Most Unlikely Automotive Partnerships of the Past Decade
Volkswagen (VW) Routan (Chrysler Town & Country/Dodge Grand Caravan, 2009-2014)
In 2009, exactly six years after discontinuing its classic EuroVan minivan, Volkswagen released the Routan. Based on the all-new-for-2008 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan (the latter of which is still being manufactured, and sells mainly to rental fleets), the Routan was a Chrysler minivan that VW essentially just slapped its badges onto. Produced in the same factory as its Chrysler cousins in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, the Routan was available with two engines during the first two years of production, which were both Chrysler V6 engines: either a 197-horsepower, 3.8L mill, or a 251-horsepower, 4.0L unit. In 2011, the Routan received a minor facelift (as did its Chrysler and Dodge counterparts), and both V6 engines were replaced by Chrysler's venerable 3.6L Pentastar VVT V6 engine, which had FlexFuel capabilities to run on either gasoline or E85 Ethanol. Regardless of year and engine options, all Routans were equipped with Chrysler's 62TE six-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan proved to be more popular, as the Routan was slightly more expensive than a Grand Caravan, and about the same or slightly more than a Town & Country, and it was dropped after the 2014 model year.
Scion iA/Toyota Yaris (iA) (Mazda Demio/Mazda 2, 2016+)
Before the Scion iA (later, Toyota Yaris iA), Toyota's last subcompact sedan in North America was the Yaris, which proved to be popular, but was neither sporty or well-equipped. In 2016, Toyota partnered with Mazda to manufacture a vehicle for their youth-oriented Scion marque based on their Demio/Mazda 2. Initially available as a single model, the iA was renamed the Yaris iA (not to be confused with the Yaris Liftback), and sold as a Toyota after Toyota killed the Scion brand after 2016. Powered by a 106-horsepower, 1.5L Inline Four-Cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, the (Yaris) iA embodied the soul of a Mazda with Toyota branding. For 2019, the Toyota Yaris Liftback has been dropped from Toyota's North American lineup, so the Yaris iA has once again been renamed as the Yaris Sedan, and has also been given a mid-cycle facelift. For 2020, Toyota will reintroduce the Yaris Hatchback, and it will also be based on the Mazda Demio/Mazda 2.
Chevrolet City Express (Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo Van, 2015-2018)
In 2010, Ford started the compact cargo van craze when introduced the Transit Connect to North America. Since then, there have been many other compact cargo vans (the Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo Van and the Fiat Doblo-based RAM ProMaster City). In 2015, after nearly three years on the market, Chevrolet decided to rebadge Nissan's NV200 Compact Cargo Van as the City Express. Powered by the same 131-horsepower, 2.0L Inline Four-Cylinder engine mated to Nissan's "X-Tronic" Continuously Variable (Automatic) Transmission (otherwise known as a "CVT"), the City Express was assembled alongside the Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo Van at Nissan's Mexican plant. In April, 2018, three years after it was first introduced, General Motors (GM) told Chevrolet dealers to stop taking orders for the City Express, as it sold in small numbers, and was finally discontinued. If you still want a City Express, the Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo Van is essentially the same exact vehicle, and continues to be sold today.
Suzuki Equator (Nissan Frontier, 2009-2012
The Nissan Frontier is officially the oldest vehicle in the midsize truck class, having been introduced in its current iteration way back in 2005. In 2009, Suzuki introduced its first midsize truck to the North American market. Named the Equator, this truck was essentially the exact same truck as the Nissan Frontier, with both Extended Cab and Crew Cab models available, with either 4X2 or 4X4, and five-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmissions. The Equator, which was produced at Nissan's Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant alongside the Frontier, was powered by one of two engines, both manufactured by Nissan: either a 152-horsepower, 2.5L Inline Four-Cylinder unit, or a 261-horsepower, 4.0L V6 mill. Unfortunately, the Equator never caught on, and after only 5,808 Equators sold, Suzuki dropped the Equator from its lineup in 2012. Soon after, Suzuki announced that it would be withdrawing from automotive sales in the United States, making the Equator one of their last products.
Mitsubishi Raider (Dodge Dakota, 2006-2009)
A 2006 Mitsubishi Raider Extended Cab (Image Credit: Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) via netcarshow.com)
The Dodge Dakota was arguably one of the first midsize trucks to be introduced in North America back in 1987, and its latest generation debuted in 2005. Due to its partnership with DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Mitsubishi announced plans to produce its own version of the Dakota, known as the Raider. The Raider name was nothing new to Mitsubishi, having been used on a compact SUV in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, this was the first time it had ever been used on a truck. The Raider, which was produced alongside the Dodge Dakota at Chrysler's Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Warren, Michigan (just outside of Detroit), was offered in both Extended Cab or Crew Cab configurations, with either 4X2 or 4X4. Power came from either a 210-horsepower, 3.7L Chrysler "Power-Tech" V6 engine, or a 230-horsepower, 4.7L Chrysler "Power-Tech" V8 unit (the latter of which was dropped after just a few years of the Raider being on the market), and was mated to either four-speed or five-speed automatic transmissions, or a six-speed manual transmission. You might say that the Raider enjoyed decent sales during its initial few years of production, selling a total of 21,890 units, however, that wasn't enough to keep the Raider alive, as it was dropped after the 2009 model year (the Dodge Dakota was discontinued two years later in 2011, after RAM was spun off as its own brand).
Toyota GR Supra (BMW Z4, 2020+)
One of the most sought-after Japanese sports cars is the Toyota Supra, Toyota's 2+2, RWD, V6-powered sports car of the 1990s, which still sells for almost as much as it cost brand new when it was initially discontinued in North American in 1998. However, Toyota announced that the Supra would be making a return to the U.S. (along with the rest of the world, where it lived on until 2002). As expected, people got excited. That is, until Toyota announced that it would be partnering with BMW to manufacture its all-new Supra at Magna Steyr's assembly plant in Graz, Austria. Introduced at the 2019 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan in January, 2019, the all-new GR Supra is a two-seat, RWD sports car that is based on the newly-redesigned G29 BMW Z4 roadster. Powered by a detuned version (335 horsepower in the GR Supra vs. 380 horsepower in the Z4 M40i) of BMW's "B58" TwinPower twin-turbocharged Inline Six-Cylinder engine, and mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission (unfortunately, no manual transmission option is currently available), the all-new GR Supra Launch Edition will go on sale later this summer, with the standard GR Supra following in the fall of 2019.
Fiat 124 Spider (Mazda MX-5 Miata (ND), 2017+)
Ever since returning to the North American market in 2011, Fiat has enjoyed much success. Unfortunately, it hasn't sold it a convertible in the U.S. since the 1980's. Mazda introduced the first MX-5 Miata (known as the "NA") in 1989, and it immediately became a hit with those looking for an inexpensive, two-seat, RWD roadster. After the unveiling the all-new ND Mazda MX-5 Miata in 2016, Fiat announced that it would be partnering with Mazda to manufacture a two-seat, RWD roadster, and also announced that it would be bringing back a classic name: the 124 Spider. The all-new 124 Spider, which debuted for the 2017 model year, shares a lot with the ND MX-5 Miata, and is produced alongside it at Mazda's main assembly plant in Hiroshima, Japan, although the 124 Spider is powered by a 160-horsepower or 164-horsepower, 1.4L Fiat MultiAir turbocharged Inline Four-Cylinder engine as opposed to Mazda's lower-horsepower, naturally-aspirated Inline Four-Cylinder unit, and is available with either a six-speed manual or an Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic transmission. An Abarth version of the 124 Spider is also available, although opting for the Abarth (unfortunately) doesn't add any more performance over the base 124 Spider.
Infiniti QX30 (Mercedes-Benz GLA250, 2017-2019)
The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class has enjoyed much success since it was first introduced for the 2015 model year. However, in 2016, Infiniti announced that it would be introducing a compact crossover SUV for the 2017 model year. That compact crossover SUV was known as the QX30, and was, you guessed it, based on the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class (specifically, the GLA250). However, unlike the GLA-Class, which is produced in Germany, the QX30 is produced at Nissan's English assembly plant in Sunderland, England, U.K.. Available with either FWD or AWD, the QX30 is powered by the Mercedes-Benz 2.0L "M270" turbocharged Inline Four-Cylinder engine, mated exclusively to a seven-speed automatic transmission, the QX30 unfortunately isn't enjoying as much success as the GLA-Class, and it will be discontinued after the 2019 model year.
Suzuki SX4 (Fiat Sedici, 2007-2013)
In 2007, Suzuki introduced its replacement to its aging Aerio subcompact sedan and hatchback, known as the SX4. First introduced as the SX4 Sportback in 2007, followed by the SX4 Sedan in 2008, the SX4 shared its platform (as well as its basic design) with the Fiat Sedici, a vehicle not sold in North America. Produced by Suzuki in Japan, the SX4 was powered by Suzuki's "J20" 2.0L Inline Four-Cylinder engine producing 143 horsepower, and was available with either FWD or AWD. The SX4, which has since been redesigned in other markets, lasted until Suzuki's U.S. demise in 2013. The SX4 offered a lot of value and practicality during its seven-year production run in the U.S., and you still see them now and again on the road.
Subaru BRZ (Scion FR-S/Toyota 86, 2013+)
In 2013, Subaru and Toyota both introduced their own versions of their four-seat, RWD sports coupe, known as the Scion FR-S (later, as the Toyota 86) and Subaru BRZ. The BRZ was Subaru's first non-AWD vehicle for sale in the U.S. in several years, and was powered by a 200-horsepower, 2.0L Inline Four-Cylinder engine, mated to either a six-speed manual transmission, or a six-speed automatic transmission. The BRZ (as well as its Toyota 86 cousin) enjoys a lot of success in the U.S., as well as around the world, so we don't see it going anywhere anytime soon.
Saab 9-2x (Subaru Impreza Wagon, 2005-2006)
The second-generation Subaru Impreza Wagon (known as the GG Series) is one of the most popular generations of Imprezas on the road. In 2005, Saab introduced its own version of the GG Series Impreza Wagon (affectionately known as the "Saabaru"), known as the 9-2x. Produced at Subaru's Ota, Gunma, Japan assembly plant and quipped with AWD, the 9-2x was available in two trim levels. The "Linear" was powered by Subaru's 2.5L Horizontal Four-Cylinder engine producing 165 horsepower. The higher-trim "Aero" was powered by the Subaru Impreza WRX's 227-horsepower, 2.0L Turbocharged Horizontal Four-Cylinder engine. Both four-speed automatic and five-speed manual transmission options were available. Unfortunately, the 9-2x didn't enjoy as much success as its Subaru Impreza Wagon cousin, so it was discontinued after the 2016 model year
Suzuki XL-7 (Chevrolet Equinox/Pontiac Torrent, 2007-2009)
We finish out this article with yet another Suzuki. General Motors (GM) had had a partnership with Suzuki since the 1980s, producing economy cars under the Chevrolet, Geo, and Suzuki brands. The XL-7 was first introduced in 2002 as a long wheelbase, seven-passenger version of the Suzuki (Grand) Vitara compact SUV. In 2007, the second-generation XL-7 made its debut, but instead of being based on the (Grand) Vitara, the new XL-7 was essentially a long wheelbase, seven-passenger version of the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, which were released in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Produced at the Canadian Automotive Manufacturing Incorporated (CAMI) in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, the new XL-7 borrowed from the Chevrolet and Pontiac parts bins, and even borrowed it's 3.6L "High-Feature" N36A V6 engine, which produced a respectable 252 horsepower, and was mated exclusively to a five-speed automatic transmission, with FWD and AWD both being available. Unfortunately, the XL-7 didn't see as much success, and General Motors (GM) had already introduced three three-row midsize crossover SUV's (the Buick Enclave, the Chevrolet Traverse, and the Saturn Outlook), as well as redesigned the Chevrolet Equinox, and introduced the all-new GMC Terrain to replace the Pontiac Torrent, so the Suzuki XL-7 was dropped after the 2009 model year, once again leaving the Grand Vitara as their largest SUV.