This is the tale of two nations. One of them is the United States of America, where everybody needs to drive, and most people just get whatever is available, kind of like if you lived in the former German Democratic Republic, only without the 17 year wait. Sure, you've got choices, sort of. You have a choice between what the auto industry wants to sell you. From the 1990s onward, that was either a craptastic sedan with the approximate excitement level of a bowl of oatmeal, or some form of sport-utility vehicle. The SUV is basically a car built on a truck frame constructed with mainly 1950s technology, which means they can be made cheaply and sold at high prices, that is, once your marketing people manage to make them cool, and as long as gas remained dirt cheap.
Alas, that wasn't to last, but did the industry respond by providing efficient right-sized cars? Hell no. We got those god-awful "crossover" vehicles instead, a heavily compromised oddity that promises SUV-like utility with gas mileage sort of like what one might expect from a car - from about 1980 or so. If it indeed does everything, it probably does it badly, and I rarely saw anything remotely like it in Europe during my two-week trip.
Germany is probably the world benchmark for a car buyer's freedom of choice. If you really want a Ford Explorer (sold there as the Ford Maverick), and don't mind buying all that gas at $7/gal. (not to mention the onerous vehicle taxes on cars with big engines), more power to you. Hell, you can even get a Hummer there if you're really into that sort of thing. There are the big Mercedes sedans of yore, minivans of various sizes, and just about any other kind of vehicle available anywhere else in the world.
So what do Germans drive? Mostly compact and subcompact hatchbacks, real station wagons of the type nearly extinct in North America, and small sedans. Crossovers? The only place you'll see those are on the remaining U.S. military installations. Ditto for SUVs. I think I saw four of them in the wild the whole time I was over there (you see a lot more of them (usually BMWs) on German television shows). Do Germans have families? Yes, they do. Do their kids play sports? Oh, yes. Do Germans go to the supermarket, or Ikea, or Obi (their version of Home Depot)? Sure, they do. Do they occasionally go out into the country on a Sunday afternoon? You bet. Do you really need to drive a friggin' tank in order to accommodate a suburban lifestyle? Germans would tell you sei nicht so dumm.
The impressions I get is that Americans are not falling over themselves to buy crossovers because they like them. If anything, they buy them because that's what's out there. In other words, in the former German Democratic Republic, you could get a Trabant or you can walk. In America, you get a pregnant jellybean on wheels or you can patch up your old 1980s-era hatchback and pray it will pass inspection just one more time. In other words, the industry and government regulation much in need of revision are to blame in large part for the fact that Americans have been staying away from dealer's lots in droves.
Here are a few examples of what you can get in Europe, but not in the USA:
Opel (Saturn) Astra wagon - unavailable in the USA, even though it's basically the same car as the sedan that is available here.
Golf station wagon - unavailable.
Mercedes-Benz A-class - unavailable. You really gotta see the A-class. It's a high-roofed compact hatchback like my Scion xA (but a little bit larger) and you see them all over Germany. You can now drive a Benz and save gas, but only in Europe. No mini-Benz for you!
Honda/Toyota diesel anything - unavailable. Diesel is a buck a gallon cheaper in Germany and lasts longer, so quite naturally, Germans heart diesels very much. You can even get your mini-Benz with a diesel. Unfortunately, US market Volkswagen diesel vehicles cost enough extra to make them a not-so-attractive option here.
You can't say it's because of safety issues; this is, after all, the country that welcomed the Yugo with open arms in 1987. When you're selling a car for four grand (more like seven today), you neither expect, nor pay much attention to, NSTHA crash test data. You can't say it's about emissions, carbon, or anything else like that; EU emissions regulations are probably at least as stringent as ours. Europe has an ongoing problem with smog that they take very seriously. Besides, smaller, more efficient engines that use less fuel emit less pretty much by definition. In short, we deal with smog by putting smog-killing gadgets on cars. Europeans deal with it by driving smaller and less. You can't even say it's about power, since most cars available here are laughably overpowered. Most cars sold in the American marketplace that originated elsewhere (Ford Focus, most Toyotas, most Hondas, etc.) have bigger engines than Europeans or Japanese make do with. Would most American cars run acceptably on 10 or 15 percent fewer horsepower? Probably. They did in the 1980s.
But what do ya do? Well, the easiest thing would be to raise the tax on gasoline by something like four bucks, but people would scream bloody murder about that, and the Palinites would score big next Election Day. That would be, to put it mildly, bad. So instead, we have this abomination called CAFE. It works, sort of, but over the years, automakers have found ways to cheat, and EPA administrators have mostly looked the other way. One such way that really pisses me off is to tweak the vehicle specs so you can call it a truck. This has two benefits to the manufacturer (1) you can exclude it from your fleet numbers for cars, and (2) you can use it to offset your otherwise truly horrible numbers for trucks, and SUVs are, according to the EPA, trucks.
The result is something called a "crossover" that isn't really a car, but isn't really an SUV either. I can't imagine taking one of them out in the woods, nor would I think such a vehicle would have particularly great handling characteristics of the sort that manufacturers used to use as a major selling point. If it weren't for the truck vs. car loophole in CAFE, there would probably be no such thing as a crossover. As I pointed out, you can get such a thing in Europe, you often see them on television shows over there, but you rarely see them on the streets. That ought to tell you something.