Cars are much better off today than they were twenty years ago. This assertion is perfectly true in a general sense, no doubt about it. However, the great development doesn't mean that some models fail in the marketplace, for many different reasons.
Automakers have made great progress in design, engineering and production of each class of vehicle. One can see and feel all the progress made in comfort, technology, power, stability and safety. In addition, cars are more fuel efficient and contaminate less the environment, which is highly valued by the consumers. Quality is also highly valued and quality comes in the form that rarely does one have to return a car because of malfunction or production issues.
However, there have been some models that, well, just failed.
There are many reasons why some models fail. It can be that they have odd design or mechanical features that are not in line with their marketing proposition. It can also be that they end up priced not according to the customer segment they point to. Another reason, among many others, is that some models want to introduce a vehicle category that the market does not perceive as necessary.
There have been failed models since the very beginning of the automotive industry. Here are 19 cars from the 2000s automakers wish we'd forget.
19 Ford Thunderbird 2002-2006
The early 2000s was a time when nostalgia stroke many Detroit designers. In line with the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Chevrolets SSR and HHR later on this list, this T-bird generation had a strong retro style influence.
This Ford Thunderbird has had a curious sales history. It got several great nominations and sales figures of the first year were a big hit. In its second year, the number of units sold fell more than 50% and went subsequently lower until Ford dropped the model in 2006. As soon as people started to use their T-bird they realized the roof was too low for tall people and the trunk was too shallow to fit luggage among other reasons.
18 Chrysler Crossfire
Another Chrysler in this list! Or, maybe, another Mercedes. Conceived when Chrysler was under the ownership of Daimler-Benz, the Crossfire was produced by Karman in Germany during its short life in the market. The company launched this model in 2004 and discontinued it only four years later in 2008.
The coupé version emphasized the retro style mainly in the rear part of the cabin, even though it was a major improvement from its predecessor, the weird Prowler, sold under the Plymouth brand.
Sales figures were way below the expectation of 20,000 units per year with a total number of units reaching less than 35,000 in the four years of its market life. Chrysler sold the remaining new units through eBay.
17 Volkswagen Phaeton
The strategy: a large automobile manufacturer would launch a large sedan with elegance, comfort and power enough to compete with Mercedes S Class and the BMW 7 Series. It would be priced above 70K Dollars and sell over twenty thousand units due to wide multinational presence of the manufacturer.
The implementation of the strategy: a large, elegant sedan, developed from the Bentley Continental platform, that competes not only with Mercedes and BMW but also with the Audi A8, which is a model of the same manufacturer. They eventually found out that very few people are willing to pay almost a hundred thousand Dollars for a car with VW logo on it if they can have a Mercedes, BMW or Audi. Less than seven thousand units have been sold.
16 Saab 9-2X
Subaru is a Japanese manufacturer in which General Motors had a participation. Saab was a Swedish manufacturer that GM owned. Bringing both together, this model got nicknamed “The Saabaru.” They tried to combine the Subaru Impreza with the Saab 9 and the result was neither one nor the other.
As a matter of fact, it was a Subaru Impreza re-badged as a Saab, only for the American market.
On the positive side, it had the praised Subaru all-wheel drive system but it could not have the Swedish touch of a Saab. Publications referred to it as a Japanese ninja dressed up in Swedish costume. Customers were confused with that and confused customers do not buy. Big fail!
15 Lincoln Blackwood
Ford executives placed their bets in 2002 that Lincoln-driving, elegant customers would love to have a black pick-up that had the same elegance of the brand to carry their golf clubs in a bed built like a trunk. They went further in the elegance component and idealized a black, pin-striped truck that looked like a business suit. Yes, anything counts as the newest and sleekest edition of any color as long as it is black!
Well, the result was the Lincoln Blackwood that had only one model year, 2002, and it took Lincoln almost four years to sell all the units that had been manufactured.
14 Hummer H2
General Motors launched the Hummer H2 in 2002 and completely discontinued the Hummer division in 2009 when the corporation went under. Under the “New GM” there has not been a place for a Hummer H2 vehicle.
Despite the financial distress of its mother company, this Hummer model had its pitfalls.
Yes, it had the brand identity of military design with small, rectangular windows and bulky body. It was definitely a gas-guzzler as well with the 6.2L V8 engine. However, it was less than the original Hummer idea. It was lower, smaller, less sturdy and, yes, less military than the original one.
13 Mercedes-Benz R Class
Mercedes first called it a Grand Sports Tourer, then a Sports Cruiser, then a Family Tourer and later an MPV (short for multipurpose vehicle). Despite the targeted category, the R Class has never found its market niche.
Launched in 2005 and discontinued in 2015, these are the only important milestones in the history of this old-station-wagon style vehicle that wanted to conquer a segment where the SUVs occupy a dominant position. The sales figures speak for themselves. Mercedes has targeted to 50 thousand units per year but have never reached 20 thousand, not even in peak year of 2006.
12 Mercedes-Benz C230 Hatchback 2000-2007
Another Mercedes? Yes, and there would be a third one if the first A-Class, launched in the 1990s, could have been included. That was definitely another model the manufacturer wanted people to forget about.
Before the C230 Hatchback, the Mercedes C Class had already been nicknamed “Baby Benz” in the United States market.
The introduction of the Hatchback emphasized the concept behind the nickname. Its market life spanned from 2000 to 2007 and, during that time, the model caused confusion among those who saw Mercedes as a status symbol. It is off the market and they want people to forget about it too.
11 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible
The hardtop Chrysler PT Cruiser is not part of this list. The retro-designed Chrysler model could somehow find its niche in the market. However, Chrysler went one step ahead and launched in 2005 the convertible version, which lasted in the market for three years.
Maybe the short life speaks for itself but it is worth not that the convertible car looked totally out of proportion.
Without the top, the retro-design looked weird instead of attractive. For structural reasons, they had to keep a bar, like a rolling-bar, right behind the front seat line that was there even with the roof open, which conflicted with the overall design of the vehicle.
10 Honda Insight 2003
Hybrid cars have experienced a great evolution in a relatively short time, due to improvements in batteries, electric motors and electronic controls.
The Honda Insight was the first hybrid model in the US market. It also holds the record of most fuel-efficient car on the American roads. And yet, it failed.
Why? A combination of reasons. The first Honda Insight was a two-door, two-seater with a weird body design that aimed to minimize the air drag for fuel-efficiency. That is, drag was more important than attractiveness. The Prius came some months later and became the reference for hybrid cars due to efficient marketing from Toyota.
9 Chevrolet SSR
This was a Chevrolet to forget. It was hard to say if the SSR was a pickup or a roadster as it was too small and too large at the same time. To make matters worse, it was too heavy for its engine power even though it had a V8 under the hood. Trying to describe it, one could say the SSR was a hardtop convertible shaped like a pickup with a closed bed and a retro styled front. Definitely a confusing mix of concepts in a single model.
Still, it took Chevrolet five years to discontinue this vehicle after they launched it in 2003.
8 Chevrolet HHR
Another model Chevrolet wishes we would forget. Launched in 2006, when the retro style was already in a downward slope, the HHR was the PT Cruiser of Chevrolet brand.
This 5-door wagon had the same shape of its Chrysler counterpart but a lot less glamour and originality.
Although they managed to sell more than one hundred thousand units for two years in a row, sales figures dropped sharply until Chevrolet withdrew it from the market in 2011. In a wise move, they offered a panel van version intended for commercial use due to the large cargo compartment of the vehicle.
7 Lexus HS 250h
Toyota has not yet been able to properly deploy its praised hybrid technology to the Lexus product line. The Lexus HS 250h is the first model of this list that makes it evident. It was an attempt to combine a luxury of Lexus with the fuel-efficiency of a Prius hybrid vehicle.
In this case, Toyota used the powertrain of the Camry hybrid version, loaded it with the luxury Lexus expect to have and finished the body with upscale lines. The result was a car that was too heavy in two ways: in the weight itself and in the wallet of the customer. Lexus launched this model in 2009 and withdrew it from the market in 2012.
6 Lexus LS 600h L
The LS 600h is another attempt by Lexus to offer a luxury sedan with hybrid fuel-efficiency. However, the numbers do not show it as a great deal, quite the opposite.
According to edmunds.com, considering the high price of an LS plus the hybrid premium, this car should last more than one hundred years for the fuel-efficiency to pay back.
Being eco-friendly as the other hybrid cars is not an argument the LS 600h can use either. The two electric motors just supplement the big V8 gas engine. In addition, the trunk of the hybrid version is smaller than that of the original gas model.
5 Cadillac XLR
This list has several examples of car models that were vague attempts of combining the virtues of two or more different car categories. The Cadillac XLR is another example to that. The luxury division of General Motors envisioned a car that could combine the performance of a Corvette with the luxury of a Cadillac.
The implementation of the idea was, well, like this: they built the XLR on a Corvette platform, gave it a boxy body and a weaker engine. The luxury items fell short of those of the competing European sports cars. Launched in 2003, the XLR was discontinued in 2009.
4 Acura ZDX
Following an idea initiated by BMW of trying to give the sport utility vehicles a more sportive look, Acura designed a small SUV with hatchback roof. They should have asked themselves a simple question before getting their idea through the production line: who might want to buy an SUV with little head space in the back seat and severely reduced luggage capacity?
Well, it is what it is. The ZDX, launched in 2009 and discontinued in 2013, has granted Acura an entry in this list of models automakers want people to forget. Several editors repeat that the ZD in the name stands for “zero demand”.
3 Cadillac Catera
Car fans who look at the picture above can quickly see an Opel Omega with a Cadillac badge. Launched in 1997, the Catera has only made it to this list because it was still in the market in2001. Not only was it a Cadillac produced in Europe. It was a car without brand identity that looked odd among the other models of the Cadillac product line.
Although many people liked the idea, at first, of having a Cadillac with more sportive impulse, the Catera had technical problems, according to popularmechanics.com, and its launching marketing campaign of “a Cadillac that zigs” has definitely not contributed to the success of the idea.
2 Jaguar X-Type 2001-09
This was the smallest Jaguar model. Built when Ford took over the British manufacturer, which they later sold to Tata from India, the X-Type was an intent to have a Jaguar competing in the lower end of the luxury sedan segment, just like the small BMWs. Again, the implementation of the strategy set the ground to meager results.
It sported the Jaguar brand but it was not a real Jaguar.
Ford used the Mondeo platform, called Contour in the American market. It did not take long for people to nickname it the “Jaguar for the poor”, with fatal consequences to the model and bad reputation to the brand.
1 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
On the positive side, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet was the first convertible, SUV-like vehicle in the market. A very original idea that Nissan introduced in 2012 of a convertible two-door car assembled in an SUV platform.
On the negative side, it was the only convertible, SUV-like vehicle in the market. Nissan dropped the model in its third year with total sales of less than six thousand units. The model tried to introduce a category that no one had asked for. The originally roomy Murano got much smaller due to additional structure and convertible roof mechanism. On the other hand, it was too bulky to be a convertible. Nissan does not want to talk about it, they just want to forget about the Cross Cabriolet.
Sources: autoblog.com; popularmechanics.com; edmunds.com