Top 10 Automotive Failures of the Last Decade

A Decade of Defeat


  • 2003 Honda Insight

    2003 Honda Insight

    The original two-seat Honda Insight was the first hybrid on U.S. roads, but its impracticality prevented its success. | July 05, 2013

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When it comes to cars, failure can be measured in a variety of ways: Sales, perception and desirability are but a few. Yet when a model does fail, it's rarely in a spectacular blaze of glory. More often than not automotive failures atrophy and (like a bad sitcom) disappear without notice.

Remembering them is the purpose of this story.

A lack of sales performance is the most objective way to measure failure, but the numbers seldom tell the whole story. Sometimes a design team creates a car so repulsive they're liable for crimes against humanity. Often a marketing department takes too many liberties with a new model's expectations and reality pulls it back to Earth with an audible thud. And sometimes a car just doesn't make sense financially or otherwise.

The ill-fated Pontiac Aztek easily tops any number of ugly and awful lists, but we're sparing this low-hanging fruit for more reasoned choices. We're also limiting eligibility to cars produced in the last 10 years, so no Edsel, either. Here, then, based on sales numbers, styling and our hard, fast opinion are the 10 biggest failures of the last decade.

10. Honda Insight — 67,128 sold since April 2003*

Top 10 Automotive Failures

On its own merits, it's difficult to call the Honda Insight a failure. When it debuted in December 1999, it represented the first hybrid vehicle offered in North America, beating the Toyota Prius to market by seven months.

The Insight scores points for originality, but it gets decimated by the Prius in terms of sales by a ratio of 18 to one. The Insight also trails the Prius in a number of other metrics. The two-seater first generation Honda Insight returned remarkable fuel economy figures, but it lacked practicality and refinement. The second-generation four-door Insight made improvements to both, but fuel economy dropped well below that of the Prius.

9. Ford Thunderbird — 59,200 sold between 2002 and 2006

Top 10 Automotive Failures

It was the early 2000s. Retro-styled cars were all the rage with the Mini Cooper and VW Beetle stirring up a wave of nostalgia. Ford jumped on the "old is new" bandwagon with the 2002 Thunderbird.

Styled to fall in line with the classic 1955-'57 Thunderbirds, the revived RetroBird certainly turned its share of heads. But under it all was a repurposed Lincoln LS. Chopping off its roof resulted in body flex, which Ford combatted with heavy bracing. On the whole, this new 'Bird lacked any notable innovation, and the carryover of parts from Lincoln was disappointing.

When Ford pulled the plug, this four-year revival barely outsold the original three-year run classic, which sold 53,166.

8. Chrysler Crossfire — 52,217 sold between 2003 and 2009

Top 10 Automotive Failures

Note to manufacturers: Don't name cars after something you don't want to be caught in.

Born out of the Chrysler/Daimler-Benz partnership, the Crossfire was built on an aging SLK roadster platform. It seemed that most were pleased with the Crossfire's boattail styling, but as the aforementioned Ford Thunderbird proved, style only goes so far.

The antiquated recirculating-ball steering made it slow to respond, handling was disappointing and at the same time, the ride was harsh. To further pile on the drawbacks, the interior fell short of expectations, as did overall performance and everyday convenience. In the end, not even Celine Dion could save the Crossfire, and the final insult came when remainders were sold off on overstock.com and eBay.

7. Chevrolet SSR — 23,479 sold between 2003 and 2008

Top 10 Automotive Failures

Is it a pickup or a roadster? Neither, because both of those can justify their existence. The retro-styled Chevrolet SSR is one of the oddest vehicles ever squeezed from Detroit's loins. It was based on GM's midsize SUV platform but lacked any real utility. This two-seat hardtop convertible had the potential for some al fresco driving entertainment, but being overweight and underpowered (early models were powered by GM's 5.3-liter V8 making 300 horsepower) kept any actual fun at bay.

Despite an increase in power output and interior improvements in 2005, sales remained abysmal. Some say that the SSR stood out on the highway. So does a car fire.

6. Lexus HS 250h — 20,875 sold between 2009 and 2012

Top 10 Automotive Failures

If your target is a happy medium, you'll often end up with mediocrity. Such is the case with the Lexus HS 250h, which tried to bridge the gap between luxury sedans and hybrid pods. It fulfilled the promise of neither, and buyers responded by siding with either a Prius or CT 200h.

The HS 250h's size and Camry Hybrid powertrain kept it from achieving Prius-like fuel economy numbers. Besides that, the rear seats didn't fold and costly options easily pushed the price too high. Having a name that sounded like an inner-city public high school probably didn't help, either. In any case, Lexus killed the HS 250h after only three years.

5. Cadillac XLR — 13,302 sold between 2003 and 2011

Top 10 Automotive Failures

Typical Cadillac buyers like luxury. Typical Corvette buyers like performance. When the Cadillac XLR debuted in 2003, it represented something they both could despise.

Built on the outgoing C5 Corvette platform, the Cadillac XLR used a weaker V8 engine, had a softer suspension and sported a folding hardtop roof. For all that trouble, Cadillac charged $75,000 for the angular roadster, which was about $20,000 more than a fully loaded 'Vette.

Besides the backward less-for-more proposition, the ill-conceived and poorly executed XLR suffered from disappointing handling and an interior design and build quality that was far below that of European rivals. The XLR officially went out of production in 2009, but it took GM until 2011 to sell off the remaining stock.

4. Acura ZDX — 5,828 sold since 2009*

Top 10 Automotive Failures

At the press launch, one editor mused that ZDX stands for "zero demand expected." Prophetic words, indeed.

Much like BMW's X6, the Acura ZDX is built on an existing and rational platform: in this case, the MDX. In an attempt to add "sportiness," Acura stylists sliced the rear section to give it an aggressive tapered hatch. Though this made the ZDX's appearance edgier, utility took an unrecoverable hit.

Rear-seat headroom was reduced to childlike dimensions and cargo space dropped to carry-on luggage only. Consumers identified these shortcomings and monthly sales are currently in double-digits. Somehow, the ZDX remains in production.

3. Lexus LS 600h L — 2,055 sold since October 2007*

Top 10 Automotive Failures

The only thing that's green about this car is the fortune you'll spend for one.

The Lexus LS 600h L is no eco-friendly car, despite its hybrid badging. The 5.0-liter V8, supplemented by two electric motors makes 438 horsepower. That's a gain of 78 hp over a standard AWD LS 460 L. More power and it's a hybrid? Hold on, it only gets an EPA-estimated 2 mpg better than the LS 460. Two. Take into account the $30,000 hybrid premium and it'll take you 109 years to recoup the costs in fuel savings (at $4.00/gallon averaging 15,000 miles annually).

Even if you were immortal and had unlimited funds, the LS 600hL is still hard to justify. The hybrid battery and components for the standard rear refrigerator and climate control reduce trunk capacity to 13 cubic feet, compared to the regular LS's 18 cubes. With the all-electric Tesla and large diesel luxury sleds making it to market, why would you ever consider the LS 600h L?

2. Mitsubishi i MiEV — 1,420 sold since November 2011*

Top 10 Automotive Failures

Electric cars have come a long way in just a few years, with admirable interiors, impressive performance and decent range on a single quick charge. The Mitsubishi i MiEV is not one of those cars. This odd-looking pod (podditty?) can muster only 62 miles per charge, takes 14.7 seconds to hit 60 mph and has an interior that rivals some golf carts.

Yes, the i MiEV is relatively affordable, but the Nissan Leaf is $325 less (before rebates and incentives) and offers more range. Buyers notice, too, as the Leaf outsells the Mitsubishi 23 to one.

In gas-powered terms the i MiEV is a $23,000 car with a 60-mile range and a fuel tank that requires 7 hours to fill. In the end, we rank it one step above public transportation.

1. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet — 1,078 sold since May 2012*

Top 10 Automotive Failures

Finally, an answer to the question, "Wait.... what?"

Is there really a section of the population that wants a convertible SUV? If there is, would they want it to look like an overfed Juke? Of course there isn't, and that's why the Murano CrossCabriolet gets the not-so-coveted top failure spot.

And even if it were a sales success, the CrossCabriolet would still be an awful car. The lack of a roof allows the entire body to flex like the Tacoma Narrows bridge. That, in turn contributes to the car's poor handling. Then there are the giant doors that make entry and egress difficult in tight spaces. Did we mention it's a convertible utility vehicle?

*Sales figures as of April 2013

Most Recommended Comments

By empoweredbc
on 07/08/13
10:05 PM PST

You want an "automotive failure" of the last decade, how about what you turned InsideLine.com into? You turned a very popular website that attracted enthusiasts, and turned it into this mortuary. I nominate the castration of InsideLine.com for #1 automotive failure in the last decade!

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By bizzle1
on 07/09/13
1:58 AM PST

I would kill to have any of those American cars on the list. Chevy SSR is retro cool and just too awesome. It will be a collectible. Same with the Ford Thunderbird. That is a DARN nice car inside and out! It is just simply beautiful. The Chrysler Crossfire is beautiful and sexy on the outside. Much better looking than any Mercedes roadster. It looks like an exotic. Darn good looking car I must say. Give me the SRT4. And the Cadillac is a Cadillac, it is supposed to have soft suspension. It is quite simply stunning. If you have an XLR you will get more respect than any other car on the road. Yes ANY car. That car is pure sex on wheels and you cannot 1up it. I don't care what car you have... *All the cars that I listed will definitely become collectibles

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By empoweredbc
on 07/08/13
10:01 PM PST

The LS600hL doesn't belong on this list, since it sells about as well as the Mercedes S400 Hybrid and others of it's ilk. And it has more luxury and technology than any other Lexus ever made. If you include the LS600hL, you are damning all high-end hybrids/diesels as well.

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