STUCK ON THE LOT
Some cars are so dependable and appealing that car buyers flock to them over years of sales. Others, not so much. Car companies innovate constantly to try to tap consumers' evolving tastes, a process that produces a fair amount of hits -- as well as frequent misses. Here are 25 cars that buyers ultimately decided weren't worthy of more than a test drive.
Primary years sold: 2001-2005
"Car and Driver" doesn't hold back about the much-maligned Aztek, calling it a "minivan-in-drag monstrosity." Although the car had a moment in the sun thanks to a starring role in AMC's "Breaking Bad," it was too little, much too late. Sales peaked just shy of 28,000 in 2002, a lackluster performance for a vehicle so heavily hyped by General Motors.
Primary years sold: 1968-1970
Subarus are so popular today that it might be hard to believe the company's first attempt to break into the U.S. market was a disaster. The imported Subaru 360 looked like a wind-up toy, weighed less than 1,000 pounds, and was powered by an engine that would have been at home on a motorcycle, says the auto site The Truth About Cars. While the fuel-sipper was immensely popular in Japan, sales here peaked at just over 2,000 cars in 1969.
Primary years sold: 2001-2009
This Jag proves luxury cars can flop just as easily. While Jaguar wanted to sell 100,000 X-Types a year, it only managed half that in 2003, when sales peaked -- and the car's best year by far. The problem, according to The New York Times: Parent company Ford built the Jaguar X-Type on a Ford sedan platform, "dumbed it down, cheapened it up," and expected luxury buyers not to notice.
Primary years sold: 1999-2005
Toyota had its biggest misstep in the Echo, which rolled off assembly lines in 1999. Supposedly styled to attract younger car buyers, "the Echo looked like it was constantly stopping short" and the base model was so skimpy that it forced buyers to load up on options that made it as costly as better cars, Autotrader contends. The result: Sales peaked under 49,000, then plunged.
Primary years sold: 1997-2001
The late '90s found Cadillac grasping at straws as buyers of higher-end cars started flocking to imports, so execs "imported a car from Europe and the results were disastrous," according to Curbside Classic. Aside from the ridiculous branding (ads implored buyers to get "the Caddy that zigs,") the Catera looked disturbingly similar to the mass-market, $20,000-cheaper Chevy Malibu. Sales peaked at an underwhelming 25,000 in 1997 and 1998.
Primary years sold: 1985-1992
No list of automotive flops would be complete without a Yugo. The thing is, a fair amount of people actually did want a Yugo -- at first. The hatchback, imported from Yugoslavia, was ultra-cheap, at under $4,000, so it won over plenty of buyers on price alone. But criticism of the car's bargain-basement quality was so unrelenting that sales fell off a cliff after 1988.
Primary years sold: 2009-present
Ford had high hopes for the boxy Flex: It wanted to sell 100,000 a year. The most ever sold of this distinctive SUV? Just under 39,000 in 2009. While the Flex got generally favorable reviews from critics for its practicality and retro style, buyers just didn't bite (except for Californians, who make up a disproportionate slice of owners). Ford is set to discontinue the vehicle in 2020.
Primary years sold: 1998-1991
If the Buick Reatta doesn't ring a bell, that's understandable -- this relic of the late '80s and early '90s sold under a paltry 8,000 at its peak in 1989. One of several problems: The little coupe cost as much as a BMW and just a bit less than a similar but better-made Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Oh, and the antiquated engine "looked like something out of the Industrial Revolution," notes Autoweek.
Primary years sold: 2008-present
The tiny Smart ForTwo continues to be a head-turner. Sometimes it's because we're turning away. Just 3,000 Smart cars were sold in 2017 -- a huge decline from first-year sales of 28,000 in 2008. CNET calls the new model, an electric, "a very small car with a disproportionately large price tag." Daimler also axed the car's gas-powered version this year.
Primary years sold: 1980-1981
Only true car buffs will remember this British import. Sold in large numbers in Britain as the SD1, the Rover was rebranded as the 3500 for its U.S. debut in 1980. Unfortunately, it was "appallingly constructed," according to Jalopnik, with ill-fitting components and a hatch prone to water leaks. Ultimately, only 1,100 sold in America during the lone model year.
Primary years sold: 2014-present
Kia has tried to give luxury buyers more for their money with the top-of-the-line K900, but it turns out luxury buyers are attached to brands with a little more cachet. Plus, while the car has lots of bells and whistles, it just doesn't drive as well as the competition, Jalopnik says, and Kia dealers lack the high-end experience they need to appeal to this segment of the market. Sales peaked at a sad 2,500 in 2015, but Kia is still producing this model -- for now.
Primary years sold: 2002
Luxury brand Lincoln decided it wanted a piece of the juicy pickup truck market when it created the Blackwood, which sold for just a single model year. The truck barely cleared 3,000 in sales, ensuring its quick demise from the assembly line. What went wrong? It was simply way too nice to be at all useful, with a bizarre covered cargo bed, no four-wheel drive, and finishes that were so high-end that no one wanted to use it for the dirty jobs a pickup is expected to perform, according to The New York Times.
Primary years sold: 2009
Already reeling from the disaster that was the Aztek, Pontiac decided to take a chance on this subcompact. But the G3 was just a rebranded Chevy Aveo, a car that has underwhelmed critics for years. "Pontiac had been warned but still couldn't help but slap its own badge on the automotive failure," CarBuzz says. The G3 notched just over 6,000 sales in 2009 before GM pulled the plug on not only the G3 but the entire Pontiac brand.
Primary years sold: 2003-2006
This weird mashup of styles could never amass the broad appeal it needed. As Autotrader puts it: "It wasn't practical enough to be a normal pickup truck. It was too big to be a normal car. It wasn't as capable as a full-size truck or as fuel-efficient as a normal Outback." The result: Sputtering sales, which peaked at 10,700 in 2003. Happily, for those who did take a chance on the Baja, it has held its value surprising well and fetches a pretty penny used.
Primary years sold: 2003-2006
Chevy took a big chance with the SSR, an eye-catching fusion of hot rod and pickup. Unfortunately, initial performance didn't match its slick looks, with relatively sluggish speed and a rougher ride. Alhough Chevy fixed those issues in later versions, the SSR never found much of a market beyond car enthusiasts looking for something different. Sales crested at about 9,600 in 2004 and dropped off substantially from there.
Primary years sold: 2013-present
Fiat is struggling to gain U.S. market share, and the 500L, a small wagon meant to appeal to hatchback buyers looking for some style, hasn't helped. Only 1,600 sold in 2017, a precipitous drop from 2014's sales of more than 12,000. The car is simply slow, critics say: "Drivers will find they have to use every bit of the power in fast-moving traffic or accelerating to highway speeds on short on-ramps," The Car Connection warns. Jalopnik is less diplomatic, saying it has a "transmission designed by Satan." Okay, then.
Primary years sold: 2010-2013
The strangely designed ZDX was a rare misstep in the Honda family, managing to notch only about 3,200 in sales during its first and best year. The "swoopy crossover" was designed by a rookie and produced with few changes, according to USA Today, winding up hobbled by poor visibility and a tiny backseat. That made it impractical for the younger buyers who were attracted to the design, especially with a price starting over $50,000.
CHRYSLER EXECUTIVE LIMOUSINE
Primary years sold: 1983-1986
This bizarre Chrysler is the perfect example of 1980s excess colliding with the reality of skyrocketing oil prices. Though meant to appeal to a more discerning buyer, the "limo" was built on Chrysler's ubiquitous K-car platform and had a measly 93-horsepower four-cylinder engine, according to Curbside Classic. Executive buyers apparently weren't impressed: Sales were about 1,500 for its entire four-year run.
Primary years sold: 2005-2009
Saab probably had a lot of marketing ideas over the years, but it's doubtful any involved comparing their cars to Chevrolets. That's what happened with the 9-7X, though, which critics called a dead ringer for a Trailblazer (or a GMC, or a Buick -- basically anything but a Saab). There's a reason: GM had bought Saab and built the 9-7X on those same platforms. Funnily enough, potential Saab buyers wanted a Saab that looked like a Saab, and only 5,200 were unloaded in 2007, the vehicle's best sales year.
Primary years sold: 1987-1993
Cadillac never expected the Allante to be a big seller, but top sales of just 3,400 in 1990 were still grossly underwhelming. The main reason: This weird fusion of Italian and American design had a convertible soft-top roof that leaked like crazy when it rained, damaging the car's reputation so much that no one wanted to buy it even after the issue was rectified. (Side note: "Allante" means nothing in Italian. It's a computer-generated name picked from thousands of options by GM executives.)
Primary years sold: 1992-2010, 2013-2017
Although this high-powered supercar found plenty of love from car enthusiasts, it failed to meet even modest exotic-car sales goals over the past decade. Dodge has never sold more than 1,000 Vipers a year since 2008, frequently selling only half that. Even a $15,000 price break and the ability to completely customize the ride didn't improve sales, so Dodge decided to pull the plug and make 2017 the car's last model year.
Primary years sold: 2009-2014
Initially, the Cube had respectable sales for such a firmly niche vehicle: close to 23,000 in 2010. But sales fell precipitously every year after that for this boxy, asymmetrical wagon, which landed on CBS's list of the world's ugliest cars -- ever. Ultimately, slow sales sealed the Cube's demise, and it was axed from Nissan's lineup starting in 2015. "Indefatigable weirdness was likely both its chief selling point and its Achilles' heel," Autoblog says.
Primary years sold: 2003-2006
In the end, the meticulously built Phaeton ran into the same problem as the Kia K900: It was a luxury car from a non-luxury brand. "There is a substantial disconnect for most buyers, whether German or American, between spending something north of $70,000 for a sedan and seeing the VW brand logo in the middle of the steering wheel," Autoblog says, calling the Phaeton one of the dumbest cars ever made. U.S. sales were particularly atrocious, peaking at under 2,000 in 2004.
Primary years sold: 1996-1998
The cartoonish Suzuki X-90 defied categorization. It was a two-seater SUV with a removable roof panel and an enclosed trunk. Oh, and the car was "almost universally regarded as among the ugliest ever," according to The New York Times. Sales (or lack thereof) tell us all we need to know: Suzuki sold fewer than 8,000 over the course of three model years.
Primary years sold: 2010-2016
Venerable Honda was forced to discontinue the CR-Z in 2017 for several reasons, not the least of which was that hybrids weren't selling as well with gas prices staying nice and low. But critics say the CR-Z was also boring to drive and not as much of a fuel-sipper as the formidable Toyota Prius. Sales peaked at just over 11,000 in 2011; the next year, they barely cracked 4,000.