The past few months have been rough if you’re a Scion fan.
Toyota’s youth-focused brand teased us with a crossover concept dubbed C-HR, and credible industry rumors claimed that a sports car positioned a notch below the FR-S was right around the corner. In short, the future looked promising. Then, Toyota abruptly announced plans to kill Scion before the end of the year.
You’re not alone in your despair, Scion aficionados. Countless car makers have been given the proverbial axe over the past few decades, both in the United States and abroad. To help you cope, we’ve compiled a list of ten companies that Scion will join in the pantheon of automotive history.
Autobianchi was founded by Fiat, Pirelli, and bicycle manufacturer Bianchi in 1955. The company initially built a more upscale version of the tiny, rear-engined Fiat 500 that was called Bianchina. A handful of examples were exported from Italy to the United States, but sales were dismal at best outside of its home country.
During the 1960s, the Autobianchi brand was used to test out new ideas. The 1964 Primula was the very first Fiat product equipped with a transversally-mounted engine and front-wheel drive, two packaging solutions that were controversial at the time. Fiat didn’t put its name on a front-wheel drive car until it launched the 128 in 1969.
Autobianchi’s most popular model was the A112, which was billed as Italy’s answer to the original Mini when it was introduced in 1969. Compact and front-wheel drive, the A112 spawned a hot-rodded model tuned by Abarth that was, for all intents and purposes, the very first hot hatch. It preceded the Volkswagen Golf GTI by five full years.
The Y10 was launched in 1985 to replace the A112. However, Fiat purchased Alfa Romeo and wound up with more brands than it could fund so it decided to only distribute Autobianchi in Italy, the company’s largest market, in 1989. The Y10 was sold as a Lancia throughout the rest of Europe. Autobianchi was phased out in 1995, when the Y succeeded the Y10.
Two brothers founded Duesenberg in 1913. The sky was the limit at the time because the automotive industry was still in its infancy, so the company decided to build and race sports cars. Duesenberg took first place at the Indianapolis 500 four times during the 1920s, and it became the first American manufacturer to win a European Grand Prix at the 1921 French Grand Prix.
Duesenberg had a hard time making ends meet, and it was purchased by Auburn, which also owned Cord, in 1926. The Duesenberg J, one of the company’s most famous models, was designed under Auburn ownership and presented at the 1929 edition of the New York Auto Show. The J could have been Duesenberg’s saving grace; often billed as a European Bugatti, it was hailed as one of the most prestigious American cars of its era.
Cord spent a small fortune trying to fine-tune the futuristic-looking 810/812, and it shut down in 1937. Duesenberg production stopped that same year. Enthusiasts tried to revive the brand several times after World War II, but the attempts weren’t successful and Duesenberg remained in the history books.
Mercury was created by Ford in 1938 to fill the gap between Ford and Lincoln vehicles. The company got off to a promising start, but its popularity waned during the 1950s and a handful of Ford executives proposed getting rid of Mercury – and Lincoln – altogether in order to focus solely on Ford. Ultimately, both brands were granted a new lease on life.
Mercury found itself in trouble again in the 1990s because it had an increasingly difficult time differentiating its products from those of Ford and Lincoln. Ford tried to fix the issue by expanding the Mercury lineup with a brand-specific convertible called Capri, an entry-level car known as the Tracer, and a SUV dubbed Mountaineer that was based on the Ford Explorer. The brand nonetheless continued to stagnate until Ford threw in the towel in a bid to trim its losses. The last-ever Mercury, a Grand Marquis, was built in 2004.
Ransom E Olds founded Oldsmobile in Lansing, Michigan, in 1897, and quickly developed it into one of the most popular car manufacturers in the United States. Impressed, General Motors purchased Oldsmobile in 1908.
Oldsmobile helped democratize several important innovations that we take for granted today, including the automatic transmission and the turbocharger. Sales were steady throughout most of the 20th century, but the company’s decline began in the 1980s when its lineup was pared down to badge-engineered models sourced from sister companies Chevrolet and Pontiac. Clearly, all was not well in Detroit.
General Motors outlined a costly investment plan to save Oldsmobile, but it was too little, too late. The last Oldsmobile, an Alero, was built on April 29th, 2004.
Panhard is one of the more obscure companies on this list. Started in France in 1891, the company made a name for itself by building Daimler-sourced two-cylinder engines under license. It quickly began building race cars, a lucrative business at the turn of the 20th century, and it branched out into the luxury car segment.
Panhard production slowed down significantly during World War II. Demand for sports cars and luxury sedan was low in post-war France, so the company drastically downsized and began building cars powered by an air-cooled flat-twin engine. The company’s lineup included a sedan, a coupe, a convertible, a station wagon, and even a pickup truck.
The French government essentially forced Citroen to buy Panhard in 1965 in order to prevent the company from going belly-up, though government officials overlooked the fact that Citroen was facing its own financial issues. Citroen was unable to absorb Panhard; it was eat or be eaten, and executives decided to euthanize Panhard’s passenger car division in 1967.
Walter P Chrysler launched Plymouth in 1928 to provide Chrysler dealers a more affordable car capable of competing against Chevrolet and Ford models. His bet paid off, and Plymouth was one of the most successful American automakers for the first few decades of its existence.
The Chrysler group was hit hard by the first oil crisis that sent shockwaves through the automotive industry in 1973, and it took longer than many of its rivals to react. It gradually replaced its full-size sedans and station wagons and launched smaller cars like the Horizon, but the transition was relatively slow and costly.
By the time the 1990s rolled around, the Plymouth lineup was largely made up of badge-engineered Dodge, Chrysler, and even Mitsubishi products. The rest, as they say, is history. Plagued by a complete and utter lack of image that even the wild-looking Prowler couldn’t overcome, Plymouth gradually declined until it shut its doors in 2001.
General Motors laid Saturn’s foundations in 1985. Broadly speaking, the idea was to create a new kind of car company that would operate more independently than other brands in GM’s portfolio like Chevrolet, Buick, and Oldsmobile. Saturn was aimed squarely at imported compact cars built by the likes of Toyota, Honda, and Nissan.
Saturn’s lineup was quickly expanded to include a sedan, a coupe, and a station wagon, which covered the core segments of the United States market in the pre-SUV/crossover era. The company was known for using plastic body panels, and for its dealers’ straight-forward no-haggle pricing policy.
Saturn suffered from a lack of investment and a product line seemingly crafted from a solid block of mediocracy, and it was diluted into irrelevance during the early 2000s. GM nearly sold its “new” company to Penske Automotive Group after it filed for bankruptcy, but the deal fell through and Saturn followed Pontiac and Hummer into the grave. The last Saturn was built in 2009.
Studebaker presented its first car in 1902, half a century after it began building wooden wagons. The company’s early models were electric, and a gasoline-burning Studebaker didn’t hit the market until 1904.
The first few decades of Studebaker’s history resemble a roller-coaster ride. It was nearly wiped out by the Great Depression, but it boldly recovered and wound up profitably providing the United States Army with thousands and thousands of trucks during World War II.
Studebaker’s success didn’t last long. It was troubled by quality control issues and high operating costs, and it ended up getting bailed out by a much smaller automaker named Packard. Packard spent every last dime it had to help Studebaker launch a last-ditch model offensive that included a compact model named Lark, and a futuristic-looking fiberglass-bodied sports car christened Avanti.
In hindsight, the Lark and the Avanti couldn’t have saved Studebaker, but the company’s demise was accelerated by media reports that revealed the scope of its financial woes. Motorists were understandably wary of buying a car from a company that might not exist in a year, and sales collapsed. The last Studebaker was built in Canada in 1966.
England-based Triumph dabbled in bicycles and motorcycles before turning its attention to the auto industry in the 1920s. It ambitiously decided to build big luxury cars. Its success was short-lived, and it filed for bankruptcy in 1939. Triumph’s factory was bombed during World War II, which made the task of finding investors interested in saving its carcass considerably more complicated.
Standard Motor Company was brave enough to buy Triumph, and it helped the firm launch a brand new lineup of cars in 1946. From that point on, the Triumph name became synonymous with sports cars and convertibles, and Standard took care of building sedans. Triumph proved more successful, so the Standard name was ultimately phased out.
Triumph was scooped up by Leyland in the early 1960s as part of its acquisition spree, and it later merged with a handful of other British car makers to create an automotive giant called British Leyland. Its decline began at about the same time.
Executives had to deal with several major issues that seemingly caught them off-guard. For starters, customers vociferously complained that build quality and reliability were both sub-par. Sales were dropping in the United States, its biggest market, and British Leyland was finding out that running a group made up of about a dozen companies was easier said than done.
British Leyland famously collapsed and took Triumph down with it. The company went from building the sleek Spitfire convertible to re-badged Hondas for the British market. It was put out of its misery in 1984.
Preston Tucker began toying around with the idea of launching a new car company during World War II. He envisioned a family sedan that was more modern and safer than similarly-sized models built by the Big Three in Detroit. His design brief called for the use of a padded dashboard, shatter-proof glass, and a water-cooled flat-six engine mounted behind the passenger compartment.
Tucker held an initial public offering (IPO) to fund the car’s development. Interestingly, he also raised money with a controversial accessories program. Motorists who wanted to buy a Tucker were guaranteed a spot on the long waiting list if they purchased accessories, such as seat covers and radios, before production started.
The accessories program caught the attention of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), and Tucker was sued for fraud. While the SEC lost the case, Tucker never recovered from the bad publicity and collapsed after building just 51 cars in 1948.
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