting down development and manufacturing costs on the car model. Essentially, they would have to become lowered and booted SUVs, but it would be a cheap way to keep one foot in the game, which may be a smart move, with fashion and gas prices being cyclical and all.