Cars That Never Caught On

You don’t hear it much anymore but a few decades ago a common metaphor for a product that “never went anywhere” was the Edsel. “That thing is a real Edsel,” you would hear. Interesting, but why didn’t it catch on? Here’s the Ford Edsel story and that of a few other domestic automobiles which never quite made it.

1958-1960 Ford Edsel

In 1956, shortly after Ford became a publicly held company, management decided to realign its brands to better compete in a marketplace dominated by General Motors. The Lincoln marque was moved upmarket to compete directly with GM’s Cadillac. Mercury was also moved up to lure customers away from Oldsmobile and Buick. Unfortunately, this strategy would leave a gap in the market between Mercury and the entry-level Ford brand.

Enter the Edsel models. Designed to compete in the large lower-intermediate field, the Edsel brand ran into economic problems right away. In 1957, the country entered into a deep economic recession and this softened the demand for new cars in the lower-intermediate bracket, the exact market Edsel was going after. Unfortunately, the brand never recovered and by 1960, Ford shuttered the Edsel brand. It was rumored to have cost Ford a whopping $400 million when all was done. 

1971-1977 Chevrolet Vega

Though one the best looking of the small cars of the Seventies, the Chevrolet Vega was also the most problem-ridden. Perhaps the number one issue was its poorly designed motor. Vegas were famous for warped cylinder heads and for burning excessive amounts of oil. They also had recalls for faulty axles and throttle linkages that jammed.

Adding insult to injury, Vegas were also known to rust out quickly. The design of the body lead to water retention and combined with poor-quality steel, Vegas rusted quickly. In the mid 70’s, a rust-inhibiting program was rushed into production but the process proved problematic, and ultimately resulted in GM replacing thousands of fenders- all under warranty.

1975-1980 AMC Pacer

American Motors Corporation (AMC) lunched a wild looking little car in 1975. Shaped like a “fishbowl” it was popular with consumers when it was first released. Even consumer reports gave it great recommendations: “The new AMC was quiet riding, pleasant driving, and based on sound engineering.”

The problem was the Pacer was a heavy car and never delivered the fuel economy that many customers expected. And, by the late 1970s, the Pacer’s bulbous shape began to look dated compared to other domestic vehicles. Struggling financially, AMC would kill the Pacer after 1980, having never significantly updated the car.

1980s GM’s X-Body Cars

GM launched an all-new lineup of compact cars for 1980 by kicking off one of the most expensive media campaigns in automotive history. Comprised of the Buick Skylark, Chevrolet Citation, Oldsmobile Omega, and Pontiac Phoenix, the X-Cars generated immediate sales success. Unfortunately, these front-drive miracles proved to be problematic. The list of safety issues that plagued the Citation and its kin included leaky transmissions and rear brakes that were given to complete failure.

2001-2005 Pontiac Aztek

We got this one from the Breaking Bad fans at Selma Chrysler of Selma, CA. Remember the car that Walter White drove throughout the series? It was a Pontiac Aztek, considered one of the ugliest cars to come out of Detroit.

The Aztek was actually a decent crossover. It was reasonably priced, rode well, and was spacious inside. Regardless of its strong points, the public rejected the Aztek because of its hideous looks. The model survived for five more years, with output dropping to fewer than 5500 for 2005.

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