The car business is one that’s in constant flux; people, nameplates and even brands change with practically every season. There’s no guarantee that what’s here today will still be available tomorrow.
Chrysler for instance recently jettisoned the long-running Town & Country, opting instead to call its totally redesigned minivan the Pacifica. This move is something of a head-scratcher since the old nameplate had strong recognition, but similar decisions made by other companies have made a lot more sense.
Volkswagen AG’s CEO stepped down late last year amid the ongoing diesel-emissions scandal. This is perfectly logical given the deep legal trouble this German firm is in.
Of course whole automakers have been swallowed up by history, succumbing to fierce competition. Once-proud brands like Franklin and Pope-Hartford, Stanley, Willys Knight, Crosley and hundreds of others have vanished from the American landscape as things slowly consolidated.
But most of these are decidedly Victorian, having disappeared the better part of a century ago. However, there are plenty of “modern” brands have gone under. Accordingly, here are the Top 10 Defunct Automotive Brands From the Last 20 years.
Ransom E. Olds was an early automotive pioneer. His firm, Oldsmobile, was founded a few years before the 20th Century’s dawn. A perpetual innovator, this marque pushed mass production years before Henry Ford perfected it. Beyond this, Oldsmobile was also the first to offer a truly automatic transmission and it helped ignite a V8 frenzy in the immediate post-war years with its powerful, overhead-valve Rocket engine. Despite a rich history this GM division was done by 2004.
Introduced in the late 1920s, Plymouth used to be Chrysler’s mass-market brand, appealing to blue-collar customers in need of sturdy, reliable, comfortable transportation. At the time it was a perfect foil to low-price leaders Chevrolet and Ford. Consequently, its sales grew rapidly through The Great Depression. Unfortunately, in later decades Plymouth stagnated, becoming just another corporate division selling rebranded products. The GTX, Roadrunner and Barracuda were some of its most memorable vehicles, as are the Voyager minivan and Prowler sports car in more recent years. The last Plymouth was built in 2001.
GM and Chrysler have both jettisoned unnecessary brands and so has Ford. Their failed Edsel project is probably the most famous, but they’ve ditched a dizzying number of divisions if you count the now-defunct Premier Automotive Group, which used to include companies like Jaguar, Aston Martin and Volvo.
Along with Edsel, the company’s Mercury brand has also been relegated to the scrapyard in the sky. Founded in 1939 to bridge the price chasm between Ford and Lincoln, Mercury was a premium brand designed to fight marques like Buick and Chrysler. Initially this strategy seemed to work, but as with Plymouth, this brand became hopelessly redundant in later years. Smartly, by 2011 it was curtains for Mercury.
Pontiac was known for building sporty vehicles, something that, in theory at least, dovetailed nicely with their “driving excitement” tagline. Arguably the muscle-car era of the 1960s was the high-point for this youth-focused GM division as cars like the legendary GTO and big, beautiful Bonneville featured sporty styling and powerful engines. But for every laudable Pontiac there are at least a handful of laughable models. Products like the Sunfire, Trans Sport and shudder-worthy Aztek caused death by a thousand cuts exacerbated by GM’s bankruptcy filing. Twenty-ten was the end for Pontiac.
But not all failed brands were once part of massive corporations. Plenty of independent automakers have fallen away over the years. Fisker, for instance, was founded back in 2007 and checked out in 2013, making it only half-a-dozen years. The company’s Krama was a gorgeous, plug-in, range-extended electric car. But environmental friendlies and stunning design weren’t enough to make it a showroom success, as a six-figure price tag was simply too rich.
Looking to commute in an army truck but don’t have any contacts inside the Department of Defense? No problem! GM’s defunct Hummer brand would happily sell you a boxy rig styled like a military transporter, a consumer-grade facsimile of the Humvee. Their H2 and H3 models were the automotive equivalent of cod pieces sold to drivers with crippling inferiority complexes or other psychological disorders. Joking aside, these terrifyingly thirsty trucks drove poorly and looked like gaudy costume jewelry. Consequently the brand faded away in 2010 as part of GM’s bankruptcy filing.
Along with Pontiac and Hummer, Saturn is another one of the General’s castoffs. It may have been “A different kind of company. A different kind of car,” but self-proclaimed uniqueness didn’t translate into success. Initially hatched in 1985 as a rival to Japanese automakers that had been winning hearts, minds and market share for years, this division focused on fuel efficient, no-nonsense small cars. And that strategy worked, for a while. But ultimately an uninspired lineup of rebadged products spelled the end for this division, which mercifully came in 2010.
Chrysler’s high-performance vehicles are branded SRT, which stands for Street and Racing Technology. These models gain upgraded suspension systems, unique trim, high-horsepower engines and numerous other enhancements that make them accelerate harder, stop quicker and turn better than their more plebian counterparts. But SRT is still in use so why is it on this list? Well, in case you forgot, during the 2013 and ’14 model years it was spun off as its own division. Do you remember the “SRT Viper”? It used to be its own thing; now it’s a Dodge again. #YouJustGotTrolled.
GM has burned through A LOT of brands, both in recent years and throughout its long history. But Chrysler can give them a run for their money with divisions like DeSote, Imperial and Maxwell getting discarded like empty ketchup packets. But you can add another one to the list, a brand that got dropped less than 20 years ago. Eagle was a Pentastar division designed to fight foreign automakers and GM’s Saturn brand. During its existence it sold a hodge-podge of rebadged vehicles; some were from AMC, others were reworked Mitsubishis and still more were Americanized versions of Renault models. It was totally bizarre and ultimately a failure.
Finally, we come to Saab, the quirky Swedish automaker that is no more. GM owned this company until 2010 when its Chapter 11 filing claimed another victim. But unlike Pontiac or Saturn this wasn’t the end of the road. Boutique Dutch automaker Spyker purchased Saab’s leftovers and attempted to revive the brand. Predictably, these efforts were totally wasted and this would-be revival collapsed. Then, perhaps sensing blood in the water, Chinese investors got involved and attempted to build electrified 9-3 sedans, which didn’t end well. Ultimately this venture went belly up a couple years after it started, marking the end for this Saab story.
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