I like the word ‘flop’. It’s concise, straight to the point. I define the word ‘flop’ in the automotive world as a car that was looked upon as being a good idea by an automaker, but in fact fell so hard through the sales books, that even the automakers sometimes deny it was ever a thing.
To constitute for being a ‘flop’ a car doesn’t have to be ugly or slow – although that certainly does help the cause – it just has to underperform to such an extent, the lady or gentlemen behind the idea got fired. Or at least a stern telling off and smack on the back of the hand.
So let’s explore the history of some of the worst decisions in automotive history. I’m having fun with this one.
This was not one of Chevrolet’s finest moments. After the short-lived attempt at something resembling a Caterham and a frog named the ‘Prowler’ by Plymouth, Chevrolet tried to create a similar, never-before-seen car to appeal to a market of… Ah, that was the problem. There was no market for what turned out to be called the Chevrolet SSR.
With Chevy trying to appeal to their hot rod-loving customer base, while also catering to the general public of America, they introduced a convertible truck (yes, convertible) which was underpowered and generally awful looking. Chevrolet tried hard to rectify the mistakes they had made by adding the option of a more powerful 6.0 litre V8 over the original 300hp 5.3 litre. It was too late, though. The negative reaction to the truck had already taken its toll and it wasn’t long before the car got pulled from production.
What a shame.
The concept form of this car looked quite promising when it was revealed. But as usual, the car didn’t live up to its concept designs and instead looked like, as Jeremy Clarkson put it, “a dog doing a number 2…’. The interior wasn’t any better either, with cheap plastic saturating the dashboard and doors and the switchgear feeling weak and delicate to the touch. It was very ‘Chrsyler’ of the period.
The visibility was also awful. On a high performance car you can get away with trading bad visibility for better aerodynamics and therefore better performance. But the Crossfire had no excuse except for its art-deco like design. Which looked rubbish.
This one wasn’t always a collectors item like it is now. Originally, it failed at being the car John DeLorean wanted it to be – the supercar’s saving grace at a time where new legislation was strangling engine output. Coupled with the financial ruin that DeLorean amassed and the ‘disagreements’ with the FBI, the car just wasn’t good enough. It boasted poor amounts of power from its 2.8 litre V6, and with the massive weight the engine had to push around, it was destined to fail from the get go.
The DMC-12 passion was reignited when it was involved in one of my favourite franchises, Back to the Future. From these films spawned a whole new industry of restoring DeLoreans, modifying their engine output to give them the power they deserved, and turning them into time machines. If only John could have traveled forward in time to see what a mess he would make of his company, but to also see the cult it had created.
Even though the car flopped, it will live on for a very long time.
Aston Martin Cygnet
I don’t know what Aston were thinking. The Cygnet polluted and confused Aston’s brand image. They suddenly fell from a high quality, premium automaker to a company that used other’s designs to produce an economic, city-going Smart Car-esque shoe box. On Aston’s website it says its 0-60 time was just under 12 seconds, and that it is instantly recognisable. Unfortunately, this car being recognisable was not a good thing.
Customers who were looking to buy a city car preferred to buy a Smart Car, or the Toyota IQ that it was based on. But the Toyota IQ was valued at a third of the price. It’s amazing how much a badge and a grill can grow a cars price tag. Aston sold less than 2% of its target of 4000, resulting in a massive loss of £25 million before taxes for Aston Martin the year they decided to scrap the model. Whoever thought it was a good idea for Aston Martin, the classiest of all car brands, to make a glorified boot on wheels… Well… They’re not working there anymore are they.
There was however, a good reason to the production of this car. Aston had to cut their average CO2 of their model range down by 2015 otherwise they’d face massive penalties, but why they went about it this way when they could have produced a baby Vantage with a small engine, no one knows.
Known as the biggest failure in automotive history, to the point where the word ‘edsel’ is now used as another word for a flop, the Edsel is the biggest flop on this list. That takes real devotion.
Ford ticked all the boxes on the flop spreadsheet with this one. Poor management, check. Awful looking, check. Poor execution, check. It’s no wonder Ford made a loss of $2.8 billion dollars, after taking into account inflation.
No surprise as the car looks like the squid from that Sponge Bob Squared Trousers children’s show thing, and to top it all off, the car was launched right on top of a recession. It was over priced, not fast enough, too fuel hungry, but overall, the car wasn’t actually that bad. It was the company behind it.