Why electro-mobility is killing off niche models

By DPA | 25 February 2020


BERLIN: In today's car world dropheads, coupes and vans are endangered species.

The quest for electro-mobility and the parallel boom in the sale of sports utilities is squeezing these variants out of the market - as a glance at a typical car catalogue reveals. It seems now that many more niche models must die.

Most manufacturers can muster up a saloon, a hatchback, an estate and sometimes a convertible but in this age of shared platforms the choice of cars on sale is shrinking rather than expanding.

It is hard to say which models will vanish and when but experts point to the current absence of once popular sporty variants from makers like Opel and Ford.

The current Mercedes-Benz S-Class limousine range is due to be pruned when the next generation appears soon. Insiders say the convertible and coupe variants will fall by the wayside.

Volkswagen has already axed the open-top version of its best-selling Golf hatchback and the Golf Sportsvan will die on the vine too. A successor is not planned.

Sister brand Audi is poised to kill off driver's cars like the two-door TT and other non-mainstream products are set to be culled.

BHC300


The platforms are to blame, with abbreviations almost as well known as the cars themselves. MQB, MFA or EMP2 - they all stand for basic construction sets which can be used to produce a wide variety of vehicles.

Once seen as a blessing in a notoriously cost-conscious industry, this common basis is gradually becoming a curse.

Many model variants like vans are just not getting produced, says Germany's car guru Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer from Duisburg-Essen University.

Perhaps model ranges did need a little pruning but the trend is a response to tight profit margins which dictate that low demand spells the end of diversity.

Daimler boss Ola Kaellenius said the full extent of this development has not yet been reached.

In the short-term, the commitment to electro-mobility and rapid ramping-up of corresponding product programs will see ranges continuing to grow.

But model line-ups will be streamlined and car-buyers will soon see the effect in showrooms.

This seems odd when Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess has just announced that the Modular E-Drive Kit (MEB) developed for battery-powered cars will soon spawn a suite of models.

Mercedes-Benz has meanwhile announced two electric cars for the compact class alone. These slot in below the EQC while a family of electric luxury class models based on the EQS is in the pipeline. Petrol and diesel variants will then vanish.

"This is a level of diversity that cannot be maintained in the long term," said Kaellenius.

According to Arthur Kipferler, who work for the strategy consultancy Berylls, there are several reasons why niche models are on the way out.

"Profit pressure is forcing manufacturers to count every euro they earn," he said. "In many cases, the high expenditure for maintaining ranges and the ongoing development these require can no longer be justified."

All this is being made worse by the high cost of upgrading to meet ever-higher emissions standards.

"If you take into account the threat of fines for failing to meet CO2 targets, the less energy-efficient models and variants quickly become loss-makers - that means they end up on the hit-list."

"For many customers, a crossover is simply better than a compact van, which was considered the ideal solution 10 years ago," said Kipferler.

"That is why we have the Ford Kuga and Puma instead of the old C-Max and B-Max."

Kipferler sees a gloomy future for compact coupes too now that the funky T-Roc has eclipsed the Scirocco.

Of course, it is not all bad news for punters. Niche models nearing the end of their production cycle are often offered by dealers at a huge discount.

In the long-run these shunned variants could even be become collectors' models but do not bet on it, say experts. By then most of these cars will be worn-out.

Keywords