We’re not talking about slow sellers here, we’re talking epic car fails, cars that for whatever reason — corporate, economic or engineering-wise — are just plain wrong. Here is a rogue’s gallery of the bad, the worse and the worst.
1. The Chevrolet SSR (Super Sport Roadster) – 2003 – 2006
You can imagine the design meeting at GM headquarters where someone said: “What if we build a convertible pickup truck?” That person should have been shown the door, but instead, GM went on to build the SSR, which was according to Car and Driver “an awkward-looking, underpowered, and overpriced factory hot rod.”
The inspiration for the SSR’s retro styling was Chevrolet’s 1947 – 1955 pickup trucks. Initially arriving with a V-6 engine, GM quickly upgraded it to a V-8, but that still wasn’t enough to get the 4,700-pound $42,000-plus SSR moving. In total, 24,150 of the cars were produced, and the last car rolled off the factory floor on March 17, 2006. RIP.
2. Cadillac XLR/XLR-V 2004 – 2009
It’s GM’s turn again, and you can just picture this design meeting where somebody said, “What if we make a Cadillac version of the Corvette?” Behold the Cadillac XLR, a two-seater convertible with a retractable hardtop.
The XLR boasted an adaptive suspension, which Cadillac called Magnetic Ride Control. It controlled the vertical movement of the wheels relative to the chassis, rather than the movement being determined by the road surface. This gave the car a better ride and handling by keeping the tires perpendicular to the road during cornering, accelerating, and braking.
Granted, the XLR had some stiff competition in the Mercedes SL, which is probably why Cadillac introduced the XLR-V in 2006, which had a supercharged Northstar V-8 engine. Unfortunately, that car came with a $110,000-plus price tag, and it is all the more remarkable that Cadillac sold 3,730 of the cars in 2005, and 3,203 in 2006.
Sales dropped to 1,750 in 2007, and to 1,250 in 2008, and in all, only 15,460 XLRs were ever built.
3. Crysler Aspen/Dodge Durango Hybrids 2009
Car and Driver described it as “a truckish, forgettable SUV with all the road manners of a rudderless Queen Mary.” Gee, fellas, what do you really think?
When sales of the Durango tanked, Chrysler trotted out the Aspen, which was a Durango freighted with plastic chrome and fake wood. Who doesn’t like fake wood? Then, Chrysler announced a hybrid version of each.
The two hybrids were the first cars out of Chrysler’s membership in the Global Hybrid Cooperation. This was the manufacturing group behind the powertrain technology used in GM’s hybrid SUV and the BMW X6.
The Aspen and Durango hybrids were reportedly being built at a loss, and when the economy tanked in 2008, Chrysler shuttered the production plant. While the Durango name has been resurrected, the Aspen name has not been seen since.
4. Fisker Karma 2011 – 2012
Things should have gone so well, you had famous automotive designer Henrik Fisker building one of the first plug-in hybrids. Fisker was the guy who had previously designed the BMW Z8, the Aston Martin DB9, and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. We’re talking pretty cars here.
Fisker was quoted as saying that “electric cars can be beautiful and exciting and fun to drive.” A Karma design prototype was first unveiled at the January 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Investors in the project included actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the U.S. Department of Energy, which kicked in $192 million as part of its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program.
The specs for the Karma were promising, it had a 23.5kWh battery pack, and a turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine, which acted as a generator to produce 402 horsepower. But, the car weighed 5,297 pounds, leading to only 24 miles per gallon, which was 10 mpg less than what the Chevrolet Volt was getting when the two went head to head in a 2012 comparison test.
Despite having a smaller battery pack, the Volt beat the Karma’s electric-only driving range by two miles, which was almost an insult considering the Karma’s price tag was almost $100,000.
In December 2011, the Karma’s battery supplier A123 Systems recalled all its batteries, then filed for bankruptcy in October 2012. After selling 2,450 cars, Fisker stopped production in November 2012, and went bankrupt in late 2013. The assets of Fisker Automotive were bought by Chinese automotive parts company Wanxiang, and they renamed the company Karma Automotive. In 2016, they renamed the Karma as the Revero.
5. GM EV1 1997 – 1999
The fate of this car was raised in the 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car? Arriving in 1996, the EV1 was the first mass-produced electric vehicle from a major automaker, and the only car sold by GM and not one of its divisions.
The EV1 had a futuristic teardrop shape on top of an aluminum chassis. It incorporated three different batteries: a 16.5-kWh lead-acid battery, an 18.7 kWh version, and a 26.4-kwh nickel-metal hydride battery. These provided a driving range of 70 to 90 miles, but then required a 15-hour charge on a household outlet.
The EV1 was made available through lease to residents of Los Angeles, California, and Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, and later to residents of San Francisco and Sacramento, California. The cars were not available for purchase, and they could only be serviced at designated Saturn dealerships.
Only 1,117 EV1s were leased in California and Arizona before GM pulled the plug. When lessors attempted to buy their leased cars, GM refused, citing parts, service and liability issues. GM then rounded up all the remaining cars, sometimes with a police escort, and they crushed all but 40 of the repossessed EV1s. The remainder went to museums and educational institutions, however, those cars had their electric powertrains deactivated so that they couldn’t be driven on the road.
The only intact EV1 was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, making it one of the rarest cars on Earth.
6. GMC Envoy XUV 2003 – 2005
This is another instance where you wish you had been a fly on the wall at the first design meeting. What you would have heard would have gone something like this: “Hey guys, what if we split an SUV in two, and it’s like an SUV and a pickup truck?”
The XUV had a retractable rear roof section that slid forward, creating an open load area. A “MidGate” partitioned the load area, and a two-way tailgate could either hinge sideways or drop down. The cargo area was waterproof, allowing it to be hosed down for cleaning.
The XUV was created out of an extended-wheelbase GMC Envoy, which was the same as a Chevrolet Trailblazer. That made for a heavy chassis and miserable fuel mileage. Then, even with the roof open, the tailgate down and the seats folded, the Envoy couldn’t haul any more than an ordinary SUV, and it was a lot more expensive. Sayonara.
7. Jaguar X-type 2001 – 2008
The Brits have given us a lot to be grateful for: Isaac Newton, the Beatles, but this Jaguar is not one of them. Here’s what Car and Driver had to say about the car: “It was obnoxiously underbuilt, remarkably overpriced, and about as charming as a hernia.” Yikes!
TV series Mad Men hilariously portrayed reliability issues of Jaguar when a character, Lane, attempts suicide by running a hose from the exhaust pipe of his Jaguar XKE into the window, presses the start button, and … nothing.
The X-Type was developed during the time when Jaguar was owned by Ford (1999-2010), and the car was marketed as a compact “executive” car, designed to take on the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-class.
The X-type model names said it all, with the four-door “saloon” launching in 2001, and the five-door “estate” beginning in 2004, but sales never took off. U.S. sales dropped from 21,542 in 2004 to 10,941 in 2005, and not even Jeremy Clackson hyping the vehicle on BBC’s Top Gear could save the X-type. By 2009, it was toast.
8. Lincoln Blackwood 2001 – 2002
You can picture the design meeting at Ford Motor: “Say fellas, what if a crew-cab F-150 pickup truck and a Lincoln Continental had a baby?” That is exactly what the Blackwood was, with its truck bed lined with carpet and with fake wood and LED lights on its sides.
The Blackwood only came in black (get it, “black” “wood”?) and it rolled in at a cool $52,000, so it’s not surprising that in its single year of production, only 3,000 Blackwoods were ever made.
9. Pontiac Aztek 2001 – 2005
This car’s main claim to fame is that it was the car of choice of TV series Breaking Bad’s main character Walter White during the first four seasons of the show. The Aztec was one of the first crossover vehicles, while SUVs of the period were more truck-like.
The back featured a swing-open Kammback, also known as a “Kamm tail”, where the rear of the car slopes downwards before meeting a vertical surface. Named after German aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm who came up with the design in the 1930s when it was used on racing cars to improve performance, the purpose of a Kammback is to minimize aerodynamic drag.
Other features of the Aztek included a rear center console that was a removable cooler, and an attachable tent, but none of that was enough to save the car. RIP.
10. DeLorean 1981 – 1983
No list of car fails would be complete without the DeLorean, manufactured by DeLorean Motor Company, or DMC. Designed by famous Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, the car had brushed stainless-steel outer body panels and gull-wing doors.
The cars were financed by celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr., and they were made in a factory in Northern Ireland because the Industrial Development Board for Northern Ireland (IDB) ponied up £100 million for the project.
Everything fell apart in 1982 following John DeLorean’s arrest for drug trafficking, a charge he was later found to be not guilty of. The company behind U.S. retailer Big Lots stepped in and completed approximately 100 partially-assembled cars, while the remaining parts were shipped to Ohio, where they were sold by mail order.
The car became wildly popular as the time machine in the Back to the Future movies, which began in 1985. In all, around 9,000 DeLoreans were manufactured, with about 6,500 still thought to exist.
In 1995, a British entrepreneur created the “DeLorean Motor Company” in Texas, acquired the “DMC” logo, and the remaining parts inventory. They are building new DeLoreans out of new old stock (NOS) parts and reproduced parts.
11. Ford Edsel 1958 – 1960
The Edsel was named after a son of company founder Henry Ford. After a year-long teaser campaign, the cars were introduced on what was dubbed “E Day”, which was September 4, 1957.
The cars offered several features that were considered innovative at the time: warning lights for low oil level, parking brake engaged and engine overheating, a push-button transmission in the middle of the steering wheel, self-adjusting brakes, seat belts, and child-proof rear door locks.
In 1958, 63,110 Edsels were sold in the U.S. and 4,935 were sold in Canada. By 1959, 44,891 Edsels were sold in the U.S., and 2,505 were sold in Canada. Ford announced the discontinuation of the Edsel on November 19, 1959, and in all, 118,287 Edsels were produced. Ford lost $350 million, or $2.4 billion in 2018 dollars on the car.
The Edsel is held up as a case study of what not to do. Ford had never test-marketed the cars with “real” buyers before the vehicle’s development or the creation of the dealer network. Ford also failed to identify the Edsel’s price point or the fact that consumers were becoming more fuel-conscious.
French French writer Françoise Sagan famously once said, “Money may not buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Jaguar than on a bus.” I don’t think she meant an X-type.