The domestic automotive market is a mere shadow of what it once was. There were dozens of American-based automotive brands on the market. Now there is only a handful and the main companies are the big three. Nash was another automotive nameplate prominent up until the 1950s (via Ranker).
The Nash Rambler was one of the most popular models for the brand and it was carried on as an AMC model. There are still imprints that the Nash brand left on the automotive market to this day and the cars continue to gain value.
Hudson, like General Motors in the ’90s and early 2000s, had quite a few brands under its umbrella. One of the most unique brands was Terraplane, in production from 1932-1938. Terraplane cars were two things, cheap and powerful, which were the main selling points for the cars initially (via How Stuff Works).
The Essex-Terraplane Eight was the most popular model. It featured an elongated hood and a luxurious interior. The problem was that consumers just weren’t interested in the cars and the executives at Hudson decided it was best for the brand to be disbanded.
Nowadays, every hipster in the world wants to own a Jeep, but the brand has humble roots that started in the military industry. The original Jeep brand started as the Willys-Overland Motors company. The early Willys Jeep models were versatile vehicles used as reconnaissance vehicles by the US military (via Ohio History).
On civilian land, vehicles like the 1947 Willys Jeep station wagon were excellent family cars that offered significant bang for the buck. AMC acquired the brand in 1970. When Chrysler purchased AMC in the late 1980s it was reported that the Jeep brand was the driving force behind the deal.
Cadillac has always been a top-tier luxury brand and is considered the pinnacle of automotive luxury. But in the 1920s and 1940s, Cadillac sold LaSalle-branded vehicles that were more affordable in price. An affordable Cadillac might sound like an oxymoron, but LaSalle models served a purpose (via August Chronicle).
LaSalles were branded as vehicles that were worldly, fashionable, and reasonable to purchase. For the new young affluent generation of car shoppers, the LaSalle was welcomed with open arms. But the cars didn’t sell well overall and the brand was ultimately discontinued due to the close competition with GM’s own Cadillac brand.
Durant was an automotive brand founded by GM CEO William “Billy” Durant following his termination from the board. The idea behind Durant Motors was to build cars that competed against GM makes like Buick, Oldsmobile, and Chevrolet. While Durant met the same price points as these automotive makes but the quality wasn’t the same (via The Henry Ford).
Durant Motors tried to expand far too quickly and the company went under by 1931. Durant was nearly broke when he passed away at the age of 85 in 1947, the same year Henry Ford passed away. The company was one of the least successful automotive companies in history.
Essex was a different type of automotive brand, with the mission of being an affordable family car. The Essex brand was also one of the first automotive manufacturers to move away from the convertible style of the 1920s and toward enclosed vehicles. The 1922 closed coach priced at $1,495 was one of the most affordable family cars on the road (via Hemmings).
There were more than 1.13 million Essex automobiles sold, but the brand was eventually dissolved and became part of Hudson. Nevertheless, most of the automotive design and progress that you see today was due to the advances Essex Motors made.
Franklin Automobile Company was another early innovator in the automotive industry. The company built sedans, touring cars, limousines, coupes, speedsters, taxis, and light trucks. The most interesting and innovative thing about Franklin vehicles was that they were air-cooled (via Daily Kos).
Franklin’s cars were different looking than anything else on the road. That was because the styling was molded after Renault vehicles as is evident by the hood design. The cars were designed by J. Frank DeCausse and he innovated the original boat-tail styling.
Graham-Paige was one of the most interesting automotive companies of the 1920s because it was a mixture of Ford and Dodge designs. Founded by Joseph B., Robert C., and Ray A. Graham the company began life by building conversion kits for the Ford Model T. The Graham cars originally used Dodge engines and the Dodge brand eventually purchased Graham-Paige (via Graham Owners Club).
One of the most notable vehicles was the 1927 Dodge Graham truck, an early incarnation of the modern Dodge Ram. The 1937 Graham Custom Series 120 Supercharger Four-door Sedan was one of the fastest production sedans on the road.
Hupp Motor Car Company (Hupmobile for short) was founded by Charles Hastings formerly of Oldsmobile. The first Hupmobile cost $8,500 to manufacture. The company was popular at the 1909 automobile show and their first car was the Model 20. The company was off to a great start, but by the depression of 1930, sales slid dramatically (via Live About).
The final Hupmobile model that hit the market was the 1941 Graham Hollywood. The car was far cry from the originality that Hupmobile was founded on. But the economy was in a bad state and there just wasn’t room for another automaker.
Jordan Motor Car Company was an innovative force in the automotive industry and a catastrophic failure all at once. The company was one of the first automakers to use nameplates for each model such as the Sport Marine. The wheels on Jordan cars were designed to be different than anything else on the market (via Jordan Motor Car Club).
Unfortunately, all these design elements only added to the cost of the vehicle to produce. Eventually, it took a toll on the Jordan Motor Car Company as a whole. Jordan cars are remembered for being fashion-forward innovations that didn’t connect with consumers.
LaFayette Motors Corporation was another one of the early innovators in the automotive world. The first innovation LaFayette contributed to the automotive world is the first digital clock in a car. The company was in business from 1919 to 1941 until Nash ultimately purchased it (via Abe Books).
The final car to have LaFayette branding was the Nash LaFayette, a car geared toward budget-minded consumers. The line was known for producing smaller, less expensive cars than the rest of the automotive industry. This could have finally contributed to the company’s demise.
Plymouth was an automotive brand originally founded by Walter Chrysler on July 7, 1928. Up until the 1990s, Plymouth was a high-volume seller for Chrysler Corporation and one of the most profitable automotive brands in the world. The Plymouth brand name was also synonymous in the muscle car era with hits like the Superbird and Hemi Cuda (via Motor Trend).
Towards the end of the brand’s life, there were interesting vehicles like Prowler and the Neon, but they just weren’t enough to keep it profitable. Chrysler intended for Plymouth to have a resurgence with the PT Cruiser but the company ended up pulling the plug on the brand in 2001.
Remember the Scion brand? If you were a Gen X person, then you do. Scion was the brainchild of Toyota which secretly launched Project Genesis in 1999. The idea behind the brand was to attract younger car buyers to Toyota showrooms. The initial fruit of this project was the XB and the XA (via Motor Trend).
The box-shaped XB with its customization options became a cultural phenomenon. But by the mid-2000s, the honeymoon period had to warn off and Scion was no longer popular. The brand offered a lot of potential but the car shoppers that the brand targeted grew older and gravitated toward modern crossover vehicles.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, General Motors had a problem. The company needed to sell smaller gas-efficient cars and the way to do it was through imports. AsÃ¼na was the captive import brand that GM launched in Canada.
The first model was the Sunrunner, which was a Geo Tracker with a different logo (via Autoweek). The cars weren’t that unique and consumers could cut through the red tape and see that the Sunrunner was a Tracker.
GM launched Saturn Corporation in the 1980s to compete with Japanese import cars. The idea behind Saturn was to launch a completely new type of compact car. The Saturn sedan was different than anything else in the GM brand portfolio. The brand was established as its own company with its unique dealership network (via Auto Trends).
The first model was the SL2 and it was a unique design. The problem was that the entire company was brand new from the factory to the workforce, and GM lost money. By the 2000s the Saturn brand was nothing more than a home for badge-engineered GM cars.
Mercury was one of the most successful brands of the Ford Motor Company. The Mercury brand launched to compete against Chrysler and Buick. The cars weren’t basic and they weren’t luxurious; it was a happy medium. The original Mercury models like the Monterey were unique, but as time went on, they became badge-engineered Fords (via Motor City Garage).
Toward the end of the brand’s life cycle, the cars were nothing more than Ford models with upmarket trim options. The Mercury brand never had a focus in the Ford portfolio. The final model, the Sable, didn’t excite anyone.
Merkur is one of the shortest-running automotive nameplates in history. Lasting only from 1985 to 1989, the brand was one of the biggest failures in Ford’s history. The idea was to bring German-engineered cars to America. The models that Merkur sold weren’t bad, but they were overpriced (via Brands That Didn’t Make It).
American car shoppers weren’t going to trust a relatively unknown car brand. The Merkur XR4Ti was the most popular model and the one you are most likely to see nowadays. The appetite for imports died in the 1990s as domestic automakers started to offer higher-quality products.
Moon Motor Car Company was one of the fastest-growing automotive companies in the early 1900s. The company struck gold by building affordable cars that utilized quality parts. The sales were an instant success, so much so that the company couldn’t keep up with the demand. Model A was the original model and by far the most successful (via St. Louis Style).
The company couldn’t keep up with dealership demand by 1924 and after the Great Depression. Moon Motor Car Company was responsible for several firsts including introducing one of the first eight-cylinder cars to the market.
Daewoo Motors a South Korean automaker was more intertwined with the domestic automotive market than you’d think. The company supplied the base for the Pontiac LeMans compact and the Chevrolet Aveo. Daewoo utilized a unique sales strategy in the US where the company employed college students to advertise via word of mouth (via Curbside Classic).
Needless to say, the plan failed and the cars didn’t sell well. There was a lot of value in the Daewoo brand, though, because GM purchased it in 2002 for $1.2 billion. Today, there are still Daewoo cars that live on vicariously through General Motors brands.
Sterling Motor Cars only sold in America from 1987 to 1991. The brand was initially very successful because consumers were hungry for the traditional British design of the cars. But with the rising British currency rates and the economy Sterling was losing money on every vehicle sold (via Car Throttle).
The Sterling 825 sedan was built in partnership with Honda of Japan which is why the car shared most of its characteristics with the Acura Legend. Sterling cars were high-quality vehicles that offered a lot of benefits for the price, but it just wasn’t enough to stay in business.
Checker Motors Corporation was once one of the most visible automakers in the country. The main reason for this was the Checker Taxi Cab, a commercial vehicle sold until 1981. The Checker Cab was synonymous with the taxi cab industry and there wasn’t another car that competed with it for decades (via Car Throttle).
Checker also sold consumer cars but the main vehicle was the Checker Taxi. The brand sold consumer vehicles for a brief period but the commercial offerings were where the profit was at. The company hung on until 2010 when it was a consultant to other Detroit automakers for two decades.
The Oakland Motor Car Company was the precursor to the Pontiac brand. Founded by Edward Murphy who also owned the Pontiac Buggy Company, the brand was off to a great start. The company was named after the assembly plant that GM had in the Bay Area at the time (via Marconi Museum).
Oakland Motor Car Company contributed to the early growth of General Motors, but like all major corporations, the company had to trim certain brands. Oakland Motor Car Company built some of the first mainstream General Motors models.
Many luxury cars have hit the market since the birth of the automobile. But aside from the industry standards like Cadillac, there were also brands like Frazer. The 1949 Frazer Manhattan convertible was the most notable model released and the first prominent convertible on the market (via Richard Langworth).
The 1951 Frazer Vagabond hatchback boasted 50,000 orders within the first year. Founder Henry Kaiser and Joseph Frazer believed the big three Detroit automakers stopped the supply of their materials on purpose.
Stutz Motor Car Company was one of the most exclusive automakers in history for a long period. The brand specialized in high-end luxury cars, the type of vehicle the average person simply couldn’t afford. The build quality was top-notch and the styling was unlike anything else on the road (via Fandom).
Unfortunately, the brand never had enough momentum to stay the course. There was too much competition in the market for high-end luxury cars. There are only 617 cars in existence. Stutz had what it took to succeed had the timing been right.
Saab Automobile AB was a Swedish automaker that designed some of the most fun-to-drive cars on the market. The Saab 900 was a car that won numerous awards for design and innovation. The Saab 9000 changed the game for what a Swedish sports sedan should be. But the styling polarized consumers who otherwise wanted the car (via Autocar).
General Motors purchased Saab in the late 1990s but the brand was not doing well. By the financial crisis of 2008, GM was winding down unnecessary brands. The Saab brand disbanded in 2010 with the final model, the 9-5 sedan. The 9-5 offered excellent performance for the price but the styling did not connect with the consumer. The company tried to build a better car but ultimately failed.