I love writing about a wide variety of things, from the fascinating to the absurd.
Black Sheep Car
Ever looked at a car and wondered which genius at the car company decided that it was a good idea to put this car in their lineup?
The cars below are the black sheep of the modern auto industry. They simply do not belong in the lineup at all, yet there they are. It may have made sense to the auto execs at the time, but to us, the consumers, it made no sense at all.
There is blame to go all around: Europe, the US, and Asia. A car maker decides to add something that seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the lineup. The results are strange.
There's history behind some of these weird models that don't seem to fit at first glance; they didn't come totally out of nowhere. The Ford Probe was an homage to their test vehicles, and GT40, was, of course, an homage to their GT racers. Chevy Corvette had been around for a LONG time. So most models make sense—until the auto execs actually approve something that makes you wonder, what the **** were they thinking?
NOTE: All pictures are courtesy of NetCarShow, where wallpapers can be downloaded and shared, or Wikipedia, where the pictures are Creative Commons license.
1. Cadillac Cimarron
In the 1990s, Cadillac wanted to bring the luxury a bit down-market, so they took a Chevrolet Cavalier, a small, lightweight economy car, and added a lot of soundproofing and body cladding, and an upgraded leather interior. It was so slow they then had to upgrade the engine to a V6 to move all the weight around. The end result is a pimped-out Cavalier with a Cadillac badge. Dealerships were told NOT to refer to the car as a Cadillac. But they did not obey orders, and the car became "Cadillac Cimarron."
2. Aston Martin Cygnet
Aston Martin is a great brand that makes grand tourers like the DB9 and DBS. So who had a nervous breakdown and approved the Cygnet project? What the Cygnet really is: slap the Aston Martin badge on what is essentially the Toyota version of the Smart Car, call it the iQ, and price it at 32,000 British Pounds. Did they have a dream where James Bond smashed his Aston Martin into a wall, and decide in the morning that the wreck would be their inspiration for the new car?
Keep in mind that this car is decked out like an Aston Martin. It actually has hand-stitched leather inside, and they are only selling it to someone who already owns an Aston Martin as sort of a city car.
3. Lexus LF-A
Lexus was, is, and will be a luxury brand. So why would Toyota launch a hypercar that cost too much, loses money on every sale, and is NOT a luxury car, under the Lexus badge? The LFA is an AMAZING car... It can meet a Ferrari 599GTB on even terms. But IT IS NOT A LEXUS.
What the LF-A should be is a Toyota. Toyota had the Supra, and it had the Celica, so it definitely had sports cars before. Lexus had roadsters and coupes, but NOT supercars. It just doesn't fit. If Nissan can launch their GT-R as a Nissan, why can't Toyota launch the LF-A as a Toyota?
(Yes, I know about the Acura NSX. However, only in the US and Hong Kong are they known as Acura NSX. Everywhere else in the world they are Honda NSX. I rest my case.)
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4. Volkswagen Phaeton
Volkswagen literally means "people's car". But the Volkswagen Phaeton is anything BUT that... Who would buy a $70,000 Volkswagen, even if it's a nice big one? It is essentially a Bentley with a Volkswagen badge, as its frame is based on the Bentley, and its engine is sourced from the Audi W12. But is it a Volkswagen, even a Volkswagen with delusions of grandeur?
Phaetons sold so poorly in the US that Volkswagen did not bother importing any since 2006. On the other hand, Phaetons seem to sell well in Europe, as they launched a 2011 model. Different tradition over there, but it still doesn't sell as well as the BMW 7-series, Mercedes S-class, or even the Audi A8s.
5. Hyundai Equus
Hyundai wants to fight comers on all fronts, including by launching a new luxury brand, like Nissan, Honda, and Toyota did way back when. Hyundai's new Genesis sedan and coupe, and their Tau engine, are excellent. However, when you have a brand known for bargain cars, a luxury car the size of the Lexus LS460 doesn't fit anywhere in the scene. When people think of luxury cars, people do not think of Hyundai. Thus, the Hyundai Equus has the same problem as the Volkswagen Phaeton... great car, wrong image.
Hyundai needs to launch a new luxury brand, like Nissan, Honda, and Toyota did way back when. In that case, it is very similar to Volkswagen Phaeton.
6. Kia Borrego
Kia is known for cars even CHEAPER than Hyundai. The Kia Sportage, Kia Sephia, and others were successful because they are such bargain-basement cars. So why would they launch a Ford Explorer-sized luxury SUV, called Borrego, in the US (Mohave elsewhere), based on the same type of truck frame chassis, with similar mileage and price point, years after the SUV fad was over in the US of A? Crossovers available now are larger, and give you a better ride AND better fuel economy than this time anomaly.
Apparently, even Kia saw the light... the model disappeared from the Kia lineup as of the 2010 model year.
7. Mercedes-Benz A-Class and B-Class
Mercedes-Benz, the inventor of the automobile, has a reputation of making premium automobiles for premium prices. So does MB actually need a mini and a subcompact? They certainly think so. The result is the A-class and the B-class, both tiny compared to their next largest, the C-class.
Fortunately, they decided NOT to launch such vehicles in the US, so as not to ruin people's perception of MB as a premium automaker. Even so, some auto critics considered the cars to have tarnished M-B's high-end image. However, there are rumors that they will bring the B-class to the US because it is made in Mexico. Yes, M-B has a factory in Mexico. And if you really want one, you can head to Canada. They sell the B-class there.
You can see BMW's genius in buying the Mini brand... The cheapest car in their lineup is the Mini Cooper. Then you go up to the 1-class, then the 3-class, and so on. MB can't do that as they don't have a separate brand for the "tiny cars," Unfortunately, the tiny cars still look like someone slapped an MB badge on something like a Honda Fit (Honda Jazz for non-US folks).
8. Chrysler's TC by Maserati
Dragging it from the annals of history—in the 1990s—we perceive that the Chrysler TC was conceived during Lee Iacocca's years at the helm of Chrysler. He intended the TC to be a "halo car" (i.e. the ultimate) for Chrysler, and he was good friends with the then-owner of Maserati. The result was the TC. The cars were made and assembled in Italy in Maserati's factories and brought over... with mostly Chrysler parts. It enjoyed a hand-stitched leather interior, mostly European parts, and superb attention to detail.
Unfortunately, it costs too much (MSRP was $33,000 at 1989 launch, over $56,000 in 2009 dollars), and was not that different from the similar (and much cheaper) Chrysler Lebaron. The car didn't sell anywhere NEAR expectations and was shelved after only three years, having only sold 7500 units.
9. Lincoln Blackwood / Lincoln Mark LT
I'll admit that the Lincoln Aviator, the upscale cousin of Ford Explorer, would make sense. However, whose idea was it to upscale the F-150 Crewcab? Yet it was done, and that became the Lincoln Blackwood, which died after a few years. In fact, there was a Neiman Marcus Edition of Lincoln Blackwood! After a few years it was resurrected as the Lincoln Mark LT, then died again, at least in the US. The Lincoln Mark LT is still available in Mexico.
Before you harp on me about the Cadillac Escalade EXT, I have to remind you that the Escalade EXT is based on the much-more-clever Chevy Avalanche, with a mid-gate that allowed the bed to be accessed from within the vehicle, among other goodies. They may look the same, but they don't work the same. Also, being featured in the Matrix movie sure didn't hurt the Escalade EXT's sales either.
10. Jaguar X-Type
Ford owned Jaguar for some time, and when Jaguar decided they need to boost sales by introducing a smaller, more affordable Jaguar (which is fundamentally a contradiction in terms), Ford pimped out the compact known as the Ford Mondeo (In the US, it is known as the Ford Contour / Mercury Mystique), and told Jaguar engineers "work with this." The result was the X-type.
Ford Mondeo is NOT a bad car, mind you, and the Jaguar X-type was the best-selling Jaguar, and still is. And when Mondeo evolved in Europe (it died in the US 10 years ago) the X-type evolved as well. However, it never was good enough to take on its rivals: the BMW 3-series, the Mercedes C-class, and the Audi A4s.
Did I Miss Any?
Hope you have enjoyed my little rant about failed logic in the auto industry. If you spot any more black sheep cars, leave a comment. In the meanwhile, I'd like to thank NetCarShow and Wikipedia for providing all the nice pictures. You can download the pics and much more at the NetCarShow website.