BMW April 2022

At the presentation of the all-new Volkswagen Polo, one thing stood out – the new subcompact won’t be offered in a three-door option. This is the consequence of the shocking sales drop posted by this body-type during the last few years. There is an evident trend in the European passenger cars market. Overall, the market is continuing to grow, beating pre-crisis levels and remaining stable. However, European consumers are displaying a change in preferences when it comes to body type. Much has been said and written about the SUV boom and its importance to the automotive sector’s growth, but there is another overriding trend of recent years – the financial crisis and its impact is forcing drivers to think more rationally about body type when purchasing a car.

Consumers now think carefully about the balance between comfort, usability and design, especially European consumers looking for small cars. We are seeing a shift, design is no longer the primary concern of consumers – convenience is increasingly important. This explains why three-door hatchbacks are disappearing from European roads.

Three-door hatchbacks are cars that sit in the A, B and C segments that usually feature the same characteristics and look of their five-door counterparts. However, some make use of more aggressive designs and are positioned as the “sporty little hatches” in the market. In the current climate, this positioning is no longer valid, with consumers becoming more rational in their decision making since the European financial crisis of 2009-2013. What’s the evidence for this?  As the financial crisis hit, consumer priorities changed. Since then, the market share of small and compact three-door cars posted a shocking decline from 2.45 million units in 2009 to 961 000 units in 2016. SUVs are continuing to gain ground, with most featuring five-door body-types, this is having a negative impact on traditional segments, with the market abandoning less practical body-types. Roughly half of the three-door small cars currently available in the market correspond to unique body-types without a five-door option available – for example the Fiat 500, Smart Fortwo, Opel Adam, DS 3, VW Beetle, Ford Ka, Alfa Romeo Mito or VW Scirocco.

The declining sales of the category is resulting in fewer choices for consumers, with many three-door versions of the popular B-Segment cars no longer available, such as the Clio, Punto, Micra and Ypsilon which are all only available in five-door versions, meanwhile the new generation Ibiza, Polo and Swift will eliminate the three-door versions from their catalogues.

In the C-Segment, the situation is even more dramatic as car makers have eliminated the three-door versions of the Astra, Focus, 308, Megane, Auris, C4, i30 and the Civic (in Europe).

The unavailability of the Polo three-door is one more step towards the end of a body-type that was a synonym for ‘cool’ style, that is no longer valid in a market full of more practical, rational consumers. A strong trend like this can even impact a strong player like Volkswagen so, it’s one to watch.