Bringing a new car to market is never easy. It takes years of development, months of marketing to build excitement, and the final launch and rollout have to go perfectly. If anything anywhere in that process goes wrong, your shiny new car risks joining this list. Yesterday, we asked you for the biggest flops in automotive history, and you gave us hundreds of answers. Each one is worth reading, but if you’re crunched for time, here are a few of the best.
The Future Of Mobility
Automotive? Edsel. Vehicular in general? Segway. Before anyone knew what “IT” was, it was being hailed as literally the single greatest achievement by man. People thought it could be anything, including teleportation. We got this....
Have you ever ridden a Segway? I tried one, years ago, and they’re genuinely pretty fun. You know what else is compact, convenient, and a pretty fun method of personal transportation? A bike.
The Father Of Modern Pickups
Lincoln Blackwood. A 2WD luxury “pickup” with a carpet lined bed and permanent bed cover, built for maybe 2 years.
Lincoln saw the potential in luxury pickups very early but made a crucial mistake — it messed with the bed. Pickups, from the cheapest fleet trim to the most upscale Denali, are all about the potential of that open bed and all the attempted masculinity exuded by the ability to do Truck Stuff. The Blackwood’s bed was carpeted, soft, objectively better for carrying Fabergé eggs or whatever it is rich people do but lacking in that rough-and-tumble quality that drives people to pickups in the first place.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Crosstour
Remember the ZDX? If course you don’t. No one does.
We had a discussion the other week in the Jalopnik office about the ZDX. Really, it was about the Mercedes CLS, but the ZDX came up as an example. I had forgotten about it entirely, and when I was reminded I still assumed it was based on the Crosstour. It isn’t.
Was based on the Volt, but somehow cost $35,000 more. Sold less than 3,000. They learned nothing from the Cimmaron, apparently.
I have to wonder if the ELR could’ve been helped had GM marketed it in literally any other way. I understand the thinking, that Cadillac owners have all pulled themselves up by their bootstraps with their noses to their respective grindstones and put in eighty hour weeks while walking uphill to school both ways in the snow in order to get where they are, but did that message resonate with early adopters of hybrids? It seemed like GM was going after existing Cadillac buyers, Harley-Davidson style, rather than using such a different vehicle to bring new customers to the brand.
Low power, quality control issues, embroiled in scandal. If it wasn’t for Back to the Future, barely anyone would have remembered that the Delorean existed.
Somewhere out there in the multiverse, there’s a world where the DeLorean fell into obscurity. In that world, Universal Pictures struck a deal to promote Subaru’s then-newest product, and the time machine in Back to the Future was an XT. I was going to raise the question of whether DeLoreans would still be worth something now, as their shape has come back into style in the Era of Radwood and their stainless steel bodies don’t rust, but now I just want to watch that version of Back to the Future.
The Caddy That Zigs...
The Cadillac Catera. Cadillac’s effort to bring in younger buyers with an Opel-based sedan was accompanied by a huge marketing campaign featuring a duck for some reason. Both failed.
Nearly every single photo of this car shows it in this weird gray-beige color. It appears the car was also offered in white and silver, so was greige just popular? If so, why? And to who? And why?
...And The Caddy That Didn’t Even Try
Its a flop, but it’s not even the worse Caddy Flop. Nevertheless the worse GM flop.
To me the biggest Caddy Flop of all time was the 78 Caddy DeVille.
There actually wasn’t anything wrong with the car... other than it wasn’t a Caddy. It was a nicer Chevy Impala. And the cost cutting that this showed killed the brand. They weren’t interested in being “the Standard of the World” ever again.
Caddy went from being the brand you hoped to afford one day to being the brand you got since you couldn’t afford the car you really wanted.
This abomination was just par for the course in Caddy Post 1978. Take a Meh car from another brand, throw some options on it, market it as something it never was and watch it not sell well.
Cadillac, it seems, spent a long time splashing around in the muck and the mire of cost cutting. The company’s gotten its feet back under itself in recent years, having cemented its place as the first in line for any new GM platforms, but some of those malaise decades weren’t too kind to the Cadillac of cars.
The Most Super Jaguar
Jaguar XJ220. The concept promised a V12 super car and resulted in 1500 reservations being made with a ~$80,000 deposit. But after Jag announced it would have a twin-turbo V6 in place of a V12, buyers went apeshit and cancelled reservations left and right, despite the TT V6 having more HP than the V12 promised. Only 275 XJ220's were ever made. A travesty.
Here’s my hot take: Downsized turbo engines are often more fun than their bigger, naturally-aspirated counterparts. Turbo noises are fun, turbo torque is fun, the feeling of a turbo building boost as you change the engine’s load with your right foot is fun. More small turbo engines.
Ahead Of Its Time
I don’t know why this is the first one that comes to mind, but the Kia Borrego shows what a difference a decade makes. Kia managed to flop at selling a 3-row SUV, in the US, even though it was supposedly perfectly adequate! Now, 15 years later, they’re selling nearly as many Tellurides in a single month as they managed to sell Borregos in an entire year, and they’re doing it with ridiculous ADM.
Did you forget that Kia once offered a three-row, V8-powered SUV in the American market? We only got it for one year, but Kia got the last laugh by introducing the best-looking three-row on the market years later.
As the DeLorean was already mentioned, I’m nominating the Honda CRZ. Looks great, but the performance didn’t live up to its billing as a successor to the CRX.
So many times, I’ve come so close to buying a CR-Z. They look fantastic, they come in a gorgeous blue color, the interior layout is great, and they’re available as a stick shift. All this in a two-seat hybrid hatch. Have I ever driven one? Absolutely not, but I would love to.
Chrysler’s Baby Twins
Dodge Dart (and by extension, its Chrysler 200 counterpart). Great looking compact car, but was released at the exact moment that segment died in the U.S.
Making a compact car for Americans is hard. It seems that most people in the U.S., given the choice, would rather own and drive a Canyonero than anything small, practical, and efficient like a Smart. This is an Andy Kalmowitz subtweet.
We Hardly Knew Ye
I’ve got two engine flops:
The Cadillac twin turbo 4.2L Blackwing V8 (LTA). Clean sheet design that was supposedly only used in 800 cars and then killed
The North American Mazda 2.2L diesel engine. Teased since ~2014, finally arrived in the CX-5 for 2019 and lasted for just one model year before being killed.
The Blackwing engine had such potential, such a new design, and such a good name. It’s too bad only one of those persisted, but the times we got to share with the Blackwing were good times indeed. Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?
The Progenitor Of The Modern SUV
Well, guess I’ll throw the obvious starter answer out there:
The Pontiac Aztek
It was meant to be the hot new thing. It was meant to appeal to all of the Gen Xers looking for their first cars. “Xtreme styling!” This was the car that would make the next generation into loyal lifetime GM owners. GM forecast that they would sell 70,000 of them annually, and they only needed 30,000 annually to break even.
In the end, it was too expensive for the first-time buyers that they hoped to attract, it was plagued with a series of safety recalls, and the only thing “Xtreme” about the exterior styling was how Xtremely ugly it was. One reviewer even commented that it “looked like a station wagon stretched out by a car bomb.” It did just over 12,000 sales when it launched in 2000, and peaked at 27,793 in 2002.
It was discontinued in 2005, and clearly somebody had it out for that plant in particular because it was retooled to make the also-of-questionable-aesthetics Chevy HHR.
The Aztek was, unequivocally, a flop. But you look at the modern overlanding trend and tell me that it wasn’t the perfect car to fit the niche. Sure, it didn’t look great, but it was rugged and came with a tent. What more could you want?
New Sportscar, Xperimental
Acura NSX second gen/revival. It has produced slightly more its run than the first year of the original. It is a flagship of a Acura fleet lost at sea.
Not because it was a “bad” car. Objectively it is great. But it was exactly the type of car that failed to be even a shadow of its forefather. The original NSX was a “everyday-daily driver” supercar. The second gen was just another quasi-hypercar, and realistically, a out-dated tech demo. It would have been fine if released in 2010, but by the time they actually built it, Acura was just a price-point near luxury crossover brand.
For all the “development”, all Acura had to do was drop a hot J-series, its awesome smooth manual into the concept chassis - at a basic pricepoint and it would have sold to both Honda fanbois and even MR2 holdouts. Then bring the bonkers “type-s” version LATER (see corvette sales model)
Here’s another hot take for you: The issue with the modern NSX was never the car — it was the launch cycle. Acura told buyers about the NSX nearly a decade before the final car was revealed in 2015. By the time it came out, the car was already old news — its novel supercar features had already worked their way downmarket. Instead, buyers’ attention turned to the other supercar debuting in Detroit that year — the Ford GT.
Party Time, Excellent
Many great options already shared. If I had to pick one, not listed yet it would have to be the AMC Pacer.
The Pacer was AMC’s most costly new car of the 1970s. The hatchback alone totaled $60 million in development costs. The wagon reportedly added another $6 million. This was higher than the $40 million spent on the 1970 Hornet and another $40 million on the 1974 Matador coupe.
First mistake was the styling. AMC was was too ahead of the market. They made a curvy “Bubble Car” while everyone else had square boxes. They also took the complaints about the Hornet’s bad sightlines and cramped headroom. So the Pacer’s glass area covered 37 percent of the car. (The average at the time was about 20-25%) Glass, is also heavier than sheet metal, with added to the weight of the Pacer. (See Below)
It also didn’t help it was designed around an engine that they ended up not even using, as it was canceled before the Pacer was ready for production. What magical engine would this be? A Wankel Rotary Engine from GM of all things! However, GM canceled development in 1974 for reasons that included durability issues, the fuel crisis, tooling costs (for the engines and also for a new product line designed to take advantage of the rotary’s ultra-compact dimensions), and the upcoming (the late 1970s) U.S. emissions legislation. It was also thought that the high-revving Wankel would not suit Americans accustomed to low revs and high torque.
However, AMC had literally already dumped all their eggs in this basket. So, they had to hastily modify the Pacer design to accept the AMC Straight-6 engine they had available. This involved a complete redesign of the drivetrain and firewall to keep the longer engine within the body dimensions designed for the Wankel.
Next, the Pacer’s platform was far too heavy and space inefficient. The 1976 Pacer was heavier than a downsized 1978 Chevrolet Malibu two-door coupe (by roughly 110 pounds) and a Ford Fairmont two-door sedan with a six-cylinder engine (by more than 500 pounds).
But even if others weren’t dropping size and weight, the Pacer would still have been a porker. The hatchback model was only a few pounds lighter than a Ford Granada or Plymouth Volare coupe even though these were “old-school” designs that were each more than two feet longer than the Pacer.
In other words, the Pacer weighed more than cars that offered room for five or six passengers. Yet the Pacer only fit four people.
Another factor that may have contributed to the Pacer’s collapse was its discordant market positioning. AMC initially presented the Pacer as a premium-quality small car. However, unlike its indirect competitor, the Ford’s Mustang II, the base Pacer was pretty stripped. That cultivated an economy car vibe, which clashed with its image-car styling.
It was such as failure the company would have gone under even sooner than it did, if it wasn’t for Renault coming in and infusing the company with some funds, to help it survive until the 80s.
The Pacer is a car I really want to like. Its proportions are so weird, so unlike anything else on the market, and it came in genuinely interesting colors. It had so much glass! Imagine the visibility! Unfortunately, nearly fifty years later, the Pacer is only barely competitive with other compact cars on weight — despite being much smaller.
I nominate the Phaeton. I guess they eventually ended up selling decently in China, but the rest of the world reacted with incredulity when they saw the price tag on this VW.
When your branding is based on being the People’s Car, accessible and attainable and practical transportation, it’s hard to convince buyers to shell out for top-tier luxury products. Especially when your brand exists in contrast to your luxury marquee stablemates.
The One You’ve All Been Waiting For
Edsel is the automotive flop. Edsel is the poster
childcar for flops in general.
Edsel is a benchmark. “As a flop, is it bigger or smaller than Edsel?”
Whenever Edsel shows up in the NYT crossword, it is always clued as “famous automotive flop”
Edsel is unquestionably #1. The only question is what vehicle will take the second spot on the list.
Vertical grilles just can’t win, huh? The Edsel was a case study-tier flop. Everyone got all up in arms about the new M3 and M4. I get it, it messes with your pareidolia, but let’s see some more variety. Justice for vertical grilles.