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12 of the Car Industry’s Biggest Flops, Scandals and Mistakes

Vukasin Herbez November 6, 2018

7. Oldsmobile Cutlass Diesel

In the late ’70s, American manufacturers were all about fuel efficiency and downsizing. The era of big cruisers and powerful gasoline engines of the ’60s was gone. Everybody was trying to find a way to introduce new, innovative technologies. Oldsmobile was at the forefront of this new trend with the introduction of the diesel engine in passenger cars. In those days, American buyers were unaware they could use diesel fuel for their cars.

European customers already had a couple of diesel cars on the market, but for the U.S., this was new. Oldsmobile introduced the 4.3-liter V8 diesel engine as an option for the Cutlass line. Soon this model was subject to enormous amounts of recalls and engine swaps. Simply, the 4.3-liter had the tendency to explode and shatter during normal driving.

The passengers weren’t hurt, but the car was unusable and good only for scrap. Oldsmobile later introduced the 5.7-liter diesel, which was somewhat better and more durable. However, most people consider the 4.3-liter to be the worst diesel engine in history.

8. Sterling 825

If you don’t know what the Sterling 825 is, nobody can blame you. They once marketed it as the next big thing in the luxury segment for the American market. However, the Sterling is now a forgotten brand that failed to leave its mark. In fact, it quickly moved to the margins of automotive history. Sterling, as a company, has an interesting story. It was a British company they established in the late ’80s with Honda’s capital and Rover’s design.

Back then, Honda owned Rover and wanted to enter the American market with a luxury model. So, they conceived the Sterling, a luxurious car they based on the Acura Legend. Although it was quite a strange combination, the finished product had an attractive interior and decent power from Honda’s V6 engine. After the introduction in 1987 and promising sales numbers in the first few months, the first problems showed up.

The Sterling was poorly put together and the electronics were troublesome. Also, some cars developed rust issues. Honda tried to improve the production process, but there wasn’t much they could do. So, by the early ’90s, the Sterling was gone and nobody was sad about it, not even Honda.

9. Chevrolet Corvair

In the late ’50s, Chevrolet presented the Corvair, a revolutionary compact car with a rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat-six engine. This was a big step for Chevrolet since the Corvair sat totally opposite of other cars from the company. It featured a different concept, technology and design. However, for a couple of years, it looked like everything was okay with the Corvair. The sales were good until the book, Unsafe at Any Speed, hit bookstores across the country, causing big problems for GM.

The book’s author, Ralph Nader, was a consumer advocate who found classified documents showing that Corvair was the reason for many car accidents, some even with fatal outcomes. Apparently, the engine in the back of the car caused the Corvair to have problematic handling. Chevrolet was aware of the issues but didn’t want to invest money in additional stabilizer bars and suspension modifications. Soon, the book gained attention, so the public demanded answers while drivers continued to report crashes with the Corvair.

Later, Chevrolet was involved in government hearings where they admitted their executives knew something about the matter. They ended up paying a settlement and promising to invest money in safety research. In the end, Corvair sales were non-existent, so they discontinued the model in 1969.

10. Audi 5000

Today, Audi is one of the leading luxury brands in the American market. But in the late ’80s, the company was almost gone from U.S. shores. This was due to the news of unintended acceleration and numerous crashes with the Audi 5000. But, in 1986, the popular CBS TV show, 60 Minutes, ran a feature about the unintended acceleration with the 5000 models.

What the viewers didn’t see was that they rigged the car. The acceleration they featured in the show wasn’t genuine. After the show aired, the car community was buzzing, badly damaging Audi’s reputation. Audi responded by publishing numerous tests and videos showing the only way unintended acceleration occurred was if the driver’s foot slipped from the brake to the accelerator pedal.

However, that didn’t help, so their sales hit rock bottom. Despite the fact that 60 Minutes published a false story and they proved Audi didn’t have acceleration problems, the damage was done. It took the company two decades to recover. It is still unclear why CBS did that feature. Many people wonder if another rival car company was behind it.

11. Takata Airbags

The Takata case is still open and it could be the biggest recall case in the history of the car industry. From 2000 to 2008, the Japanese company, Takata produced at least 17 million airbags for millions of cars. In fact, Takata supplied 10 of the biggest car companies in the world, which made things even worse.

The problem with the airbags was that under specific circumstances like moisture or heat, they could suddenly deploy, causing a small explosion inside the car. Since the airbag is in a metal container, pieces could injure or even kill passengers when something like this happens. All 10 of the world’s biggest carmakers are working together to resolve the issue. However, experts say that over 30 million cars could be affected.

12. Volkswagen’s Dieselgate

In 2015, Volkswagen was the biggest car company in the world. Unfortunately, this position was severely shaken by the EPA’s legal action and alleged violation of the Clean Air Act. Apparently, Volkswagen was cheating on emissions testing by installing special software in its diesel cars on the North American market. The software was on when they tested the cars for emissions, but it then automatically shut off for normal use.

Volkswagen marketed their diesel cars as a cleaner alternative. However, they were polluting the environment more than regular gasoline-powered cars. The scandal became infamous as “Dieselgate,” causing dealerships to put “Stop Sale” signs on all Volkswagen diesel products. There were millions of angry buyers, resulting in a severe sales drop. Currently, the whole Dieselgate situation has cost Volkswagen close to $15 billion in the U.S. market alone.

Have you ever seen or owned any of the car industry’s biggest flops, scandals and mistakes? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, millions of car owners have fallen for these cars. The good news is, the car industry has grown and learned from their errors and misjudgments.

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