Speculation runs rampant as to why Detroit's Big Three find themselves in their current predicament. U.S. News and World Report's Rick Newman has his own view
, and below we'll give you a quick run through his short list of the vehicles that caught Detroit with its pants down and its eyes focused on a quick buck. Wonder if Dave Letterman would cackle through this top-ten list out on his late-night comedy show...
creative commons - flickr.com: http://www.flickr.com/photos/frazgo/978534413/sizes/o/Enlarge Photo
1. Ford Pinto.
From the dark days of Detroit playing catch up to its lean, mean foreign competitors, Detroit's old school mentality of low-tech small cars built with big-car engineering (small interiors, big exteriors, wasted space, inefficient packaging) just didn't impress savvy consumers. Sure, they sold initially in huge numbers, but when haphazard engineering resulted in a raft of exploding fuel tanks and horrendous reliability, class-action lawsuits sealed the Pinto's fate for good. Not a proud chapter in the history of the American automobile.
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2. Chevrolet Cavalier.
Ahh, the GM J-Body. Another example of poor space efficiency, the Chevy Cavalier/Pontiac Sunbird/Buick Skyhawk/Olsmobile Firenza/Cadillac Cimarron (gasp, I'm out of breath) featured uncomfortably high dashboards, asthmatic four-cylinder pushrod engines, sloppy and unresponsive three-speed automatics, and oversprung/underdamped suspensions. The ultimate insult to the American consumer came in Cadillac form, points out U.S. News & World Report: "GM even added some lipstick and high heels and tried to peddle the upgrade as the Cadillac Cimarron." While this vehicle sold in the millions, brand-loyal consumers learned their lesson. It's no wonder they're loathe to buy American small cars now. And yet GM persists, bringing us the Pontiac G3
to name but one mediocre example.
2005 Chevrolet Astro Cargo Van 111.2" WB AWD exterior front upper leftEnlarge Photo
If you didn't love the Chevrolet Lumina APV/Pontiac TransSport/Oldsmobile Silhouette minivans with their Karl Malden proboscises, you could always opt for the sturdy old Chevy Astro/GMC Safari twins. With their gravelly 4.3-liter pushrod sixes huffing way beneath the huge center-mounted hump between passenger and driver, bus-style driving position, and very mediocre reliability, these vans kept an ancient design alive that other automakers had abandoned decades before. The Ford Aerostar was a marginally better vehicle, but Chrysler stole the show with its lightweight, car-based, forward-thinking minivans that saved it from obscurity. Says U.S. News: "The Astro drove like a bread truck, and consumers noticed. It also earned the worst safety ratings in its class."
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4. Ford Taurus.
Much like the minivan was for Chrysler, the Taurus
proved that Detroit wasn't comatose. The Taurus became a bestseller, points out U.S. News, and rightfully so. A forward-thinking styling ethos, fresh and ergonomic interior, good space efficiency, and sprightly driving dynamics gave Americans a vehicle they could be proud to own. So what did Ford do? "For the next 20 years, Ford let quality decline and neglected the family sedan, while pouring love and money into trucks and SUVs," claims U.S. News. The 500 sedan followed, and "went on record as one of the most short-lived models ever." A revival of the Taurus nameplate to a "bastardized 500" was too little, too late: "by then, the damage was done."