By nature, automakers are typically pretty risk-averse, even though they’ll jump at the chance to capitalize on a new buyer trend in a heartbeat. Playing it safe is usually the name of the game, but there is no such thing as a “sure thing.” Given the millions (or billions) invested in every new model, it usually means that when things don’t go according to plan right out of the gate for a particular vehicle, it’s just a matter of time before it gets the ax.
Consider the cosmetically challenged Pontiac Aztek, which is the closest thing we’ve had to the Edsel since, well, the Edsel. There was also the Oldsmobile Diesel, and Cadillac’s 8-6-4 engine, which was an engineering marvel that was well ahead of its time (GM has an electronic version available today), but it proved to be an absolute nightmare for consumers and mechanics alike back in the 1980s.
The sad part of all this is that many of history’s car failures were completely reversible, and probably could have been worked out with a redesign, or a different engine. But there have also been a lot of vehicles that were far beyond saving, and should never have been brought into this world in the first place.
Despite an automaker’s best intentions, so many cars have been doomed from day one that there’s just no saving something as uninspired as the Chevy Celebrity or as impractical as the Scion iQ. But while those vehicles just barely blend into the ocean of bland commuter cars, the following vehicles will forever stand out as way more than just flotsam on the horizon, and thank the gods that they all got washed away years ago.
1. Lincoln Blackwood
By 2002, the Lincoln Navigator had been a hit for a few years, so Ford thought it was high-time to give the SUV some truck-like capabilities. But as the Lincoln Blackwood stumbled through its first (and only) year of life, it became apparent that euthanasia was going to be necessary, as only 3,356 units left lots the entire year with most of them being sold well below MSRP.
Nothing could save this truck from completely missing its target demographics, as both luxury shoppers and pickup enthusiasts didn’t see what they were looking for in the Blackwood. Throw in a price tag of $52,000 (about $68,525 today) and you’ve got a recipe for a certified non-seller. But as the pickup segment continues to gravitate toward the luxury field, we wonder if perhaps the Blackwood was just released a couple decades too early.
2. Cadillac XLR
On paper, the Cadillac XLR roadster had a lot going for it. Comfortable, powerful, contemporary looks… the list went on for miles. But there were two key issues that kept it from garnering widespread love from buyers: Its close relation to the Corvette, and its price, which started at around $76,000, but ballooned to over $86,000 with extras. Between 2003 and 2009, fewer than 16,000 XLRs were ever produced, and they proved to be so unpopular that unsold models sat on lots until 2011.
Cadillac has seemingly been slow to learn its lesson too, as it grapples with how to retire the ELR as it continues to be cannibalized by the far less expensive Chevy Volt. But back in 2003, the company was at the beginning of its long, painful rebuilding process, way before the ATS-V and CTS-V were ranked as some of the best performance luxury vehicles. So don’t be too surprised if Caddy comes back one day with a much better convertible sports car.
3. Chevrolet SSR
In retrospect, the thinking behind the SSR was pretty solid. Take the power and timeless looks of street rods, and transplant that into a little pickup, GMC Syclone-style. Sadly, things didn’t turn out so well for the powerful little pickup, and the end result was a genre-bending snafu that only sold 24,150 units between 2003 and 2006. If the target market for Chevy’s hot rod truck was already quite small, it was made even smaller by the $42,000 sticker price (around $51,000 today), and neither drivability nor practicality remained a strong suit for the vehicle.
Built on the Chevy TrailBlazer platform, it had a capped bed, but virtually no other redeeming truck qualities. It didn’t handle particularly well, it wasn’t useful for any kind of work, and buyers in the market for sporty convertibles had dozens of more attractive options to choose from at the end of the day. Final year versions could be had with a 400 horsepower LS2 V8 that had been mated to a six-speed manual transmission, but at that point, wouldn’t you rather just have a proper sports car?
4. Volkswagen Phaeton
The Volkswagen Phaeton was a fantastic idea, because if there’s one thing the Germans do better than nearly anyone, it’s large luxury sedans. This car was a fantastic piece of engineering too, and it continued to be a winner… all the way up until the moment a VW badge was slapped on it. In higher-end trim, the Phaeton cost upwards of $85,000, and with a few additional options you were tipping the scales at well over $100,000.
Unsurprisingly, American’s weren’t ready for a six-figure Volkswagen. Still, despite its lofty price tag, the Phateton was somewhat of a bargain, as it was largely hand-built alongside the Bentley Continental Flying Spur. But thanks to Volkswagen’s hubris, only 1,433 Phaetons were sold in the U.S. in 2004, and just 820 units left lots the following year. Today, used models suffer from unprecedented depreciation despite offering powerplants like the W12 that’s still found in the high-end Audi A8. The Phaeton lasted much longer in Europe, and even though Volkswagen hoped to eventually reintroduce the car in America, it ran into a little trouble with the Feds.
5. Cadillac Cimarron
There are automotive failures, and then there’s the Cadillac Cimarron from the 1980s. At the beginning of the “Me Decade,” companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz were beginning to hit their stride, offering cars with world-class luxury that matched their driving dynamics. These cars formed the foundation on which today’s luxury cars are built, and Cadillac responded with… this.
The Cimarron was essentially a Chevy Cavalier in a brand new cheap suit. Hell, this wasn’t even a suit, it was more like a polyester neck tie designed to cover-up a soup stain. So while the Germans were busy pushing the envelope with the Mercedes 300E and BMW 3 Series, GM was loping along, trying to dupe buyers with this four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, cynical attempt at luxury.