The Biggest Automotive Sales Flops in History
I finally listened to one of my own polls!
I think most people underestimate the difficulty that car companies face simply to get the car to a sales-worthy condition. They have to source the raw materials, then bring them to the factory, then prep them in any which way, then actually craft the materials into what they need to be, and then fit them to the car. And they do this for every single component on the car - all 30,000 of them. So there’s a lot riding on the car when it does eventually go on sale. This is why sales flops are so lethal - car companies can lose hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds trying to combat the massive costs of development. And so I decided to document a few of them, in form of a five-entry list - because that’s not exactly what I do every single week.
1. 2003-2006 Chevrolet SSR
You all saw the hero image, you all saw this was coming, it’s the Chevrolet SSR. A convertible V8 pickup truck/ute/car... thing. One of the many bizarre, funky concepts that originated from the early 2000s modern-retro craze. And I must say, for such an outlandish idea as a convertible pickup truck designed purely to carry it’s own roof, they pulled it off quite well. It looked the part - you can definitely tell they had retroism in mind when styling it, with some design features (at least from what I can see) resembling those of the original 50s-70s Chevy trucks - the bulging bonnet, the very wide wheel arches, and the many lines on the grille. I think the best way to describe the overall styling in less than a paragraph would be the 80s perception of what pickup trucks will look like in the future. And I like that - because I like the 80s; everything was better in the 80s. During its lifetime, the SSR came with a variety of two engines - the earlier ones had a 300 horsepower, 5.3L ‘Vortec‘ V8, and the later ones had a 400 horsepower, 6.0L LS2 V8. With the six-speed manual gearbox, the LS2 SSR could sprint from 0-60 in a very impressive 5.3 seconds, with a slightly less impressive top speed of 126mph. From a 6 litre Chevy V8, though, that’s... pretty terrible, actually. The Corvette C6 ZR1’s engine, for example, is 0.2L larger, and yet produces about 200 more horsepower. And that came along only a few years later. So it is just like a muscle car, then - huge engine, no more power than a Cortina, very exuberant styling.
But that’s besides the point. Why, if the idea behind it was so new and fresh, was the SSR such a big flop? Well, if you look closely, I said the IDEA was new and fresh. The execution was a bit different. Due to the at the time very weird styling, and rather pathetic engine, the SSR really didn’t sell well for it’s first years. Apparently, according to reviews I’ve seen, the handling was... absolutely terrible, as their was a lot of body roll, and there was more cheap plastic in the interior than there is in a tub of Hot Wheels. But the thing that finally put the nail in the coffin was the price - a new SSR, with the Vortec engine would cost you the modern equivalent of $50,000. That was, and is, a ridiculous price for such a humdrum car. And as a result, practically nobody bought one, and the SSR was killed off in 2006.
2. 1988-1990 Chrysler TC by Maserati
A modern Maserati is a great thing. They’re sleek, stylish, sound great, are very nice to sit in, and they’ve recently also begun getting very quick in recent times - with a little help from Ferrari. They represent the very best of the grand tourers, and most companies - with the exception of... Aston Martin, mostly - cannot even hope to beat them. And on the surface, the Chrysler TC by Maserati seems very much the same. It’s got style, I’ll admit that, and in black - like the one above - it does look a like a very sleek car. And this is where the problems begin. It may come as no surprise to you that the Chrysler TC by Maserati was a collaboration between the two companies. Chrysler took some bits from their parts bin, and Maserati put it all together. And honestly, it’s quite difficult to tell who tried to screw eachother over more. Chrysler chose the also failed LeBaron as a base, and Maserati did the absolute bare minimum to change it. There’s not snarling V8 or throaty V6, but instead a standard Chrysler 2.2L four-cylinder, which produced a modest 160 horsepower, and sending all of those to the front wheels through an automatic slushbox more often that not. It’s not brilliant, and neither was the build quality - neither company were making very solid cars at the time, and so the two of them put together made it... even worse. The handling was also very sloppy, and at the time it was priced at about the same as a C3 Corvette.
So why did nobody buy one? Well... read the last paragraph. The styling was really the only redeeming factor about the thing; everything else was either reheated leftovers from the LeBaron platform, or fixed on in such a bad way that it might as well have been made of Playdough. And I’m not the only one to think of this - the reputation amongst the the tradition Chrysler and Maserati buyers were so bad that only 7000 were sold over the car’s two year lifespan. And I’m honestly kind of glad, because it means I don’t have to be near one of these God-forsaken things.
3. 2002-2003 Lincoln Blackwood
The Lincoln Blackwood was an interesting one for sure. It was another of the crazy concepts coming from the early 2000s, when you’d wake up one morning and style would have a completely new definition. The Blackwood was Lincoln’s answer to the Ford F-150... whilst also being based on the Ford F-150. But the Blackwood is different to the F-150. Very different. It was marketed as a ‘luxury lifestyle’ pickup truck, for the classier truck enthusiasts of the States. If such a category of people exists. I must say, despite my complete lack of interest in pickups of any sort, they pulled it off quite well. It’s sleek, has a very nice interior, and is littered with cool little gadgets to make the ordinary man feel special, and cool. For example, instead of simply having an open truck bed - like a lower class‘ truck - the Blackwood’s had a sort of lid, which could be controlled electronically to open to about 45 degrees, so you could load your stuff in. I think it could be the one and only pickup truck that would work in Britain. Underneath, it‘s not quite so futuristic - in fact, it was rather the opposite. The Blackwood had a 5.4L V8, presumably tuned more for torque than sheer power. It was producing around 300 horsepower, which could send the thing from 0-60 in just over 8 seconds. Nothing groundbreaking in the performance world, but not bad for a truck. To put that into perspective, that’s about the same as a 2015 BMW 520d M-Sport. I understand that’s not a benchmark for performance in any way, but it’s a 2002 truck for God‘s sake, they’re not supposed to be this fast.
So, if the Blackwood is apparently such a good car, why is it currently left only in the history books? Well, Lincoln’s idea to create a luxury pickup truck was a good one, and I still stand by my opinion that it’s a good car, but nobody really asked for it as such. Pickup trucks, in the eye of the people who bought them, were supposed to be workhorses - they could be uncomfortable, and ugly, and slow, as long as they got the job done. The Blackwood was just not what people needed from a pickup truck. It also only came in black, and had an obsurd asking price when it was new of $52,000 - all of which you would’ve lost instantly. Nobody wants to pay that money for a pickup truck. I think I can safely say that.
4. 1990-1993 Vector W8
I knew I’d manage to get a retro supercar in here somewhere, and I have! This is probably the most famous underrated car on the list, as it is quite well known for... being a failure. The W8 is a very good looking car - simply because it’s shaped like a wedge and it has pop up headlightsl However, this was a 90s car - the era where wedge cars were left in the dust and designers learnt how to draw curved lines again. So straight away the W8 was at a disadvantage compared to it’s rivals. The W8, as you can probably tell, was also yet another of those obscure 90s startup company supercars, so nobody really paid much attention to it when it came out. The W8 was supposed to be a road-going version of Vector’s W2 concept car, which they had been showing off to the public since the mid 70s; the 20 year wait ultimately lead to lack of customer interest and the car’s eventual failure. So the W8 was pretty much already set up to fail. Sitting right behind the driver’s head was a handbuilt 6.0L, twin-turbo V8, producing a claimed 625 horsepower. However, the engine was apparently set up in a way that the turbo PSi could be adjusted by the driver, with a maximum recorded power output of 1,200 horsepower. In it’s standard form, the W8 could get from 0-60 in just about 3.8 seconds, and carry on to a (once again claimed) top speed of 217mph. That sounds great. That sounds fantastic. However, that massive power was put down to the rear wheels in possibly the worst way possible - using a modified version of a GM three-speed automatic gearbox.
So... this thing was fastest than an F40, and some (i.e. not me) may say that it looks better. Then why aren’t these things one of successful supercars of the 1990s? Well, it’s from a startup company, for starters, so the build quality would’ve been very poor and nobody would’ve really heard of it. The prototype, as I said earlier, was around for at least 20 years - so anyone interested in buying a W8 would’ve been very uninterested at the end of the wait. The styling as also outdated, even for such an early time in the decade, and the gearbox was completely the wrong decision for the car. That’s my brief summary of the point, anyway.
5. 2006-2010 Lotus Europa
I’m a big Lotus fan. I don’t say it much, but I am. What’s more, I’ve only recently started looking into them, and yet I must say I’m already in love with the things. But two in particular stand out to me: the Lotus Espirit V8, because that thing is just the dream; and the Lotus Europa. For those who don’t know, the Europa was Lotus’ big grand tourer/sports car of the 70s, and is (in my opinion) one of the best looking classic cars of all time. And it seems I’m not the only one to think that; so many people seem to share this opinion that Lotus saw it fit to bring back the Europa name back in 2006. What they gave us was this - the Lotus Europa S. What the car basically was is a Lotus Elise from the same period, with a different, and uglier, body. The picture I’ve chosen makes the car look better than it actually is, but if you were to Google it (which I do not recommend), you’d find how awful it looks. Aside from the worse looks and tiny bit more luxury inside, the car is identical to the Elise. It has the same 2.0L four-cylinder turbo as the Elise, and it produces the same 197 horsepower as the engine does in the Elise. The car can reach 60 in just under 6 seconds, and onto a top speed of 143mph. So it’s just as fast as an Elise, whilst coming with the added benefit of blinding everyone in a 5-10 mile radius. Then there was the Europa SE, a more luxury-based version of the more luxury-based Lotus, with a small power improvement as well - from 197 to 222 horsepower. This didn’t help boost sales, and the abomination was finally killed off in 2010.
So, why does nobody remember it? Well... I think it’s mostly to do with the with the car it was based on. The Lotus Elise from the same period is by no means a gorgeous car, but it does look good. It was also cheaper than the Europa, lighter (thanks to the lack of luxury bits), and therefore faster. So why wouldn’t you go with that? It’s a no-brainier.
And there you go...
Five massive sales flops, some undeserved and some very much deserved. This took a suprising amount of research to get done, and I would like to go to sleep now, so... enjoy the poll below and leave me alone. Capiche?