Hooniverse Asks: What Marque has Most Squandered its Brand Equity?

Do you remember how Britney Spears was once one of the world’s most popular entertainers, with her entrancing mix of bubblegum pop and schoolgirl sexiness? Today she’s best known for having gone nuts, falling from that pedestal of pop stardom and landing in Las Vegas, the town were a lot of faded stars shine not so brightly.
In the Automotive world there are a lot of Britneys, car makers that once flew high only to unceremoniously fade from glory. Some of those were through happenstance, while others have done so without obvious explanation. What I want to know is, what’s the greatest fall of a once-great automaker, and was the decline self-inflicted or did it come from without?
Image: MotorAuthority

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  1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
    Wayne Moyer

    It’s not new but I give you the MGF. A horrid car that nobody knows exists outside of the UK.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Actually that is the MGF replacement, the MGTF, with conventional steel suspension and a frontal restyle and the latest head gasket fix.
      This is the MGF, with it’s Hydragas suspension from the Metro and the rounder headlights.
      The later MGTF was the basis for the Hardtop V6 coupe which was nearly going to be built in Oklahoma with the lone prototype in silver.
      I don’t think that they were that bad as they continued the tradition of MG making cars that weren’t that bad, just not as good as their competitors in the same way as the MGB compared to the Alfa and Fiat Spiders. The worst MGs were the MG badged Austin/Morris sedans like the Montego

  2. Lokki Avatar

    I am not going to pick the first suspect that comes to mind, but one closer to my heart, and thus more tragic.
    Alfa Romeo once made the most beautiful and exotic affordable enthusiast machines on the planet. A search for beautiful cars from any decade after 1920 always brings up an Alfa. A search for technological sophistication and engine design also calls forth Alfa Romeo.
    It’s true that they are attempting to return to the U.S. Market – but it’s mostly only a symbolic return -there has been an expression since 1995 that the return of Alfa to the States is only two years away, and in practical terms that’s still true today.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      True dat. I was out and about wearing my Blipshift shirt yesterday:

  3. JayP Avatar


    1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
      Wayne Moyer

      Ford just doesn’t seem willing to spend money on it and doesn’t want to kill it. GM revived Cadillac and has made some interesting cars with that brand but Ford won’t do the same thing with Lincoln. I saw this thing over the weekend. I wasn’t even aware that they made a Lincoln version of the Ford Flex. It was large, long, and unsightly in white. Add in that the one I saw had a cart on the back for a battery powered wheel chair thing (not a wheel chair but the one that assists instead) which made it another few feet longer. It was darned near the length of a GMC RV.

      1. JayP Avatar

        They’re turning it around… slowly now.
        MKZ is now 375(?) hp AWD. The MKC could be a Macan fighter with the RS 2.3 engine and AWD. Continental? It has promise.

        1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
          Wayne Moyer

          Now if they could just make them look a bit different than the Fords they are based on.

        2. Batshitbox Avatar

          Sporty Lincoln? So they’ve devolved into an oxymoron already.

  4. Kiefmo Avatar

    As much as I hate to say it — Mercedes.
    Over that last 25 or so years, they’ve gone from cost-no-object engineering and cars that would last so long they could be considered heirlooms to a more-luxurious competitor for BMW, with which it did not originally compete at all. It was above them all, and now it’s generally an also-ran.

    1. kogashiwa Avatar

      Yes, at one point you could reasonably buy a car from Mercedes with the intention that it would last you the rest of your life.
      As rebuildable as they are you could probably still do that with a ’70s or ’80s model.

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        This is why I cannot conceive of owning one much newer than my ’81 300SD. It’s pretty simple to work on, most of those who keep them on the road are hobbyists who work on their own and share the knowledge on the internet, so you can figure out how to diagnose and fix almost anything with a google search.

      2. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        My W124s will be being driven by me for the next 50+ years

    2. Sjalabais Avatar

      My nomination, too. I’m honestly not sure why one would buy Mercedes today. E and S Class are good if not outstanding cars, but further down the line one gets undistinguished Kia lookalikes.

    3. Professor Lavahot Avatar
      Professor Lavahot

      As I got older, somehow Mercedes, Audi and BMW became three makes I’m not even slightly interested in. How did that happen?

    4. Maymar Avatar

      I’ll be interested to see how the current crop ages. The batch roughly starting with the W202, through the W203 have aged horribly, and very nearly rust like Mazdas. Some time around 2008, Benz seemed to get their act together, and at least they feel solid again. I can’t speak to how rebuildable they are, but in 5-10 years, we’ll at least have an idea if they’re any good anymore.

  5. GTXcellent Avatar

    At the time, arguably the most-luxurious auto maker in the world – sadly the Great Depression was not a great time to be making ultra-luxury automobiles

  6. 0A5599 Avatar

    Pontiac was once known for John Delorean (who later went on to squander his own brand equity), the GTO, Super Duty, HO, Trans Am, and Turbos before they were cool. Its fingerprints (and tire tracks) are all over popular culture. When Burt Reynolds needed a truckload of Coors, he couldn’t have done it without a screaming chicken. Apollo astronauts returned to earth to zoom off in Corvettes, but Major Nelson got to search for signs of Jeannie’s navel in the back of a Goat. Without the Monkeemobile, Mike Nesmith would have had to spend the Liquid Paper fortune in obscurity. And nobody could Hassle the Hoff like KITT.
    Then, Aztek happened.

    1. CruisinTime Avatar

      Aztec was as good a vehicle as any,function and versatility.

  7. alex Avatar

    One word: Cadillac

    1. kogashiwa Avatar

      First thing that came to mind as well.
      For most people if they want a Cadillac it’s because they want to float across vast distances in supreme comfort, not because they want an ersatz BMW with creasier sheet metal.
      (I really like the new Cadillac styling, for the record – CTS coupe is a favourite of mine – but I’m absolutely not a traditional Cadillac customer.)

    2. hike15 Avatar

      Cadillac came to mind for me as well, but at lest GM is putting a lot of effort into reviving it.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        That’s true, but it’s the sort of effort that remaining Cadillac customers seem to shake their heads about. It might work, but it’s a gamble. And to outsiders like me it looks like they are stuck with their 1990’s idea of how a Caddy is supposed to look like.

    3. crank_case Avatar

      I’m conflicted about modern Cadillac, they’ve made some stonking cars of late, though perhaps not ideally suited to the traditional idea of what Cadillac used to stand for. Even their malaise era and 80s/90s stuff has an odd charm for me (forbidden fruit factor being the other side of the Atlantic I guess), but yes, they really should make properly opulent land yachts again like the Ciel concept, something that could trade punches with the likes of a Rolls Dawn/Phantom but with an American flavour.

    4. salguod Avatar

      I’d say they squandered it through the 70s and 80s. They were premier comfortable and stylish luxury cars in the 50s and 60s and by the 90s they were poorly built gussied up Chevys.
      Since then they’ve ventured off in a different direction, but have built a solid reputation as builder of tight, good driving luxury cars. It’s not the same image, but it’s a good one.

    5. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Or Packard?

  8. stigshift Avatar

    Lincoln, hands down. They used to be a worthy adversary and legitimate challenge to Cadillac. Then Ford killed Mercury, and Lincoln became the Kardashians of the faux ‘luxury’ market. What a pity…

  9. Mr.Roadrage Avatar


    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Partly why I’ll never sell my Gamma.

      1. Mr.Roadrage Avatar

        You mean you’re not tempted by a Chrysler 200-based Flavia?

        1. Rover 1 Avatar
          Rover 1

          Ah… No.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      I’m doing my bit keeping the memory going with two 800s, an 825 Sterling and a 820 Liftback.
      Note to self: Time to get another P6.

        1. Rover 1 Avatar
          Rover 1

          Not at that price thanks,( though I think I witnessed those bonnet louvres being done by Steve at Vintrim, who no doubt made the rear headrests as well ).
          I’m looking for a P6 that’s a lttle rougher as a do up and as a home for my bored and stroked P76 V8
          http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars/rover/auction-1117202518.htm is more like it but it’s in the wrong island.

  10. crank_case Avatar

    Lancia, without a shadow of a doubt, I cannot think of a name that was so illustrious brought so low for no clear reason other than gross mismanagement. It was a name that stood for technically advanced, beautifully built cars in its early history, and even in the early 90s. it still had the Delta Integrale which also spawned the wonderfully oddball Hyena, bowing out just as subarus imprezzas and evos where taking off. It’s like everyone involved just completely lost interest after that.

  11. Mister Sterling Avatar
    Mister Sterling

    I came here to suggest Subaru or Lincoln. But I have to agree it is the Italians, Lancia and Alfa Romeo. Alfa because it is now totally out of reach of the American middle class customer. And Lancia is self-evident.

  12. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    So many great choices leap to mind, including Mercedes, Cadillac, Honda and VW. But the prize really has to go to GM. The brand ‘GM’ is pretty stable, but they allowed Cadillac to deteriorate horrendously before reviving it. And worse is the brands that they’ve killed off: Geo, Saturn, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saab… Each one of them represented billions worth of brand name equity alone. In comparison, what Ford did Merkur and Mercury is trifling.

  13. XRSevin Avatar

    It coulda been GM’s Jeep.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      The proposed H4 could have given the Wrangler a run for its money.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      The Kizashi was an unexpected high point. The other stuff is mostly uninspired bulk stock.

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        Well, that was kind of the joke. No equity for the brand to squander.

        1. CraigSu Avatar

          On the way to work this morning I realized I was behind both a Suzuki Forenza and a Mitsubishi Galant. It’s been a long time since I’d seen either one.

      2. crank_case Avatar

        The Swift Sport is an 80s hot hatch you can buy today, with back doors, a really underrated car, they have more than one good one in their lineup. Autocar says lots of nice things about the basic Celerio too as basic transport, though I’m a little unconvinced by that one. They also gave us the JWRC ignis sport and the Cappucino in the UK/Irish market. Lots of good stuff, just no-one even knows it existed.
        ..and the notvolvo XC90, hey I guess even Japanese product planners get drunk and don’t stop carrying on a joke when they sober up from time to time.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          Haha, I guess that one was an X90 without the C. But I got to say I’m surprised by praise for the Ignis – to my mind just an unexciting senior’s 4WD.

          1. crank_case Avatar

            The Ignis (up to 2006) was a 2WD hatch that looks like a 4WD, it was actually the swift replacement, before being replaced by the swift again, while the Ignis name got re-used on something even more cross-overy in some markets, it’s confusing. The Ignis Sport looks like this if anyones still confused:

          2. Sjalabais Avatar

            The Ignis is very popular here, my neighbour is one of their happy customers:

        2. wheels Avatar

          Once watched an x90 dance rings around a bunch of 7 or 8 serious 4WD’s on a beach/dune. While they almost all required towing, it didnt have the slightest problem. Obviously the right weight/power for the conditions but did show it had a place and was not a total joke.

          1. crank_case Avatar

            It’s off road capabilities were never in doubt, it’s essentially a Vitara/Escudo without rear seats/useful cargo area and those are pretty decent off road, it’s more the combo of sports car bodystyle in a format where people at least want to pretend you can get a load of surf gear in.

    2. kogashiwa Avatar

      As far as Suzuki brand equity, the Samurai and the Swift come to mind. Small, cheap and cheerful, capable. But those were long ago.
      Elsewhere in the world they are still true to that of course.

  14. Cool_Cadillac_Cat Avatar

    They used to be #3 of the Big Three, however, they were also known for engineering back in the land yacht days.
    The ’66 Imperial* was an amazing feat of automotive excellence, but I fear it will never return.
    *Imperial was still a separate make until ’67, shared nothing but engine/trans (pretty much), with anything else, but still, it was Mopar at its heart.

    1. GomerPig Avatar

      Plymouth – sold 882,196 cars at it’s height in 1973. Then barring a few exceptions, it entered a long sad downward spiral

  15. JayP Avatar

    In the day, they were the anti-BMW. Turbo 5s and quattro. Hell, you couldn’t get a quattro automatic until the V8 quattro. Even the racing seemed more down to earth – WRC, SCCA, IMSA.
    Mid-90’s Audis changed… gave up on Avants, made SUVs. Racing is LeMans.
    They’re selling more BMW-like vehicles than ever, making more $$$.
    Damn them.

  16. Ernest Avatar

    Chevrolet. Great cars in the ’50 en 60s. Now (here in Europe) we have the Chevrolet Aveo. In fact a Korean Daewoo, rebadged as a Chevrolet.

  17. sunbeammadd Avatar

    Sunbeam built up a strong sporting pedigree backed by success in most major forms of motorsport. Then they were taken over by Chrysler who flushed the lot away. The brand was dead 11 years later.
    Sister brand Talbot fared little better.

  18. salguod Avatar

    I took the question to mean what brand sits today with the most squandered reputation. One that hasn’t been mentioned is Nissan. In the 90s they were what Mazda is today – Doug makers of affordable driver focused cars. The 4DSC Maxima, the SE-R. Now, nothing but bland appliances.
    Historically I’d have to say GM in the 70s and 80s. At the end of the 60s, GM had brands with distinct character and solid reputations. By the end of the 80s they were all shadows of their former selves and virtually indistinguishable from one another.

  19. Maymar Avatar

    I don’t think 3 tons of fast, shouty conspicuous consumption is what Charles Spencer King had in mind.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      The SVR is OTT, but the rest of the range nails the concept of an off road car that could hold its own against a Jag XJ or Mercedes S-Class, it’s only gotten better. Yes the styling is fiddlier, like everything else these days, but positively restrained next to most big SUVs. They’re not hose down simplicity any more, but haven’t been since the 80s Vogue models and if you want something akin to an original Rangie, there’s the discovery, especially the 5 seat “commercial” TDV6 model available in some markets.

      1. Maymar Avatar

        That’s fair, and I’m mostly thinking from a North American perspective where we mostly only get the ghastly ones. Most of the RR Sports are variations of awful (and is considerably more common than the big Range Rover, or the cheaper and more tasteful Disco/LR4) and the Evoque is a bit cynical.

  20. Simon BiTurbo Avatar
    Simon BiTurbo

    Flash back to the 1960s and they had the well respected and well built P5, the technologically advanced and stylish P6 that alongside the Triumph 2000 created and dominated the 2.0l executive niche and a mid-engine V8 sports car and XJ6-competitor in the works.
    Move to the 70s and they’d squandered the ‘well built’ part of that with the SD1, but at least it was an old-school V8 bruiser.
    From then on they very swiftly moved into ‘old people’s cars’ and ‘we’re calling Austins Rovers now’ and never quite escaped.
    Even now the name has a bit of a ‘musty’ air to it.

  21. Alff Avatar


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