Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Two-Door Cars Get the Coupe De Grace

When I was a toddler, my family's car was a 1968 Chevrolet "Chevy II" Nova.  Compact-sized for its day,  it was comfortable and practical enough when it was just for my parents and me, but when my sister was born, my mother and father decided that something bigger was in order.  So we all went to Reedman Chevrolet in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where we were living at the time - that dealership, now Reedman Toll, had such a huge showroom, it was like a permanent auto show - and before I knew it, we had a brand-new 1972 Chevrolet Concours station wagon.  The Chevelle-based wagon had more cargo space than the Nova, a longer wheelbase, and something I had been hoping for in our new car, as well as something any growing family needs - rear passenger doors.
The family Nova had been a two-door sedan.  My father had to push the front seat forward to let me into the back seat, though getting in was never an easy task. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I hated it. Now we had a new four-door station wagon and I could get into the back seat myself.  I remember thinking that when I grew up and had kids, my car would have rear passenger doors.
Ironically, I have only owned two-door cars.  Why?  Simple - I've never been married, and I've never sired children.  So a two-door car has always been perfect for a single guy like me.  I don't need rear passenger doors because I don't have any children who need easy access to the back seat.  In fact, I've rarely ferried rear-seat passengers in the five cars I've owned; I can count all of the people who ever rode in the back seat of my 2012 Volkswagen Golf, my current car, on zero fingers.  
So I was shocked, angry and mortified when I heard that Volkswagen is discontinuing the two-door Golf and GTI (below) in the U.S. beginning with the new 2017 model year.

Volkswagen is streamlining its U.S. lineup for 2017 to lower prices and simplify model variations.  The decision has nothing to do with the fallout from the diesel scandal, though that has in fact had a very negative impact on VW's U.S. sales for 2016 (and I'll talk more about that in another post).  The trend in the U.S. is simply moving heavily in favor of four-door models.  Volkswagen of America's marketing boss, Hendrik Muth, said as much recently.  Hardly surprisingly, this decision is not going to sit well with Golf purists like myself.  I don't like it one bit.  I always thought that the two-door Golf looks sportier and cooler than its four-door counterpart.  And the Golf GTI, which was exclusively a two-door car when it originally debuted (the first European model is shown below), has always been more appealing to me in two-door form, because four-door GTIs, available in Europe since the eighties and in the United States since 2005, have always seemed to me like compromises for people - usually dads - who need the easy rear-seat access.

But I don't need a ten-day sales report to see how traditional coupes and two-door sedans have fallen out of favor in America.  While some manufacturers persist in offering two-door cars, including Volkswagen itself (hello? the Beetle?), many car companies have scaled back their choices of two-door models, if they haven't eliminated them altogether.  Remember those old mid-size "personal luxury" coupes like the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme?  That market is pretty much dead, just like Oldsmobile.  You could stand on a street corner for half an hour and see only a couple of two-door cars among the many sedans and SUVs passing by.   Even coupes have four doors now, including Volkswagens (the CC).
Oh yeah, the move away from two-door cars - including hatchbacks - isn't confined to the U.S.  Sales of two-door hatchbacks are also tanking in the Old Country, and the three French automakers - Peugeot, Renault, and Citroën - are pulling out of the market segment.  You know a quintessentially European car style is headed for extinction if the French automakers - who, remember, don't do business in the States these days - are abandoning it.  Ford has also been moving away from offering two-door hatchbacks in Europe, and the current Fiesta has only been available in four-door versions (hatchback and notchback) in the United States.  And the Asians?  Take note: My mother has a Honda Fit, and she could only get a four-door version.  It's not that Honda doesn't offer a two-door Fit in the United States.  It's that a two-door Fit doesn't exist and never has.
While two-door versions of the Golf and the GTI will continue to be available in Europe for awhile, their days in the home market may be numbered, as it appears that the next generation of the VW Polo - a car we Americans have never had the privilege of owning in any form - will be available only in four-door form.  Also, according to Left Lane News,  Rupert Stadler, the head of Audi, doesn't even seem to think two-door versions of the Polo-based A1 (not sold here, of course) and the Golf-based A3 (we only got the four-door versions), or even the two-door A3 convertible, are necessary. And by the way, Volkswagen canceled the two-door Jetta back in 1991.
As cars become more pragmatically designed, the negative-utopian vision of cars rendered dull and stodgy in the name of "safety" that Richard Foster predicted in his short story "A Nice Morning Drive" (which inspired the Rush song "Red Barchetta") appears to be coming true.  First two-door family cars disappear, then sports cars . . . we'll all be driving SUVs soon. But we still have cars like the Golf and the GTI, even if they're only available in the States now with the rear passenger doors we single guys equate with domesticity.  As for my 2012 two-door Golf, I'm going to hold onto it for as long as I can, before I have to get a four-door model.
And then I'll have to get married.
(Note:  Hatchbacks and station wagons are commonly referred to as three-door or five-door models, with the rear cargo door included in the count, but I referred to them here as two-door and four-door models for the sake of clarity, because whether with a hatch or with a trunk, all cars without rear passenger doors are affected by current sales trends.)

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