Great motoring ideas, executed horribly

Wasted opportunity, bad business moves and idiotic errors led to these great ideas coming out mangled

35w ago

I'm fascinated with failure. My marks upon leaving school, the Sinclair C5 and Cut The Crap by the Clash all come to mind when I think of the worst screw-ups of all time. However, in the motoring world, there seems to be a tradition of some sort, where someone in the company has a great idea, something that the Sunday Times magazine might like to call a "shake up", something that should revolutionise the motoring world as we know it. However, instead of guiding this idea to the mass attention and love it deserves, it hits the road with all the grace of a malfunctioning hang glider, barely resembling the great thought from which they were supposed to be derived. Here's a few examples.

Rover Streetwise

There are some ideas that, while being great in principle, come just a little ahead of their time to be commercially viable. The Rover Streetwise was a good idea, being one of the first true crossovers to come to the mass market, but unfortunately it was so wretched that it never would have worked no matter when it was released. Introduced in 2003, but based on the Rover 25, which first came to showrooms in 1999, which in turn was derived from the 1995 Rover 200, the Streetwise was hardly on the cutting edge of technology. On top of that, it was a terrible car. It had no off-road capability whatsoever (though Rover addressed this by confusingly referring to the car as an "urban on-roader"), the jacked-up suspension made the ride atrocious, the styling was a laughable attempt to make a reheated, obsolete design look fresh and sturdy, and it had one of the worst names anyone could have thought of. Terrible.

BMW 6 Series

A sleek, aerodynamic, fast and streamlined coupé/convertible. That must have been what was going on in the boardroom of BMW in 2002. And on paper, the new 6 Series appeared to be shaping up nicely. Combined with a hearty 6 cylinder engine on the base model, with the option to take it up to a V10 on the M6, and featuring the newest technology to offer, it seemed the Bavarians were really onto a winner. Until it rolled out of the factory, when the BMW boys took one look at it and suddenly realised that a 6 cylinder engine, cutting edge technology and streamlining all mean nothing when you base the styling off of a Chris Bangle design. I don't know exactly what was going through Adrian Van Hooydonk's mind when he designed the 6 Series, but I suspect he may have been going for the "de-wormed basset hound" look. The 6 Series is, then, a great idea that developed into a great platform, but unfortunately is ruined by the styling. Shame.

Audi A2

Much like the BMW, the Audi A2 is another example of how dodgy styling can derail a whole new direction for carmakers. The idea behind the A2 was simple- make a small, extremely fuel efficient, practical car. The real innovation came when Audi decided to construct the A2 mostly from aluminium, which brought the A2 into a whole new league of efficiency. However, it appeared that the designers took the whole aluminium idea a little bit too much to heart, as the A2 came out looking like something that had been beaten up in a garden shed. And it appeared that the general public weren't swayed by the looks of the car either, as the similar but more universally appealing rival to the A2, the Mercedes A-Class, sold 1 million units, compared to Audi's sales barely scraping over 170,000.

Fiat Strada

By CarbonCaribou - Own work -This file was derived from:  Fiat-Strada-Side.jpg:, Public Domain,

By CarbonCaribou - Own work -This file was derived from:  Fiat-Strada-Side.jpg:, Public Domain,

The Fiat Strada (or Ritmo) is an example of when a company tries to implement new technology too quickly, without the right knowledge and with the equipment not being well enough developed to cope with the load. In 1978, Fiat introduced a (sort of) new car, the Ritmo-Strada. Designed to be futuristic, the car used lots of round and sharp edges, lots of plastic, but unfortunately rather a lot more Soviet steel, which wasn't and still isn't renowned around the world for its integrity. To make matters worse, the Ritmo/Strada was built almost entirely by robots, robots which really weren't developed enough yet to produce entire cars for the mass market. The result? Rust aplenty. Even for the 1970s, where rust was as commonplace as trade union strikes and oil crises, the Strada rotted appallingly, and a revised version was quickly put out in 1982.

Daewoo Leganza

After years of selling rehashed Vauxhalls, the introduction of the Leganza in 1997 was an attempt to move the Daewoo brand upmarket. The idea was that by combining Italian styling with Korean reliability, they'd be onto a winner. And it appeared that they were. Unfortunately, Daewoo had rather overlooked the fact that even though the new Leganza was reasonably good looking, moderately priced and reliable, it had outdated technology, a noisy, obsolete engine and a crap ride. Even though the reception was initially positive, it soon went out the window once you drove it.

VW Phaeton

By all accounts, the Volkswagen Phaeton was not a bad idea at all. Drawing on a number of Volkswagen's owned brands, the Phaeton was, much like the Leganza, an attempt to bring the Volkswagen brand upmarket. Except there was a big problem. The word "Volkswagen" literally translates to "people's car". And a W12-engined, long wheelbase luxury car costing over half a hundred grand doesn't sound like you've got the man from the street in your mind. Why then, would someone buy what was essentially a stretched Passat over a Mercedes? From what I hear, the Phaeton was a good car, with some good thinking behind it. But it could never, ever work because it was executed so poorly, like all the cars on this page. Got to go now, the toast's burning.

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Comments (19)

  • Great article, very well written. I’ve always loved the Phaeton. It was incredibly over engineered, the W12 sounded pretty good, and it was very good looking. The A2, too, was a great idea. If it wasn’t so tall and bland, it would’ve sold well.

      8 months ago
    • I always thought that the principle of the A2 deserved to be better remembered, putting the styling and blandness aside, Audi had such a forward-thinking idea that it could have accelerated the development of the smaller, 21st century...

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        8 months ago
    • It reminds me a lot of the BMW i3, a car that was quite revolutionary but not very nice looking and overpriced. They could have both been massive successes too.

        8 months ago
  • I think in the case of the VW Phaeton it is actually the other way round: Horrible idea, greatly executed

      8 months ago
  • I’m and A2 owner and disagree and the reason it didn’t catch on wasn’t it’s styling, it was the price as you could by a more conventional golf for less money. The aluminium spaceframe was expensive and high end interior which put it out of the price range of a polo buyer. The car itself met the design brief perfectly and arguably doesn’t look out of place today (think BMW I3).

    If anything the A2 will out live a number of their modern counterparts because of that aluminium spaceframe.

      8 months ago
  • I like phaeton

      8 months ago
  • Very well written and interesting! Great piece!

      8 months ago