Is The Hatch Back?

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Hatchbacks are hot.

OK, maybe not as hot as crossovers and SUVs, which combined to outsell hatches by a ratio of more than 7-to-1 in 2015. But from a small base, the U.S. market for hatchbacks is expected to grow faster than any of the other nine vehicle body styles tracked by research firm IHS Automotive. It sees 37 percent growth in U.S. hatch sales through to 2020, to 1.1 million vehicles.

Some of the biggest automakers are supplementing their car lineups with five-doors, an effort to soak up some of the demand leaking out of the sedan market. Potential high-volume entries such as the Honda Civic and Chevrolet Cruze — both due out this fall — will join the Mazda3, Ford Focus hatchback, Volkswagon Golf and others. Toyota will soon inherit Scion’s iM, which will live on as the Corolla iM.

The hatchback has long been something of a curiosity in America -- just 4.6 percent of light vehicles sold last year were categorized as hatches, IHS says. That pales in comparison to Europe, where hatchbacks accounted for 37 percent of the light-vehicle market last year, making it the most popular body style. 

But automakers increasingly believe American buyers are willing to forgo having a trunk for the utility of five doors. The booming popularity of crossovers and SUVs may have piqued consumer interest in hatches, along with the promise of space and versatility to haul stuff. 

Of course, American buyers are benefiting from a spillover effect as automakers adapt hatchbacks from overseas for the U.S. -- Chevy, Honda and others sell plenty of five-doors in Europe and China. If automakers have a hatch in their global stable, they'd rather not risk falling off a U.S. shopper's consideration list for simply not having anything on offer. 

"Development of a hatchback for the Civic would happen with or without the U.S. market," IHS analyst Stephanie Brinley says. "If it can help increase sales, it can be worth the effort and cost to bring it here." 

Hatches also dominate among electric vehicles and hybrids, including the Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, soon-to-launch Hyundai Ioniq and others. They are sure to multiply in coming years as automakers strive to meet federal fuel-economy standards. 

After extensively studying would-be buyers of a Civic hatch, Honda determined that "there is a growing market for that, so we want to be on the forefront," Honda Division's general manager, Jeff Conrad, said last year. He said a growing number of consumers are telling Honda's product planners that they want a vehicle that "can carry my stuff." 

"This gives me the sedan handling, the versatility, the fuel economy, the fun-to-drive quotient,'" Conrad said. "It's something that Honda didn't have available to me before and now they do." 

Chevy also sees the chance to attract new buyers who prefer livelier driving and a more European look. 

"We think the utility in the Cruze hatch and that sportiness opens up a whole new demographic and customer base for us," Chevy U.S. vice president Brian Sweeney said in March. 

As crossovers continue to shrink in size -- consider the explosion of subcompacts, such as the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade -- the line between the traditional hatchback and what consumers think of as an SUV has blurred, says Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell. 

"Practicality and flexible cargo space are the big selling points of small crossovers," she said. "That same reasoning can apply to hatchbacks." 

Might it also apply to wagons? Probably not, according to IHS' forecast. It foresees U.S. wagon sales limping along at about 1 percent of the light-vehicle market through 2020.

This article originally appeared on autonews.com

 

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