The past thirty years have not been kind to automakers who sell cars in the United States. We’ve seen financial collapse, rising distribution and product liability costs, skyrocketing oil prices and a fickle buying public that no longer understands the concept of brand loyalty. Selling cars in the U.S. of A, it seems, requires deep pockets for marketing and promotion: if you’re not constantly in the face of the American consumer, chances are you won’t be a brand for very long.
Toyota’s recent $16.4 million fine got me thinking about how many automotive brands, good, bad and otherwise we’ve lost over the past 30 years. Following is a collection of car logos that have received last rites in the United States since 1980. Some of these companies continue to enjoy success in the EU or Asia, while others are dead and buried, with no chance of resurrection. It begs the question of how different the automotive landscape will look in another 30 years, assuming we’re still driving cars at all.
The dates below reflect the automaker’s lifespan in the US market, ranked from oldest to youngest.
Died: 1983, age 75
Cause of death: Product build quality that led consumers to believe Fiat really did stand for, “Fix It Again, Tony”. Fiat’s return with a revitalized and vastly improved product is anxiously awaited by U.S. enthusiasts who remember cars like the X/19 and Spider. Fortunately, Fiat is alive and well outside of the U.S. market.
Died: 2009, age 56
Cause of death: A shrinking product line that, in the end, consisted solely of rebadged GM leftovers. Isuzu continues to manufacture light and medium duty trucks worldwide, including trucks for Budget Rental in the United States, but their car, SUV and pickup truck business is gone.
Died: 1981, age 49
Cause of death: Abysmal build quality and a product line that consisted only of small, underpowered and ill-handling sports cars. The TR7, sadly, was not the shape of things to come after all.
7. Alfa Romeo
Died: 1995, age approximately 45
Cause of death: A product mix that was non-competitve in price and variety, supported by too few dealers. Fortunately, Alfa Romeo continues to exist in foreign markets, but has seen shrinking sales in the past few years. American “Alfisti” anxiously await the return of the storied marque, possibly supported by the vast network of Chrysler dealers.
Died: 1980, age 35
Cause of death: Frequent changes of ownership, questionable build quality and a product line that lacked sedans or hardtop coupes. MG continues on, now owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC).
9. American Motors Corporation
Died: 1987, age 33
Cause of death: Pressure from majority shareholder Renault, who had their own financial and labor issues, forced the sale of AMC to Chrysler. Chrysler bought AMC primarily for its Jeep brand, which continues to be a sales success.
Died: 1991, age 33
Cause of death: Declining sales, a shrinking U.S. product line and a modest dealer network that didn’t promote the brand. Peugeot continues to be a success in other global markets, but a rumored return to the U.S. market isn’t likely in the near future.
Died: 1998, age 10
Cause of death: A brand built on selling entry level, badge engineered product without a distinct identity never lasts long. Killed so GM could focus on entry level products in other brands.
Died: 1982, age 7
Cause of death: Poor build quality and steel so thin you could watch it rust through, coupled with a tiny dealer presence, killed the Lancia brand in the US years before it died in the UK. Lancia, a division of Fiat, remains a strong brand in the EU where it’s positioned as an upscale alternative to Fiat.
Born: About 1980
Died: 1987, age 7
Cause of death: Collateral damage of the decline of American Motors, Renault pulled out of the US market for economic reasons just as their popularity was beginning to grow. They continue to be a viable brand in the rest of the world.
Died: 1992, age 5
Cause of death: If you’re going to launch a new car brand, make sure the first models you deliver are properly put together. Essentially a rebadged Rover 800 with a Honda motor, early production Sterlings had problems with trim, electronics, paint and corrosion. Buyers never gave them a second chance.
Died: 1992, age 4
Cause of death: Too little effort to launch the brand in the U.S., combined with too few dealers. Even critical praise for the Daihatsu Rocky, their counterpart to Suzuki’s Sidekick, wasn’t enough to save the brand in the U.S. market. Worldwide, Daihatsu remains a viable brand, benefiting from their partnership with Toyota in select markets.