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Bring Out Your Dead: Car Logos From Beyond The Grave

Posted in AMC, auto industry, Car Branding, Car Logos, Chrysler, FAIL, Featured, General, GM, History, Peugeot, Renault by Kurt Ernst | April 20th, 2010 | 8 Responses |

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.

1. Oldsmobile

Born: 1897
Died: 2004, age 107
Cause of death: Product mediocrity, combined with branding confusion and an aging demographic.

2. Pontiac

Born: 1926
Died: 2010, age 84
Cause of death: Branding confusion complicated by extreme corporate indifference.

3. Fiat

Born: 1908
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.

4. Plymouth

Born: 1928
Died: 2001, age 73
Cause of death: Branding confusion and consumer indifference. Even halo cars like the Plymouth Prowler failed to draw much attention to the brand in its later years.

5. Isuzu

Born: 1953
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.

6. Triumph

Born: 1932
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

Born: 1950s
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.

8. MG

Born: 1945
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

Born: 1954
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.

10. Peugeot

Born: 1958
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.

11. Saturn

Born: 1990
Died: 2009, age 19
Cause of death: GMitis, a combination of branding confusion, corporate indifference and no cohesive product strategy.

12. Hummer

Born: 1992
Died: 2010, age 18
Cause of death: Declining consumer interest in a product line that consisted only of fuel sucking SUVs with modest off-road capabilities.

13. Eagle

Born: 1988
Died: 1998, age 10
Cause of death: Rebadged products from other manufacturers, brand ambiguity and poor marketing caused Chrysler to pull the plug on the brand after a ten year run.

14. Geo

Born: 1988
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.

15. Yugo

Born: 1985
Died: 1992, age 7
Cause of death: Arguably the worst car ever sold in America, Yugo proved that cheap was only a selling point if it was coupled with reliable.

16. Lancia

Born: 1975
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.

17. Renault

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.

18. Sterling

Born: 1987
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.

19. Daihatsu

Born: 1988
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.

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8 Responses

  1. peter b says:

    You forgot to mention the Delorian.

  2. Kurt says:

    Peter B, there are a lot of companies I left out (Bricklin, DeLorean, Maxton, etc.). Why? Because they were too small to ever have a fighting chance in the U.S. market.

    DeLorean is a good call, since their cars were innovative enough to be successful. If they had a lower price or offered more performance at their market price, they just might have made it.

  3. Mike J. says:

    You mention brand loyalty. I have driven Triumphs for 29 years. My first car was a 1977 Spitfire which I still have today. The only reason I don’t drive it as much as I used to is because it’s a two-seater and I have a wife and two children. I’m in an active local British car club with lots of members. Triumph’s manufacturing quality went downhill in the 1970’s but the 50’s and 60’s were very good to Triumph as they were one of the most popular sports cars in America and Europe during that time. According to Mike Cook who was a national sales team leader for Triumph USA, the TR7 was betrayed by the very workers tasked with assembling the cars. They did a terrible job even making the initial 34 cars for the model introduction press event. Triumph’s Group 44 racing team had to salvage the new cars and was only able to make 17 of them ready for the press. Read Cook’s book, “Triumphs in America” (find it on Amazon). Triumphs have a strong following in America among classic sports car enthusiasts and SCCA racing.

    As for the MG, what you mention there is slightly incorrect. They did offer sedans and hardtops. Look up the MGB-GT, which was a hardtop/hatchback MGB. I personally know several people in my club who own them today. Triumph’s version was the GT6, based on the racing Spitfires. Triumph also offered sedans during the 50’s through the early 80’s: The Herald, Dolomite, 2000, 2500, and Stag were two and four-door sedans. I own a 2000 today which is similar to a Rover of that time (can’t remember the model name).

    So I wonder how many opinions you heard from British car enthusiasts as well as their detractors. Some people would rather push a Ford than drive a Chevy. Some people love football and hate basketball. You can always find some people who dislike something and, more importantly, find people who like something that you are reviewing.

    You have a neat site so I’m going to read more of your articles in the future. Cheers!

  4. Kurt says:

    Mike, thanks for the great feedback! I can’t believe I forgot the MGB-GT, since that was an iconic little hatchback. You don’t see too many of them on the roads any more…

    A high school buddy had a GT6+ that was an ongoing family restoration project. Sadly, I don’t think it ever got off the jackstands in his backyard.

  5. sam says:

    its a shame american’s dont drive alfa romeo’s :(

  6. alex says:

    I notice that a lot of these “dead car logos” aren’t actually dead. They’ve just stopped selling in the US market. Since when most things die they actually stop existing – I’ll presume this was just an over-hyped title purely for traffic serving purposes…

  7. Kurt says:

    Alex – Fiat, Lancia, MG, Peugeot, Renault and Alfa Romeo are indeed still alive in the rest of the world. Fiat and Alfa Romeo are poised to make a comeback in the US over the next three years.

    I’ve tried to expand the site beyond the U.S. broders, but rarely get feedback from anyone outside the U.S. (unless it’s to vent that we don’t cover stuff in there country). I’ll make you a deal – tell me what country you’re from, give me a list of the 10 Uncoolest Cars in your country (and why) and I’ll publish it. Fair enough?