The automotive world has lost a lot of brands over the past twenty-some years, most of them American. Some brands were starved of new product and wasted away before succumbing; others had promising futures and exciting new offerings but were unceremoniously axed. Which brand had the best lineup when it was terminated?
The first casualty in recent history was Eagle. Only ten years old and created purely to give Jeep dealers some passenger cars to sell, Eagle represented a rather half-assed attempt at an import brand for Chrysler. Initially, the Renault Medallion and Premier were offered but Chrysler dumped those as soon as it could. The Premier’s replacement, the Vision, was arguably the most desirable of the dramatic new LH cars and the Talon was one of the market’s best compact sports coupes, much like its Mitsubishi Eclipse and Plymouth Laser siblings. But otherwise, Eagle was yet another outlet through which Chrysler sold rebadged Mitsubishi compacts like the Summit, a Mirage by another name. By 1997, the brand still hadn’t made any traction and was down to the Vision and Talon; by 1998, it was gone.
The next brand on the chopping block was another one of Chrysler’s albeit one with a lot more history. Plymouth, first launched in 1928, had been treated poorly by its corporate parent for many years. Everything Plymouth received to sell in the 1970s and 1980s, Dodge also received with few exceptions. Dodge was marketed as the more sporty brand in the Chrysler stable, although Plymouth received a rebadged Mitsubishi Eclipse (the Laser) in 1990. This was a red herring, as Plymouth became firmly ensconced as the “budget” brand in the family. The 1997 Prowler was a radical departure from this mission and was to be joined by the PT Cruiser before then-DaimlerChrysler pulled the plug on the Plymouth brand. Other than the Prowler, the last Plymouths sold were the Breeze, Neon and Voyager: all rebadged Dodges sold only in value-priced trim levels. 2001 was the brand’s last stand, with Plymouth’s only unique model shuffled over to the Chrysler brand.
Next to die was Oldsmobile. Millions of dollars had been poured into a complete overhaul of the 107-year old brand, with its staid old lineup replaced with import fighters like the flashy flagship Aurora and the clean and elegant Intrigue and Alero. Alas, market share was showing little meaningful improvement. The announcement of General Motors’ shuttering of the brand coincided with the release of the third-generation Bravada, a much-improved SUV offering. Oldsmobile’s range was axed one-by-one between 2002 and 2004. The last Oldsmobile produced was an Alero GLS sedan. Although none of the lineup could be called bonafide class-leaders, they were all competitive offerings and arguably Oldsmobile’s best lineup in years.
The next three brands to go were all shuttered during General Motors’ bankruptcy proceedings. Hummer had become an albatross around GM’s neck with an undesirable image and sales severely crippled by high gas prices. The lineup had been expanded with pickup versions of the H2 and H3 and rumors abounded of a possible smaller Hummer. Although GM was in talks to sell the brand to a Chinese buyer, the deal fell through and Hummer was no more.
Saturn had seemingly picked up where Oldsmobile left off, with a full lineup of import fighters. The compact Astra was actually an import, coming from Opel, while the new Vue (featuring a segment-first two-mode hybrid) and the Sky were sold in Europe with Opel badges. The Outlook and Aura rounded out the range and received critical acclaim. Again, GM sought a buyer for the brand but this also fell through. Buick would be the recipient of the planned next-generation Aura, the Opel Insignia, and has continued to offer Opel models in Saturn’s absence.
not pictured: G3
Pontiac’s demise was the most mourned by enthusiasts of GM’s mass culling in 2008. The brand had showed signs of promise with the Solstice roadster and coupe and the Australian G8. GM’s joint venture with Toyota resulted in the well-rounded Vibe, while the mid-size G6 came in sedan, coupe and folding hardtop convertible variants. The rest of the lineup – G3, G5 and Torrent – were, unfortunately, cynical rebadges. Plans were in motion to thin the herd and establish Pontiac as a niche performance brand. Bankruptcy stopped those plans from coming to fruition.
Finally, the most recent casualty was Mercury. First established in 1938, the brand never really had a strong identity and for many years offered only thinly-disguised Fords and little in the way of unique models. That was how it was for the messenger brand in 2011 when it was shut down: the Milan, Mountaineer, Mariner, Grand Marquis were simply Fords with waterfall grilles and slightly different interior trim. Sure, the Mountaineer and Milan in particular were more stylish than their Blue Oval counterparts, but ultimately the brand existed only to give Lincoln dealers a bigger range to sell.
What say you? Which brand had the best lineup at the time of its axing?