Hooniverse Asks: What was the Greatest Car to Ever Fail in the Marketplace?

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Common phrases denoting well intentioned acts not going as expected include “no good deed ever goes unpunished” and “only the good die young.” When it comes to cars, there have been a number of models introduced under a halo of critical praise, only to fail in the marketplace for what’s usually an unfathomable reason.
Good cars getting a bum deal isn’t all that uncommon. It’s usually the case that, while wildly well thought out and on target for a specific market niche, the fact turns out  the targeted niche was an uncommonly small one.
Failure in this case means a lack of sales, which doesn’t mean a car or truck is at all bad, just that it’s not long for this world because not enough people appreciate how good it is. What I’d like to know today is your opinion one what has been history’s greatest car ever to fail in the market. What do you think is the auto industry’s greatest deed to have gone punished by no sales?
Image: mvdexpress

89 Comments

  1. Can we get the easy ones out of the way first?
    GM:
    -CTS Wagon, not the V as that was a limited production of a limited production but what a honey of a car to never catch on
    -G8, all models. It was a ‘smart money’ 5 series when equipped properly. Marketing? By extension the SS will be included in this failure since it is effectively the same problem.
    -Vibe, easily the most practical and reliable car GM has built since the B-Wagons, but they completely missed the market on it and it took them a decade to roll out a proper hatchback without Opel or Toyota helping.

      1. They were fun and the coupe was vastly superior, but they were a long way from being competitive with the MX-5. Even the MR2 had better manners than the Solstice/Sky and I like them a ton. I just don’t think they were much past parts bin roadsters. A lot of rough edges. Had they had a second generation to iron out everything, they would have been dynamite.

        1. I’ve owned a Miata and an MR2, and I currently own a 2.4l Sky. Of the three, the Sky has the best chassis balance and the worst ride quality (it does, however, ride better than a Z4 or S2000). It also has the best interior of the three, both in terms of ergonomics and quality. Its biggest failing is that the engine is a relatively crude device, best suited to cruising within the torque band rather than revving out in traditional sports car fashion.
          Long story short, I chose the Sky over an NC or SW30 and I’d do so again.

          1. I disagree with your opinion.
            The MR2 was decidedly spartan for an interior, but that chassis was very sweet and the layout was well-balanced. The Miata depended on which model you chose, but my complaints for the NC were more for weight than anything involving the interior. The Solstice/Sky was like every other GM dash in that era; black plastic with painted gray plastic trim and circular HVAC controls from the Hummer H3, Vibe, G6 and every other GM without automatic A/C.
            The engine wasn’t up to spec, but that was a combo of it’s powerband and the transmission it was paired with.
            The top operation was shit. Plain and simple. The first time I used one, I thought, “This will only work for 3 years of daily use before it starts to break and then what?”
            I’m glad you like your Solstice/Sky. I like them too, but they are not as refined as the others in the category, like I said, rough edges that would have been worked out in a 2nd generation.

          2. The softtop operation is definitely a lot of work, but mine at least has held up extremely well, and for me personally the way the car looks with the top completely hidden under the distinctive double-bubble decklid is worth the effort.
            I agree that the car, overall, is less refined than its competition, but, again personally, I find the rough edges to be worth living with for the combination of freeway-cruising daily drivability (I adore the seats and the quiet with the top up), entertaining chassis, uniqueness, and looks.
            I was also considering a TT at the time, which has no rough edges whatsoever, but which also lacks the character (car-enthusiast indefinable trait cop-out, sorry) of the Sky. Character won out.

        2. The G8 and the Solstice/Sky were casualties of the death of their brands. The Solstice/Sky in particular sold as well as could reasonably be expected. AFAIK, they sold about as well as the Miata ever has in the US (except when the miata was new and a breakthrough in the market).
          GM isn’t serious about selling the Chevy SS in volume.

          1. They were brilliant as far as oversized go-karts can be brilliant.

    1. My brother owned a first iteration Vibe GT with the screaming 1.8/6m. In Atlanta, which is one big parking lot. So, he didn’t own it for long. But he loved that little mill when he could, on occasion, whip it to redline without the chance of rear-ending someone.

  2. This little dude. As it was released when gas was at an almost historic low (adjusted for inflation), most folks couldn’t give two wet farts about 50+mpg. Thus, its appeal rested mostly with the greenie types who were drawn in by its planet-saving promise (let’s not debate the reality of battery mining/manufacturing/recycling — I’m referring to how it was marketed).
    Now? They’re relatively rare, and finding one for sale at all, much less at a reasonable price, is not an easy task, regardless of condition/mileage. My local CL has zero first-gen Insights for sale, and only a handful of a half-baked, Prius-aping second generation that shouldn’t have bothered existing (stop playing “Me Too!”, Honda — you’re better than that).

    1. I’m always amazed at how beat up many secondhand hybrids are. If they really cared about the planet, wouldn’t they want to take care of their car so that it would last and not need to be replaced?

      1. Makes perfect sense to me! My car might burn diesel at a rate of <25mpg, but at 250k and still going strong, not expending resources to build another car for me to buy seems like the greener option.

      2. I think part of that might have to do with the fact that hybrids are made as light as possible. Thinner materials weigh less and show wear quicker.

  3. The MN-12 Thunderbird, specifically the S/C edition. This car was America’s 6 series. A RWD coupe with an available 5-speed, IRS, 4 wheel discs (not common in the late 1980s/early 1990s) and 315 ft. lbs of torque. The S/C did so bad that soon Ford was forced to shoehorn in the 5.0L V-8 (which the MN-12 was never designed for). There wasn’t another non pony car/non sports car American car like it again until the late GTO.
    http://gallery.johnwartjr.com/albums/sc/sc.jpg

    1. Just one point of clarification — did you mean the 4.6L V8 (mod motor)? I thought the 5.0 had long been a Thunderbird option, and as it’s no wider, just longer, than the 3.8L (both being 90-degree OHV designs), I can’t imagine stuffing it in was that difficult.

      1. The 5.0 was indeed gone for ’89-’90, came back in ’91 with modifications to cram it into an engine bay that was originally only supposed to accept V6’s (lower profile intake manifold & modified front engine accessory drive IIRC), then was replaced with the 4.6 for ’94.

      2. They had to scrunch up the intake and/or exhaust and it lost a few ponies in the process. Not sure if this was the case with the later 4.6L V-8. The 5.0L was so tight that IIRC the oil pan had two drain plugs due to the weird shape.

    2. Not just IRS, but the MN-12 also had a double wishbone front. I had a ’95 4.6, hated it at the time (it was a hand-me-down that I was forced into), but now sort of wish it was still around.

    3. My recollection is that the SC was received about as well as anticipated and was reasonably within its goals, but the problem was that the base car came in too heavy/expensive-to-build/thirsty and the 140 HP V6 was overwhelmed.

      1. SC sales dropped WAAY off after the first couple of years, especially after the (less powerful) V-8 became available.

        1. I’ve read that the IRS was kind of on the weak side, not designed to handle serious torque.

          1. For what is worth, some of the early Panoz cars used it. That doesn’t mean too much though.

  4. gonna go with the Edsel, “the wrong car at the wrong time” according to some
    and the Dino nameplate, Ferrari should have just stuck with Ferrari badging all along.

  5. NSU Ro 80 – car of the year 1968, spectacular design cited for decades by Audi and others (Opel Omega springs to my mind), then advanced technology, they sold less than 40k in ten years. Mainly due to the material challenge at the rotor edges and the overwhelmed average NSU Prinz mechanic, the reliability wasn’t very high, even for 1960’s standards.
    In hindsight it was good they didn’t sell so many, the warranty claims would have killed the company way earlier, and we would never have gotten the K70… uhm, forget the last part.
    http://amklassiek.nl/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/wat-is-er-mis-met-een-ro80.jpg

      1. It also proves that the various accent lines now in vogue are unnecessary if the designer understands proportion and curvature.
        And I would *love* to see proper glasshouses make a comeback. I’m appalled by the number of modern cars I’ve driven in the past couple of years that have absolutely useless outward visibility.

  6. http://www.jbcarpages.com/toyota/corolla/2006/pictures/images/2006_toyota_corolla_picture%20(21).jpg
    Hey look a Corolla S. Nope.
    This was the 05-06 XRS. It was a never really discussed option on the beigest of beige Toyotas in the era of beige Toyotas.
    It had the 170-hp engine from the Celica GT-S, Matrix XRS, Vibe GT and the Lotus Elise, so no low end but when the VTEC-esque cam switch happened, it was a very quick jump to the redline. Given 16″ tires with a bit wider tread and a stiffer suspension package (rumored to be some TRD work) what it still lacked in 0-60 it made up for on back roads. This was a fun little car.
    How did it sell? Poorly. Who was shopping for a hot Corolla?
    I nearly bought one in 2006 for my commuter, but ultimately was turned off by the need for premium if you wanted to take full advantage of the motor. I bought a tC instead.

    1. Agreed. It would have likely been different if Toyota had a history of hot FWD sedans to build upon (similar to Honda’s Si offerings), but when the XRS was released, everyone who wanted such a vehicle was already biased in favor of alternatives from other makers.
      When the next generation came out with the 2.4L/5m offering (no more power, but butt-flattening torque for a compact), it was still met with a collective “meh”. Toyota needed to knock one out of the park if it wanted to build a hot Corolla. Instead, it was a phoned-in parts bin offering that wasn’t sufficiently differentiated from the rest of the Corolla line.

      1. True. They had done the FX16 and the previous generations of RWD AE86 stuff, but the sedans were always for normal, dull, people. I can’t think of a truly hot sedan that Toyota ever put under their name. The Avalon Touring, when it came out was a solid highway pursuit vehicle, but too large for any chicanery.

          1. Yes, you’re right. I was being Amerocentrically minded.

    2. Interesting… It seems almost like a continuation of the original SHO:

      -Reliable
      -Parts Availability
      -Q-factor
      -Yamaha designed V6
      -Improved Suspension
      -Manual Only
      -7000 RPM redline
      -Daily hoonability. You could drive sanely and get very good gas mileage (26 mpg), or you you run it in the upper RPMS and have a screamer.
      -Still could do family, responsible duties. As the only real compromise for all of this was no longer having a fold down rear seat. (Actually, I don’t think any Taurii had fold down rear seats, but whatever)

      This actually seems to follow the SHO formula way better than the posers that currently have that name. (By posers, I mean the fact they are huge, turboed, and non-Yamaha.)

        1. Actually, I seem to find a bit of controversy on the 0-60 that perhaps you or another Hoon could clear up for me.

          Some sources say 0-60 of 6.6:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Taurus_SHO#First_generation_.281989.E2.80.931991.29

          While others report 7.6:
          http://www.automobile-catalog.com/make/ford_usa/taurus_1gen/taurus_1gen_sho/1990.html

          Which is it? And how can there be that much of a difference?

          This is for the First Gen, by the way. It seems that there is a consensus that the Second Gens can do it in the mid 7s.

      1. Yeah, the T Sport was a fun hatch for what it was. With the kit it was a little more conspicuous though.
        The Corolla XRS visually was just a Corolla S with 16″ wheels. It was wonderfully benign looking.

    3. I used to troll eBay looking for them. My only worry was about how the cars were treated by the previous owners.

      1. Having shopped them on a few occasions, I will say, you can tell immediately upon start-up if they were hooned.

    1. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who retrofits Daytona/Superbird-style spoilers on ’78-’79 Magnums, and has a handful of them. It actually doesn’t look as bad as you might think, as the B-body Magnum is quite squared-off. It’s seriously lacking in the underhood package, though, even with 360- and 400-cube V8s on offer. I’m sure that can be amended through the aftermarket, or just digging through the Mopar parts bin.
      Occasionally he posts one or more of the bespoilered cars or just the spoilers on CL, but at outrageous prices. I doubt he’s ever sold one. Maybe it’s one of those appease-the-missus tactics (“I’ve tried to sell them, Honey — no one wants them!”).

        1. The vinyl ruins it, but the front one isn’t horrible. By that I mean not horrible in comparison to what I would expect. It’s egregiously horrible in the overall scheme of life.

          1. Agreed. I still like Magnum based ones better than the Challenger based ones, though.

            These just seem a little overweight.

          2. It is just Superbird-esqe instead of Daytona. All the Superbirds had vinyl tops.

          3. Yes, but an all-over vinyl top is swingin’ sixties, not malaise-y faux-luxe. Those rear landaus look like bad comb-overs.

    2. True, but ChryCo never had to sell any of them. They just had to produce them to meet NASCAR homologation rules.

      1. Technically, they didn’t have to sell them. But they had to build over 1900 Superbirds, whether or not they sold them. That’s a lot different from having to build 25 Porsche 917s and then stripping them again for parts..

  7. GM didn’t plan the Syclone as a limited production vehicle. Sales results took care of that. Projections were for 15,000 vehicles per year. In 1991, fewer than 3000 were produced, and in 1992, they made only 3 units before pulling the plug.
    The Typhoon had slightly larger total numbers, spread out over 1992 and 1993, and then the project was not refreshed with the new S10 program for 1994, because GM learned the public does not want to pay $30K for a leather-clad luxury SUV that never goes off the road.
    http://www.tyclone.com/syty/wp-content/uploads/LSR3Sy.jpg

    1. I don’t begrudge GM giving the people what they want and taking as much for it as they can, but it just astonishes me that a mid-spec Yukon will be sold these days for $10k more than a 5-series BMW.

      1. When you start throwing options at both of them, the BMW’s price tag rises faster. And if you are a business owner, the Section 179 deduction makes the Yukon a LOT cheaper. Plus, it holds a bigger family and can tow your boat to the lake,

  8. The Acura NSX was a great car that never sold in the numbers that Honda had hoped for. The automotive press predicted that the NSX would make Ferrari and Lamborghini sweat cannonballs, but it didn’t happed. People who were going to pay a premium price for a sports car also wanted the premium name, and after an initial rush of interest, NSX sales fell off a cliff.

  9. If this were greatest ‘concept’ in automotive history to fail, I’m giving it to the Pontiac Aztek. It WAS a crossover, and we all know how much people dislike that part of the market these days…. Unfortunately, it was ugly and built with some very, very bad OLD GM practices.
    Greatest car in automotive history to fail? How about the GM EV1?

    1. The EV1 was an experiment from beginning to end. It’s arguable whether it was a good idea or a bad idea, but GM never expected the EV1 project to be a profitable product. GM wouldn’t have had any problem selling the cars at the end of the lease period for a reasonable amount of money (compared to other used cars, not compared to the cost of the project) instead of crushing them, but didn’t want to deal with supporting a fleet of used more-or-less prototypes long term.

  10. Automakers never seem to worry about a Cruze based mini CUV cannibalizing Cruze sales, but better stick that G8/SS in the corner with a $50K price tag to keep the Camaro from sales from dipping because heaven forbid you build two cars that are powerful and/or offer something to the driving experience apart from beverage placement options. Pass me another beige FWD CUV, I’m about to wake up.

        1. I covet a Safrane Biturbo. It’s like a French hatchback S4 (which I guess would make it a French S5 Sportback).

    1. This is probably the winner by a full length glass sunroof over the Ro80. The Ro80 probably earned its failure because the engine really wasn’t ready. The Avantime just got snubbed.

  11. I’m gonna stick my neck out and go with the second-generation (1965-’69) Corvair. Not only did it do away with almost all of the original’s handling bugaboos, but in some respects it out-911-ed the early 911 (particularly if the ‘Vair in question was a turbo or Yenko Stinger) and gave you two body style choices Zuffenhausen didn’t (4-door and a proper convertible). Unfortunately, Chevrolet basically halted development as soon as the ’65 was launched, as it was all-too-clear by then that mainstream domestic compact buyers preferred the ultra-conventional Chevy II (and its competitors) by a colossal margin.
    http://images.classiccars.com/classifieds/163892_10953785_1965_Chevrolet_Corvair.jpg

    1. Actually, it was not so much that customers preferred the II to the Corvair. Sales for Corvair vs II (according to American Cars 1960-1972 Every model, below) shows Corvair sales held steady after introduction of the II:
      1960 Corvair 250,007
      1961 Corvair 282,075
      1962 Corvair 292,531; II 326,607
      1963 Corvair 254,571; II 372,626
      1964 Corvair 191,915; II 191,691
      1965 Corvair 235,528; II 118,000;
      1966: Corvair 103,743; II 131,000;
      1967 Corvair 27,253; II 106,500; Camaro 220,917;
      1968 Corvair 15,399; II(Nova) 200,970; Camaro 235,151;
      1969 Corvair 6,000; (II)Nova 251,903 Camaro 230,799
      However, the II was vastly cheaper to build and thus more profitable, so they stopped promoting the Corvair after 1966 when it was planned to have been replaced by II & Camaro except for having to snub Nader.

  12. I’d say the G8, even in V6 form it was a very nice car. I recall the V6 was about $26K CDN at my local dealer. I went to buy one of the remaining G8’s they had (V6). I’d missed it by, literally, minutes. They kicked that one out the door for $19K CDN, about the same as a base Camry. I ended up with a 10-year old Lexus GS, love that car, but always admire a G8 when I see one.

  13. There are several cars that could be chosen, but I’m going to zero in on the Rover P6.
    This is the car that should have put Rover where BMW is today. Both the timing of its launch as well as the ingredients that went into it were right: well-appointed, comfortable and compact, performance that was more than acceptable for the time with steering, handling, and braking to match, novel-yet-effective suspension, and unitary construction with unstressed body panels attached to the monocoque. Rover had, in 1963, effectively created the space in the market that’s now occupied by the BMW 3-series.
    Unfortunately, reliability was never consistent and Rover never could figure out how to crack the North American market. Had Rover’s various parent companies (first Leyland, then British Leyland, then the British government through nationalisation of the motor industry) had the resources they needed beyond simply having some very clever engineers (and a lack of central planning by bureaucrats dictating their model ranges), this car truly could have been a world-beater. It’s a shame that the potential went largely-unrealised.
    (Disclosure: I owned a 1972 2000 Automatic and we’ve had a 2000TC and 3500S in the family at various times.)

    1. The P6 sold perfectly well. Whatever problems Rover had, with or without nationalization, the P6 wasn’t one of them.

      1. Agreed that the P6 sold well, but it only sold well in Britain. If I remember correctly, only somewhere in the region of 10%-15% of the cars were sold in export markets – markets which both BMW and Mercedes saw as crucial to their survival, and very successfully exploited. Rover had the same perception as to the importance of those markets (particularly with regards to North America), but just weren’t able to make it work out for them.
        I’ll also agree that the P6 wasn’t a problem for Rover. In my opinion, it was a fantastic piece of engineering and very well-executed. But it remained in production for 14 years largely-unchanged, quality control during the BL era was especially spotty, and this contributed towards weakening their chances in the export markets that they did decide to pursue even further.

      2. True that the P6 sold well – but mainly in Britain. If I remember correctly, export sales totalled somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of total output over the car’s lifetime. While that’s certainly measurable, it’s not a significant number in terms of overall production.
        This was car whose introduction in 1963 came at a time where BMW and (in particular) Mercedes were very cannily figuring out the importance of the export market, especially the North American one. Rover had a foothold there, but never really managed to adapt to the ways of doing business in that region as the Germans did. What Rover really needed was a Max Hoffman of their own to guide them, but, unfortunately, never had anyone come into the picture who could have pushed them in those directions.
        That said, I certainly wasn’t implying (or stating) that the P6 was a problem for Rover: it wasn’t. It was a well-designed car with the engineering advantages of a then truly-modern vehicle which also retained many of the traditional advantages of a British car. But by the time production ended in 1977, it had been coming down the line largely-unchanged for 14 years.
        While that long production run is certainly a large measure of success and speaks highly for the overall design, it was also ending its career at a time when both build quality and new model investment at BL were at arguably their lowest (and most fractured) points – and, if nothing else, its age meant that as an exportable vehicle it was well past its prime. In short, the window of opportunity had been missed, and along with it Rover’s chances of being a global player.
        The subsequent debacles with the SD1 and Sterling in North America in some ways reflect the opportunity that Rover missed out on with the P6, which is a shame as its successors were both good cars in their own rights.

        1. Rover, then Leyland, had no problem selling every P6 they could build from 1963 til about 1972. It was a sellout from the beginning, and Rover kept increasing production capacity, adding night shifts, etc, year after year. Rover didn’t sell as many as they planned in the US, but Britain *loved* it. The only sales problem that they had was meeting demand. It was an absolute success story.

          1. Which is correct, but remember that it failed in – specifically – the export markets. This was a vehicle designed from the outset (post-JET 1) with export in mind, and that “export or die” was still very much a driving factor through its development, launch, and subsequent sales.
            Note also that while North America was arguably its highest-profile failure in the overseas markets, it wasn’t particularly successful in others within Europe. Even the ex- and soon-to-be ex-Colonies in other parts of the world didn’t take them up in appreciable numbers.
            Demand and the number sold in Britain was very respectable for its era; by the time its production run ended, it was Rover’s most-produced vehicle by a wide margin. But when the car failed to make any impact at all in the other markets that it was sold in, it can be said to have been a failure in the marketplace due to having failed at that particular part of its mission – which, ultimately, was to make Rover a serious contender on the global stage.

  14. Pontiac Fiero, Chevy Corvair. By the time GM had worked out the bugs and made them great, they were dead.

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