Reasons abound for GM's bankruptcy, including legacy costs, fuel prices and the conventional wisdom of East Coast media elite, but we mustn't forget in the end it's all about the cars. And frankly, some of them really sucked. Here's the ten vehicles most responsible for driving GM into bankruptcy.
The Chevrolet SSR was meant to capture the imagination of buyers. Unfortunately, few buyers were imagining an expensive, gas-guzzling convertible truck that, due to the size of the hardtop convertible, was basically unusable as a truck.
The original S-series Saturn cars were meant to compete with foreign small car makers by offering unique, reliable small cars. The success of this move can be debated, but they'd at least built a following. By 2000, they'd given up on the original mission of Saturn and tried to pass off an old Opel platform as the new Saturn. It was a failure, much like the Saturn brand itself. At best, Saturn did succeed in crushing its domestic small car competitor Geo... another company owned by GM.
The popularity of military Humvee conversions convinced AM General to make a civilian version called the Hummer. Low gas prices and a strong economy convinced GM to buy the rights to build Hummers and create a more civilized version based on an existing GM platform. Dealerships were opened and, initially, sales were good. But when gas prices started to rise the idea of spending $65,000 for a truck that gets 10 MPG seemed ridiculous and the Hummer brand came to represent everything wrong with U.S. automakers.
Subaru 9-2x "Saabaru"
GM thought it would be a great idea to join Ford in buying another European automaker. Just as Volvo hasn't particularly worked out for Ford, Saab transformed from quirky to boring quickly. Needing a sporty model, they combined the Subaru WRX (GM owned about 20% shares of Subaru) with a Saab badge and the "Saabaru" was born. Like the WRX, it was a great performance deal and fun car. But it was the representation of a company with an unclear mission.
GMC Envoy XUV
GM spent millions developing a "midgate" system for their Envoy SUV, which would allow the vehicle to be transformed from an awkward truck to an awkward SUV using an expensive and complex retractable rear roof. GM expected approximately 30,000 people would need an SUV to double as antique furniture transport. They were off my almost as much as a third and it was discontinued after two years. This is what they did instead of building a small car.
The problem with badge-engineering is sometimes it works. The 90s-era GM B-Body vehicles were successful and people ended up buying the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, Buick Roadmaster, Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, Chevy Caprice and Chevy Impala SS. Unfortunately, it was a dilution of brand missions and only perpetuated the company's problems rather than solve them.
Cadillac Escalade EXT
The Cadillac Escalade gained popularity and notoriety among celebs, at least until the Prius became cool. As popular as the Escalade was, the company decided to make a truck version. This was the truck version of an SUV based on a truck platform for luxury buyers, who never wanted or needed a truck in the first place. It's yet another example of GM building more trucks at the expense of passenger vehicles.
When the California Air Resourced Board required automakers to sell 2% of cars as Zero Emissions Vehicles most responded with electric versions of cars they already built. GM built the purpose-built EV1. It was popular despite the limited range but it cost the company more to make than they were getting in leases. After the rule was waived GM recalled the leases and canceled the program. This caused environmentalists to go nuts and blame GM for killing the electric car. It was an image disaster.
The Pontiac Aztec was one of the first major crossover vehicles brought to market in the U.S. It's combination of car-like handling and fuel economy with SUV-like space and aggressive appearance. The concept was a hit and now most automakers are shifting towards crossover. The Aztec was a massive failure. It was an attractive idea in an amazingly unattractive shell. It failed almost entirely based upon its appearance.
Chevrolet Pontiac Aveo G3 Wave This is your subcompact offering? Really? American car companies have had little success with building small cars, but the Korean-designed Chevy Aveo is among the worst. It's too small. It's ugly. It's not comfortable. It's not well-designed. It's not overwhelmingly fuel efficient for its size. It's so bad, the only thing a struggling GM could do with it was try and make a version for Pontiac called the G3 Wave so Pontiac dealers would have a small car. When you've got a bad hand, you don't double down.