The Fast and the Failures


The Thomas Industry Update has offered insight on a number of innovative and groundbreaking automotive technologies. However, the other side of the coin can offer just as much perspective. Christina Perry from recently published the following on the demise of three carmakers that simply couldn’t deliver on that initial promise.

Saab started out as an aircraft builder that transitioned to passenger cars following World War II. The Swedish company was the first to offer heated seats in 1972 and pioneered their Active Head Restraint system in 1998.

GM took a 50% stake in Saab Automobile in 1990 before buying it outright ten years later. Its style and unique operational quirks created a loyal following, but profitability never materialized. Some point to GM never really understanding the brand and failing to reinvent it as a luxury offering. As Saab began to feel more like other GM vehicles, the loyal following faded. The company was sold to Spyker in 2010 and folded when that company declared bankruptcy in 2012.

While there’s some debate about Saab, the Yugo is unanimously referred to as the worst car in history. It initially sold well because it was cheap — under $4,000 when it came to the U.S. in 1985. However, the price point wasn’t enough to offset a 0 to 60 time of 14 seconds, and a maximum speed of 86 mph. It scored miserably in crash tests but somehow managed to remain in production until 1992, when Yugo America went bankrupt.

No list of failed automakers would be complete with DeLorean. The DMC-12’s stainless steel body and gull-wing doors turned heads when it was launched in 1981. Unfortunately, that shiny frame only housed about 140 horsepower, which unless you compare it to the Yugo, is pretty disappointing. Missed production targets, an economic recession, and the drug trafficking arrest of its founder led to the company dissolving in 1982. However, thanks to a starring role in the Back to the Future films, the car found a second life.

In 1995, a British entrepreneur bought the rights to the DeLorean Motor Company.  Now based in Houston, the company continues making cars from a mix of the old parts and new ones. There’s even talk of building a new DMC-12, but with better suspension, brakes, engine, and wheels.

Looking ahead, Ford, GM, and Fiat-Chrysler have all had major struggles recently. Hopefully, their focus on SUVs and electric vehicles are the right moves in avoiding fates similar to Saab, Yugo, and DeLorean.

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