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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

4 cars that couldn't save their doomed brands

The last-minute Hail Mary play is an age-old Hollywood cheat that's saved hundreds of third-act plots from imploding on themselves. In the world of automotive drama, life occasionally imitates art. Not always so successfully, of course. Car companies, like other large corporations, are sometimes victims of far-reaching economic circumstances beyond their control.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/4-cars-that-couldnt-save-their-doomed-brands/
78 REPLIES 78
hyperv6
Racer

Sadly the truth is the problems were more than just one model.

The Hummer should have been done as a GMC. There has been a split at GM on this Wrangler challenger. Those against have won but with the Bronco now here they may be forced to rethink this.

Lifestyle vehicles like the wrangler and Bronco are becoming the new Mustang and Camaro.

elldorado2000
Detailer

GM is so messed up they couldn't even do the Blazer right. I have been a GM guy all my life but sometimes I really scratch my head over what they are thinking.
hyperv6
Racer

GM is not that messed up as while they should have named it something else the Blazer is making tons of money. They should have called it a Nomad or something else and saved the Blazer name. As for the vehicle it has been a hit. 

TonyT
Technician

The Huummer with a more conventional squared-off roof would have been an ideal Jeep fighter. And given the propensity for LS swaps, a real off-road toy. What a shame...
JohnK3
Pit Crew

The HX looks are very similar to the FJ
JeffWeimer
Intermediate Driver

GM should have never dropped Hummer, and it was obvious even at the time. I know, I know, conditions (ideological) of the bailout forced it, but Jeep was still printing money (as was Hummer, TBH) so it was money foregone for little good reason.
hyperv6
Racer

Actually the mistake was making Hummer a Division. It was expensive and more difficult to manage. Lutz said years ago it should have been a part of GMC. Well they have moved to that and will expand it under the GMC brand. 

I just hope they use them to address the Wrangler/Bronco issue.  There has just been too much internal conflict over this and it hurts GM. 

BMD4800
Gearhead

Agreed.
Hummer should have been in GMC, but the politics of it really hurt the GM image. Plus, the H2 was lousy off-road. The H3T was better, their trick (forget the name) beefed H3 editions were very good, but still not Wrangler Rubicon territory. The H4, maybe, but sadly GM still would have found a way to do it wrong.
hyperv6
Racer

Actually the H2 was large but it would crawl over about anything off road. I have gone placed in one I thought it would never make it. 

 

The H3 size was better but the engine was crap. It is still alive as the Colorado is a dependent of this truck. This is why former Hummer people were used on the ZR2 and why it is so good. 

BMD4800
Gearhead

Relative, I suppose.   I’ve been places in my full-size that the Thad the H2 guy couldn’t make.    Lots of them, actually.  But it is all about where you’re going.  In rocks, the H2 has a steering component issue.  All GM IFS rigs do, and that plus the garbage gov-loc is their Achilles heel.  

audiobycarmine
Technician

Woe, O AMC... Their vehicles were never of the quality of the Big Three.

When I was first licensed, the only car available to me was my mother’s 1968 Ambassador.
It was problem-prone and, with a straight-six engine, seriously underpowered. My friends and I re-christened it “The Ambastardor”; (I know — be grateful there even was a car. My first car was a FIAT 850 Spider. We now had junk from two continents.)

AMC did produce some memorable cars: the Javelin & AMX, the still-attractive Gremlin, and the mobile goldfish bowl, the Pacer. If only their reliability was better.
TinCanSailor
Intermediate Driver

Don't diss the Fiat 850! I had one of them in high school. Forty-eight cubic inches, forty-nine hp, 8000 rpm, a Weber carb, a straight exhaust, and 13-inch tires. It had to be the easiest car to tune and work on that I ever owned.
Aside from it leaking oil like Deepwater Horizon, it was a blast to drive. If you downshifted and revved her up in a tunnel or under a bridge, it sounded like a Ferrari... Granted you could measure 0-60 with a sun dial, but hey, it was a $500 convertible!
In the 3 years I owned it, the damned thing never left me sitting, and for a 70's era car, I'd call that a win! 🙂
Zephyr
Instructor

I had the opposite experience. Bought a brand new 1970 Fiat 850 Spyder and within a year I had replaced the carb, the distributor cap, the starter motor (twice), and the convertible top. And all four of the stock Pirelli tires, which appeared to be made out of eraser rubber. The next year the electrical system went crazy - if I turned on the heater the headlight fuse blew out, and the brake warning light was permanently on. I couldn't roll the windows down because the weld holding the window bracket on broke on BOTH doors. After the clutch wore out at 22,000 miles I traded the car in on a Plymouth Duster. I admit it was easy to do a tune up on, which was a good thing as I had to tune it up once a month or it wouldn't start. No problem with oil leaks though, mine just leaked gas from the fuel pump that vibrated all its screws loose from time to time.
OldCarMan
Instructor

WRONG!!!
The AMC sixes were 7main bearing engines and very reliable, with minimal and proper maintenance. A 4bbl Six was faster than the V* in a Pacer, but the marketing gurus knew better, so spent $3M making the swap for a V8 and new hood tooling.
Maybe, you had some clapped out, abused cars? It certainly was NOT typical, using Torqueflite transmissions. In fact the GM Iron Duke 4 cyl was a dog. Gm sent the worst of the litter to AMC!
OldFordMan
Advanced Driver

PT Cruiser was just right in wrong corporation. Kia Seoul still runs stout!
OldCarMan
Instructor

The PT Cruiser sold even better than the Neon, which ALSO was NOT badged as a Plymouth, Dodge, or Chrysler. The real problem was planning couldn't figure out out how to update them, so they walked away. Apparently never followed Hondas or Toyotas!!
Twice the car of any kia. Especially the turbo models!
Dinubadave
Pit Crew

You forgot the Auburn Boattail Speedster and the Studebaker Avanti
BenjaminHunting
Intermediate Driver

Really great point about the Avanti. As the son of a Studebaker collector, I should have put that in there too.
61Rampy
Instructor

Definitely the Avanti should be in the list. A beautiful, daring car that we troubled by slow production, possibly the Studebaker name, on a 10 year old chassis/ engine combo just couldn't help revive the company. I've always wanted an Avanti, whether Studebaker or Avanti ll. And as always, priced just outta my reach. Sigh.
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

None of these cars would save any brand. Pretty bad experience all around.
cueguy
Pit Crew

I think that the Pontiac G8 and Solstice should have been included with that group.
hyperv6
Racer

They were way too late to save the brand. Pontiac was lost years before. I am a Pontiac  guy and the end started in 1979 when they killed the Pontiac V8. Then by the mid 80's most of the good engineers were gone and Pontiac was just a restyled  Chevy. 

 

Lutz tried to sell it as a specialty division but when money is short specialty cars are the first to go no matter the brand. 

SJ
Technician

Agreed, lost interest when GM put a Chevy V8 in the Pontiac and Cadillac. Had a '64 GTO and was embarrassed when they put out the new iteration.
Iso_Grifo
Instructor

The Hummer would have been cool. It looks like a full-sized toy car. It could be a hit today, in my opinion.
DesertGoat
New Driver

If the G8 GXP couldn’t save Pontiac, nothing could.
BMD4800
Gearhead

Tough to save a brand that has an execution date.
okfoz
Advanced Driver

Pontiac and at one time Buick were slated to get the Oldsmobile Axe. I spoke to a GM executive around 2000 and he told me that Oldsmobile was going to be going away, Buick and Pontiac were also going to be going away, leaving Chevy and Cadillac. Buick got saved because of China loves Buicks.
hyperv6
Racer

Pontiac was expected to die in the early 80's and the Firebird, Fiero and Grand Am saved them. That put Olds on the bubble. They did die. 

 

Pontiac sold 6 to 1 over Buick here but in China they were making tons of money. That is why we have Buick today. Odds are good Pontiac may not have survived anyways.  GM should have been cut to two divisions but the China sales saved Buick and in a way GMC. 

 

Now GMC is a profit center as the Denali Brand has really raised their income much. 

rcburk
New Driver

Studebaker Avanti.
zmega
Intermediate Driver

That was my thought, as well. I see the range of cool vehicles that Studebaker made and I cannot understand how they failed and Chrysler survived.
Camarojoe
Intermediate Driver

Lots of comments about the Hummer. Rightfully so the other vehicles here were short term players. The Hummer brand was woefully mismanaged. One big, and possibly planned, mistake was not allowing or putting the Duramax in the H2. It was just to heavy, had giant torque sucking tires, and the square shape for the LS2 (6.0L) to be efficient. The way the frame was built it would not go in without a lot of reworking, plus AM General was using the old GM diesel next door in the H1 and didn't want the new powertrain around. I drove the H2, it had a great ride but classic off roading small interior. FE was terrible, The Duramax would have made that passable. The H3 had all the potential in the world, but the platform was eliminated.
BMD4800
Gearhead

H2 frame was based off the Tahoe/GMT800. The Duramax would have fit just fine. The engine, LQ4 not LS2, 6.0 was a bit under powered, but the gearing didn’t match the 35” tires.
The IFS and steering in the H2 was fragile, to be kind. More power from either the 8.1 or diesel would have made it worse.

GM had several versions of the Duramax tested for various vehicles, but the horsepower race relegated the 250 hp and 300 hp detuned units for cargo vans and chassis cabs.
janedon
Advanced Driver

The PT cruiser would have been Great "IF" it was larger (more usable)-The prowler needed power to back up it's Hot Rod look-- I don't know Who decides but--I think the average (non professional) person on the street could have told them that Before they went into production--
RJ
Detailer

"I don't know Who decides" may be the answer in a nutshell. How many corporate decisions are made based on "how will this look on my next resume or performance review"?
JackVan
Detailer

A Hi-Po 273 4 speed would have been perfect in the Prowler.
OldCarMan
Instructor

The 273 WAS the A motor small block. Several mules were built, but there was inadequate room for all the Fed mandated stuff. Also, performance was never the intent of this open wheel hot rod- just looking good, with adequate performance. There was some consideration that emission screws were going to get a lot tighter, then!
TimK
Detailer

I would like to add Avanti to this list. I read one time Studebaker didn't plan large production of the Avanti, only to increase traffic into their showrooms so they could push the Lark. But even in those conservative times people wanted pizzazz as Lee Iacocca termed it when he took Ford out of the Robert McNamara era doldrums of the mundane. Studebaker met its demise in '66 after selling Avanti in '64 and moving to Canada while Avanti went on for several more years as Avanti Motor Corporation under various ownership starting with former Studebaker dealers, Nate Altman and Leo Newman. Too bad Studebaker didn't bet on the Avanti instead of the Lark because they would have been at the forefront of the pony car era with an exciting car and may have held on, at least until the malaise of the 70s.
OldCarMan
Instructor

This article seems to have been a victim of revisionist history. AMC didn't get the Espace, because the factory in France couldn't produce enough for both markets. Factor in French lack of US market understanding as a contributor and their reluctance to put more money into AMC.
There was a guy in Product Planning at Chrysler that had been trying to kill the Plymouth brand since at least 1985. There was a MMC small minivan called the CV platform. Not much came of it, like so many joint MMC projects.
The PT was an extension of the Neon PL platform to maximize plant capacity. Unfortunately, corporate planning could never figure out how to continue updating the PL and PT platforms, despite doing that with numerous Jeeps.
The LH program did the Eagle as a Euro-spec, 5 meter car. Marketing there, never took off and pricing probably affected it, so sales suffered. Superior vehicle occupant packaging was never promoted well, for LHs or the PL/PTs. The LH packaging was based on the Taurus, which was based on the maligned Audi 5000. Only the Olds Aurora ever came close to LH quality packaging.
Chrysler had worse lawyers than GM and didn't do court shopping, so they lost the Hummer H2 grille suit. Having worked at AMC and Chrysler Design, the Jeep Wrangler Wanna-be, Hummer was a blip on the radar. No one saw it or cared.
mhealy1
Advanced Driver

Chrysler lost the grille fight because the Jeep brand in its entirety did not use the grille on several models recently offered before the lawsuit (Cherokee, Wagoneer etc.)
OldCarMan
Instructor

NOT TRUE!
I did a presentation at Chrysler Design, for John Segalia, who designed the H1 grille for AM General. We had the entire history of Jeep grilles going back to the original WWII Jeep. The last 2 slides showed the H2 with a big blue oval in the grille opening and chrome diagonal slash, Their lawyers and designers said they couldn't see any similarities to the Jeep face and history. The original H1 was only going to be about 5000 units and never would be sold to the public. So it was never patented like all other Jeep grilles with 7 slots. GM paid a paltry $75k to AM General for the rights to the name and likeness. GM had an alternative grille tooled in case they lost the lawsuit from Chrysler.
Zephyr
Instructor

The PT Cruiser was designed to attract young buyers, with the hope of getting them loyal to the Chrysler/Plymouth brand. For some unknown reason though, it became the car your grandmother drove, killing off most of the potential market. And if you compare the Chryslers of today with the Chryslers of the 1950's and 60's I think it becomes obvious that Chrysler/Plymouth didn't kill off the Plymouth division; they killed off Chrysler and then renamed the Plymouth division Chrysler.
hyperv6
Racer

Once Olds cut the RWD Cutlass sales were tanking bad. They then named 3 weak FWD cars Cutlass and that did not work either. In the end the lack of sales  killed them. It was not as good as some think. 

JHaydon
Intermediate Driver

It still surprises me that Olds got the axe right after producing some of the most (seemingly) innovative cars to leave GM factories: Achieva, Alero, Aurora, Intrigue. It seemed like Pontiac and Chevy were still doing the same old badge-engineering that had bitten them in the 80s, but Olds appeared to at least be trying.
TrustyRusty
Detailer

Olds' 32-valve, DOHC V-8 was a fabulous engine platform, but politics won out and Olds went into the dumper. Too bad, since Olds was the traditional innovator in the GM world. The '49 Olds Rocket was the first real muscle-car and its descendants, through 1957, were truly rockets. Olds introduced the Hydra-Matic transmission and powered most of the gas-powered NHRA cars, until Mopar's "elephant motor" and Chevy's "big block" eventually took over...
Oldroad1
Technician

No it was Ford's FE Side Oiler and SOHCammer that dominated NHRA in the 60s. The Cammer was versatile, gas or nitro. Would be nice to see the Cammer return to NHRA Pro Stock Division. Coarse it was GM and MOPAR whining that forced the Outlaw tag on the 427 SOHC to this day. Maybe NHRA will lift the tag and maybe there could be Mustangs and Camaros competing in the Pro Stock division once again. But politics says, '. Chevrolets only like to compete against Chevrolets.' Pro Stock division is on life support, watched NHRA broadcast last weekend. No meat in the seats. GEE I wonder why?
Tom9716
Intermediate Driver

The problem with GM can be boiled down to one word Internal Politics. Ok, that’s two words. But, sometimes it’s too much committee-think and not enough “brilliance”.
hyperv6
Racer

Internal Politics yes but the trouble was they could not manage the divisions. The inter rivalry of the divisions did more damage than Toyota and Honda. 

 

Also they brought a CEO in from the outside who lied about his credentials. They tried to market cars and had no idea how to run the company.  It was much more complex than committee think. 

 

The trouble was they had and still have tons of brilliance but failed to use it. 

 

Lutz asked why the panel gaps on the new Malibu were so large vs the Sonota and why they could not do that. The guy in charge said we can do that. Lutz asked why they had not done it. He said because we were not told to do it. He was not allowed to ask to do it. Lutz said well go do it. and it was done for less than $500,000. 

 

Read Beancounters vs Car Guys by Lutz. it is eye opening. 

OldCarMan
Instructor

That is why AMC & Chrysler came out with some great cars. Shoestring development money, out-of-box thinking and creative folks in charge will counter that!
erne75
Advanced Driver

Pontiac G8 sedan and GTO. Right when Pontiac was getting some decent vehicles it disappeared.