One of the last models Fiat offered to US buyers before it left in the early ’80s was a futuristic compact hatchback called the Strada. The car looked fantastic and had a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine (via Autoweek).
However, it was also poorly put together and prone to rust. That didn’t help Fiat’s reputation. After just two years, Stranda was pulled from the market. Interestingly, Strada (known as Fiat Ritmo) proved successful in other parts of the world.
Opel Kadett was one of the best-selling European compact economy cars. It was cheap, decently equipped, durable, and easy to maintain. For years, it enjoyed enormous popularity and was exported worldwide. (via AutoWeek).
Since the Opel was part of GM during the ’60s, General Motors decided to import Kadetts to America and sold them through the Buick dealership network. At first, Kadetts sold well but demand was soon gone. American buyers soon turned to Japanese compacts.
DAF is a Dutch truck manufacturer that also produced cars at some point. The 600 was a small, economy model with Vatiomatic transmission, which started a revolution. In Europe, small and economical DAF 600 models equipped with automatic proved to be perfect city cars because they were easy to drive and park and cheap to maintain.
In the early ’60s, DAF entered the US market and established a network of 69 dealers. However, it only sold a handful of cars before the decade ended (via Dyler).
Today, Audi is one of the leading luxury brands of the American market. But in the late ’80s, the company was almost gone from US shores. This was due to unintended acceleration and numerous crashes that resulted from that (via AutoSafety). In 1986, “60 Minutes” ran a feature about Audi’s unintended acceleration on the popular 5000 model. The viewers didn’t see that the car was rigged and that the acceleration featured in the show wasn’t genuine.
After the show aired, the car community was buzzing. Audi’s reputation was severely damaged. Audi responded by publishing numerous tests and videos showing that the only possible way of something like this happening is if the driver’s foot slips from brake to accelerator pedal. Still, it didn’t help and sales hit rock bottom. Even though “60 Minutes” published a false story and it was proven that Audi didn’t have acceleration problems, the damage was done. It took the company two decades to recover. It’s still unclear why CBS aired this feature. Was it another rival car company behind it?
In the early ’60s, Studebaker management invested in a luxury coupe to fight poor sales. They thought that a fancy upscale model would attract customers to Studebaker. So in 1962, the sleek, modern-looking Avanti was introduced. The innovative design, construction, and technology were fascinating. The car received praise from the motoring press. The base version wasn’t very powerful, but soon Studebaker introduced a supercharged R2 option that delivered 289 HP (via Hymanltd).
Many performance upgrades were included. The Avanti became a pretty fast machine. The R2 model even broke 28 world speed records achieving a top speed of 170 mph, a big deal in 1963. The R2 could sprint to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Unfortunately, Studebaker had problems with production. The Avanti also had limited availability, which affected its popularity. So, by 1964, the model was discontinued. Today, the Avanti R2 is widely recognized as one of the coolest ’60s cars and an early luxury muscle car. Over 4,600 examples of Studebaker Avanti were made during its short production run and only a handful of those were the incredible R2.
The ’90s were tough times for Cadillac. The foreign competition dominated the market and Cadillac products looked outdated and slow. Something had to be done. Cadillac decided to downsize and attack the BMW 5 series with a smaller and modern-looking car. Such a car didn’t exist in the USA, so Cadillac turned to GM’s European division Opel for assistance (via Money Inc.). In those days, Opel had an executive mid-size sedan called the Omega.
Someone at Cadillac thought it would be good to import Omegas from Germany and sell them as Cateras to fight Mercedes and BMW on the American market. The plan just might have worked except for one thing. Omega couldn’t fight Mercedes and BMW because it wasn’t that good of a car. Importing it to the United States didn’t make it better. Unfortunately for Cadillac, that is precisely what buyers thought. Despite good initial sales, the Catera sank, was discontinued in 2001, and soon forgotten.
Introduced in 1991, SVX was an ambitious project and the first proper Subaru sports car. It had futuristic styling and competent mechanics. However, it had two fatal flaws. It was equipped with a powerful 3.3-liter boxer engine with 231 HP and came with Subaru’s signature all-wheel-drive standard, but those weren’t enough (via SubaruSVX).
For some reason, Subaru decided that the only available transmission should be slow-shifting 4-speed automatic, which offended purists. Also, a car filled with so much technology was doomed to be heavy, which significantly reduced driving dynamics. When production stopped in 1996, Subaru had sold just 24,000 cars and only 2,450 in Europe.
Honda’s luxury division Acura is known for elegant cars and quality products. But it’s also known for a strange and pretty ugly model called ZDX. On sale for just three years, the ZDX attempted to present something between a sedan and a crossover SUV. It ended up being neither. Despite a good technical layout and decent power, buyers simply didn’t like the ZDX. Acura managed to sell just 7,200 examples (via MotorBiscuit).
The main reason why the ZDX failed was its design. It was so strange and ugly that most customers decided to stay away although it was a decent car with nice features. However, it became one of the biggest flops that Acura ever had.
Behind this strange name was an even stranger vehicle that was only sold in a three-door configuration with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and automatic transmission. Isuzu designed the VehiCross to be a totally modern and even futuristic off-roader and gave it its best all-terrain technology and components.
But in 1997 when the VehiCross was introduced, the market didn’t react the way it should. The vehicle was strange-looking and some would even say hideous. That is why the US sales were pretty slow, and in 2001 the VehiCross was discontinued (via Motor Trend).
Back in the early 2000s, Lincoln found success with the Navigator, the golden standard of luxury SUVs at the time. Wanting to capitalize on that success, somebody at Lincoln suggested building a pickup version and expanding the range. The idea seemed pretty plausible and soon their prototypes were sent to testing. The Lincoln used a Ford F-150 platform with the front end and cabin of the Navigator, but a custom truck bed that opened like doors and even had a power cover (via Motor Trend).
The finished product looked like a Navigator truck and it was luxurious. But it failed as a truck since the bed was very small and unusable. The biggest problem was the price, as the brand-new 2002 Lincoln Blackwood started at a whopping $52,000, an extremely high price for an unusable truck with Navigator fascia. As you could expect, the market was not amused. During its 15 months in production, only 3,356 were made.
The Edsel story is one of the biggest commercial failures in the car business, even by today’s standards. In the late ’50s, Ford launched the Edsel. It was an upscale brand based on Ford and Mercury models to compete with Oldsmobile and Buick. Ford invested over $400 million in design, development, and marketing. But most of that money went to promote the Edsel and create unequaled hype among the car-buying public (via Money Inc.). When Ford officially presented the car, people were puzzled. The design was strange. The front end reminded folks of a public urinal.
This event caused outrage among the conservative members of 1950s society. The Edsel cost a bit more than most Fords, but it still was affordable despite its powerful engine and upscale features. After the good sales in the first few months, buyers’ interest subsided and Ford struggled to sell more cars. In 1960, after just two years on the market, they killed the Edsel. Ford’s massive investment turned into an enormous loss. So, what was the problem with the Edsel? Quite simply, it was the hype. Ford invested a lot of money to present the image of the Edsel as a fantastic new car with unrivaled features and power. People expected something exceptional but only got an upscale Ford with a funny design.