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.