The Auto Enthusiast’s Realistic Christmas Wish List for the North American Auto Industry in 2020

<img data-attachment-id="1745182" data-permalink="" data-orig-file="" data-orig-size="1200,800" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"1"}" data-image-title="TTAC Christmas wish list unrealistic" data-image-description="

Images: TTAC, Renault, Ford, GM

" data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="aligncenter wp-image-1745182 size-large" src="" alt="TTAC Christmas wish list unrealistic - Images: Automakers" width="610" height="407" srcset=" 610w, 75w, 450w, 768w, 120w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 610px) 100vw, 610px">French hot hatches. Affordable full-size wagons. Manual-shift rear-wheel-drive sports sedans under $30,000. Production versions of the Chevrolet Code 130R, Dodge Hornet, and Ford Start. The reincarnation of Isuzu’s VehiCROSS and Trooper. Standard-of-the-world Cadillac sedans and ordinary BMWs that drive as well as modern Cadillacs. A hiatus on coupe funerals.

My unrealistic auto writer’s Christmas wish list could go on forever. Much of it is based on nostalgia. Some of it simply isn’t cognizant of current market trends. A healthy portion of it simply denies the lack of performance-oriented interest among 2020’s car buyers. The remainder shows a lack of gratitude for the spectacular automotive era in which we live.

But what about realistic hopes of what could be gifted to the auto enthusiast community in the new decade?

This is my realistic Christmas wish list for 2020, not for me personally but rather for the North American auto industry as a whole.

Performance-Branded Small SUVs
There are plenty of AMG and M-badged utilities. Yet little effort has been expended on bringing genuine performance credentials to the biggest sellers in the biggest automotive sector. High-powered engines aren’t enough – it’s time for the complete package. It was a foregone conclusion in decades past that automakers would offer another level of performance – not necessarily in conjunction with luxury content, either – to high-volume cars.

You’re familiar with vehicles such as the Honda Civic Si, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, and Volkswagen Golf GTI. The time has come. Let’s have a CR-V Si, a RAV4 TRD, a Tiguan GLI, and a Rogue SE-R. Power is easy, but don’t forget the brakes, suspension, wheels, tires, front fascia, and seat bolsters.

<img data-attachment-id="1571374" data-permalink="" data-orig-file="" data-orig-size="1920,1200" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}" data-image-title="chevrolet-suburban-2005" data-image-description="

General Motors

" data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-1571374" src="" alt="chevrolet-suburban-2005" width="610" height="381" srcset=" 610w, 75w, 450w, 768w, 120w" sizes="(max-width: 610px) 100vw, 610px">A Somewhat Affordable Chevrolet Suburban
Even when the exterior design challenges good taste, the Chevrolet Suburban’s desirability quotient runs high. It is simply so excessive that it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where it couldn’t measure up to the challenge. Unlike the overwhelming majority of three-row utility vehicles (and very much in keeping with minivans), there’s an abundance of space for more at least seven people and their stuff.

Unfortunately, Suburbans are terrifyingly costly. Since 2000, a four-wheel-drive Suburban’s base price has risen 29 percent when adjusted for inflation. De-content it, de-chrome it, run the prior generation as a “Classic” model – I don’t care. Just offer an entry-level Suburban for under $45,000, rather than over $55,000.

<img data-attachment-id="1204177" data-permalink="" data-orig-file="" data-orig-size="2435,1592" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"4.5","credit":"","camera":"Canon EOS 40D","caption":"","created_timestamp":"1211049933","copyright":"","focal_length":"33","iso":"400","shutter_speed":"0.04","title":"","orientation":"1"}" data-image-title="BMW M5 E39" data-image-description="

By M5_E39_Terabass.jpg: Terabassderivative work: WaddleDee72 (M5_E39_Terabass.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

" data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-1204177" src="" alt="BMW M5 E39 - Image: M5_E39_Terabass" width="610" height="399" srcset=" 610w, 75w, 450w, 120w" sizes="(max-width: 610px) 100vw, 610px">Attractive BMWs
Run a Google image search for E39 M5 or E39 7-Series. Study the beltline on an E46 convertible. Make the E34 Touring your desktop background. Then ask yourself whether anybody who worked in BMW’s design department 20 years ago is even remembered inside the company. BMW designs today are caricatures of BMW’s best efforts.

No, it’s not just the grilles. The X2 is ill-proportioned everywhere. The 7-Series doesn’t appear athletic. The Z4’s headlights search in vain for a connection to the grille. And yeah, okay, the grilles are an affront to good taste.

Image: General MotorsChevrolet Spark Competitors
Subcompacts are dropping like flies. The Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta are way too good to deserve discontinuation. Except, that’s just it. They are way too good. If the North American marketplace is going to offer an effective small car market five years from now, automakers are going to need to learn how to compete at an acceptable small car price point.

That means a Spark-like $13,400 and not a Fit-like $16,190. Doesn’t sound like a big gap? It’s a 21-percent difference that drives subcompact-intending Fit, Fiesta, and Sonic buyers into Civics, EcoSports, and, well, Sparks.

A New Name For FWD Subcompact Crossovers
To the typical shopper, they’re not cars. But we know that without even an all-wheel-drive option, they can hardly be called an SUV. Crossover should be acceptable terminology for the Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Venue, Toyota C-HR, and Kia Soul. After all, they cross over between one category and another. But the “crossover” banner already hangs over an established segment of RAV4s, Outbacks, and other utilities with four-wheel traction.

That leaves the general population under the mistaken impression that these mildly elevated cars, with their roof rails and wheel-arch cladding, went to the same school. Urban Utility Vehicle? That’s probably too much of a mouthful.

A Class-Leading Toyota Tundra
A new full-size Toyota pickup isn’t too far off, and not a moment too soon. The second-generation Toyota Tundra was introduced for the 2007 model year. With the Nissan Titan fading away (2021 is its last model year in Canada, the model mix is narrowing in the U.S., sales are dwindling), the Tundra is the lone challenger for Detroit supremacy.

Mind you, Detroit’s truck innovation has not been slowed by a dearth of outside competition. But in a hugely consequential segment that produces over 200,000 monthly U.S. sales during a pandemic, it seems odd that there is so little viable competition. If the Tundra’s ever going to become a factor, it can’t merely be competitive. It needs to be better.

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Image: Toyota

" data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-1590870" src="" alt="Toyota FJ Cruiser Final Edition - Image: Toyota" width="610" height="406" srcset=" 610w, 75w, 450w, 120w, 641w" sizes="(max-width: 610px) 100vw, 610px">More Wrangler Competition
Ford figured it out. The Jeep Wrangler sits on a gold mine all of its own. The unveiling of the Ford Bronco was undeniably one of the automotive industry’s biggest moments in 2020, and its actual arrival in showrooms later in 2021 will undeniably be one of the automotive industry’s biggest moments in 2021. There are other body-on-frame SUV nameplates that at one point produced significant volume, however, and there may well be no time like the present to recapture some of that past glory.

True, Toyota sold fewer than 15,000 FJ Cruisers per year in its final six years on the market, but more than 55,000 were sold in each of its first two years on the market. And while Nissan Xterra sales dropped below 20,000 units in each of its last five years, Nissan averaged 75,000 annual Xterra sales between 2000 and 2006. With a new Frontier, can we have a new Xterra?

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Image: American Honda

" data-medium-file="" data-large-file="" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-1295818" src="" alt="2007 Honda Element EX, Image: American Honda" width="610" height="411">Element, Montero, CX-7, Tracker, Nitro
Potential Wrangler competitors aren’t the only potential SUV reincarnations that would make more sense in the early 20s than they did in the early Aughts. The Honda CR-V could once again spin off a renewed Honda Element, the cult following for which would generate plenty of initial hype. Mitsubishi is a joke in some circles, but if the Pajero (that we know as the Montero) would have ever been updated, it would certainly elevate the brand’s current North American reputation.

Mazda’s CX-7, reborn with true performance credentials and improved cabin space, would suit Mazda’s range well as a challenger for the Edge, Murano, Passport, and Blazer. Might a rugged, small, affordable, body-on-frame GM SUV fare well in a battle with the Ford Bronco Sport? It’s time for a new Chevrolet Tracker. The first Dodge Nitro was fairly awful, but if FCA restyled the Cherokee or Compass just so, it would certainly fill a void.

fcaThe Next Big Thing From Auburn Hills
The first Caravan revolutionized family transportation in the 80s. The second-generation Dodge Ram’s design focus shifted truck buyers’ perceptions in the 90s. The Chrysler 300 was a major design impact in the mid-2000s, as well. More than 140,000 were sold in 2004; more than 140,000 in 2005, too, not to mention over 52,000 Dodge Magnums in 2005 and six-digit results from the Dodge Charger in 2006 and 2007. There were other big moments from Chrysler (and whoever owned Chrysler at any given time), including the PT Cruiser and the LH cars. So, what’s next?

A Desirable Premium-Brand Pickup
It’s certainly not necessary, not with the sumptuous cabins on offer from Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, and Ram. The available tech embarrasses many so-called luxury cars. Performance levels, whether in terms of sports car acceleration or actual truck capability, grow by leaps and bounds. But don’t you ever wonder if there shouldn’t be another level? It can’t merely be badge engineering – that didn’t work with the Lincoln Mark LT. It didn’t even work when it occurred alongside unique elements, not with the Lincoln Blackwood or Cadillac Escalade EXT.

With off-the-charts margins and insatiable demand, shouldn’t one premium brand or another be able to figure out a way around the enduring conundrum that pits rugged appeal against the paranoia of poseur pickups? If not Lincoln or Cadillac, what about Land Rover or Lexus?

[Images courtesy of the manufacturers]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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