Dead Pool II

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I keep reading stories about how healthy the car industry is. If that’s true, how come so many car brands have croaked recently? Since ’08 at least seven have gone wheels up: Saab, Saturn, Suzuki, Mercury, Pontiac, Isuzu and Hummer. That’s more dead brands in the space of six years than kicked the bucket during the 30 years prior.dead 1

And I suspect it’s not over yet.

There are several brands – some of them big names – looking a bit green around the gills lately. It would not surprise me to see any of the following go for that ride on the white canoe:

* Scion (2004-?)

Toyota’s youth-focused small car spin-off brand is in need of the crash cart, stat.

It’s three weeks away from 2014 and there is nothing new in the pipeline. The 2014s will be the same as the 2013s – and those were pretty much the same as the ’12s… which were the same as… well, you see where this is headed. The only car in the entire Scion lineup that’s not going on four years old without much more than trim tweaking here and there is the FR-S sports car – and it’s a Subaru in Scion drag. scion reveal

Sales peaked in ’06 – and as of 2012, Scion (all models) accounted for a meager 0.3 percent of all Toyota sales in the US. That is perilously close to Flounder from Animal House’s “zero point zero” GPA. The writing may already be on the corporate wall. Toyota corporate has told all Toyota dealerships that currently sell (and service) Scions that they can drop the brand without penalty.

Cue the music: The time has come to say sayonara . . .

* Volvo (1927-?)

For decades Volvo had something no other brand had – a sterling (and proactive) reputation for putting safety uber alles. Today’s Volvos are safe, too. The problem is – so are everyone else’s cars. The industry that used to resist wet nursing, idiot-proofing and government-snuggling has now embraced those things lustily. But where does that leave Volvo? Its cars are safe …  and?

Volvo has not been able to recreate itself as a premium brand, or sexy brand. It’s still the safety brand – and that’s no longer a cornered market. stiffy

Even the Swedes have abandoned ship. Volvo is now owned by the Chinese – and they don’t seem to be interested in doing much to resuscitate the brand. Other than a mild refresh of the mid-sized/mid-priced S60, there’s a stillness in the air that forebodes a wake. The flagship S80 is ancient – dating back to 2007. The C30 coupe – also about the same vintage – never caught on with buyers, despite being a neat little car.

There is a new V60 wagon on deck – for 2015. But it may be too late – and not enough – to keep the the hounds at bay.  Volvo’s total U.S. sales are now well below six figures (around 60,000 so far this year, down from 139,000 in 2004) and that’s a blood-letting that can’t be maintained indefinitely.

For some perspective, Toyota sells about 400,000 Camrys annually.

A cold wind blows… .

* Mitsubishi (1970-?)mitsu lead

I suspect – I would bet – that Mitsubishi will be the Suzuki of 2014. One more year on life support and then – kaput.

There are interesting parallels – the main one being that in both cases, building cars is a secondary business for these companies. Mitsubishi heavy industries makes industrial equipment – and electronics – and lots of other stuff in between. Its car operation has always been relatively small potatoes and thus, even if the cars go away, the brand is in no real danger. Similarly, Suzuki is one of the major players in the motorcycle world – but never managed to translate that success to the four-wheeled world.

Mitsubishi Motors has been losing money since 2007 – so it’s pretty startling they’re still around at all. They never really recovered from the epic debacle of the “0-0-0” marketing campaign, which basically tossed the keys to new cars to people who had no ability to pay for them, or even intention to do so. A tsunami of year-old, often thrashed (and heavily depreciated) repos ensued. Pockets emptied of operating capital for new model development, the brand’s rep soiled by the much worse-than-average depreciation rates – Mitsubishi Motors has been dead in the water ever since.Mitsu 1

There is the possibility of a last-moment resurrection, though. Mitsu has a neat little three-cylinder subcompact on the market that’s just the ticket for these economically awful times. If people notice it, they might just buy it. Mitsubishi Motors President Osamu Masuko told Automotive News in November that the company might “break even this year.”

In which case, there just might be Mitsubishis next year.

* SmartCar (2008-?)

Sometimes, The End is welcomed. As when there’s no hope – just ongoing suffering.

This car is not fixable. It is too small, too expensive (almost $14k to start), too impractical, too slow and too fuel-inefficient to ever be more than an accessory for the stupid rich – and the simply stupid. Those were the people who bought a first-year SmartCar. Parent company Mercedes-Benz has had a tough time attracting new prospects ever since. Last year, a mere 10,009 found homes – well below the target of 16,000. smart pic

None of this ought to be a surprise. The car’s only objective merit is that it can be parked almost anywhere a moped will fit. But a moped gets three times the gas mileage, is speedier – and costs about a fourth what you’d pay to own a Smartcar.

And of course, the moped’s less embarrassing to own.

The needle can’t come soon enough.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. Maybe if Toyota kills Scion they’re put more effort into making the youth like toyota as a brand again. Like bringing back the Supra, Celica, and/or MR2 perhaps.

    • Hi Brandon,

      Yeah – that’s what I’d do, if it were my call.

      Toyota is in real danger of becoming the next Buick.

      Not the current Buick, either.

      • I wonder if the auto companies will forever cycle like this. Because it seems they’re acting as GM did in the 80s and 90s (perhaps you noted this in the past). Their customer base grows older and older, and their product line become less and less revolutionary each generation. Saddening, this was the company that made the supra 20 years ago, which was cutting-edge for it’s time.

        I wonder how long it will take before they will have to completely change the company image, or bring something new to the table, to revitalize sales, as Buick is currently working on doing.

        • Yup. Companies – like people – get complacent, set in their ways.

          Toyota (and Honda) have been able to make hay on the legacy of their superior quality/reliability/value retention vs. the American brands especially. But that was 20-plus years ago and things have changed.

          A lot.

          Notably, the influx of Korean cars that are very Toyota-like insofar as being well-made, but unlike most current Toyotas, also interesting to look at and drive.

          And of course, the domestic brand stuff is pretty solid now, too.

          Once people realize they can get excellent build quality/durability/high resale value and personality/”fun to drive” at Kia, Hyundai – and Ford and GM – Toyota is going to be hurting.

  2. As an AMC owner and enthusiast, this is an ancient story. While other government actions killed off hundreds, if not thousands, of car manufacturers in the United States (such as the FED-caused and prolonged Great Depression) in an indirect way, the first casualty of direct assault on the automotive industry was American Motors Corporation.

    AMC survived on the margins of the market as it was; and could not afford to spend a billion dollars to develop entirely new drivelines to comply with first EPA regulations and then CAFE requirements. Chrysler’s effort to comply with the new requirements drove them to bankruptcy.

    AMC could not afford to downsize their guzzlers, so first the full-sized Ambassador line was dropped after 1974 m.y., then the then-midsize Matador after the 1978 m.y.

    Most of the reliability problems American manufacturers suffered in the seventies and eighties were direct results of the crash development of new, unproven technologies and systems that were to comply with government regulations.

    For instance, EFI. Problems with mechanical EFI had been worked out in the fifties; but the ever-tightening emissions standards demanded computerized, electronic control of FI. Expensive to develop, and many early bugs.

    And all that crash testing manufacturers were required to do — who had to pay for that?

  3. As entry barriers were lowered in the auto industry over the past 3 decades we saw an explosion of new brands and concepts. What we are seeing is just the normal winnowing out of the free market where not everyone is destined to survive. I think Toyota has become overgrown as evidence by the tarnish on their formerly sterling quality reputation.
    Also keep in mind that the US government kept car companies in business that shouldn’t have survived. Chrysler should have died in the 80s and GM in the 00s. Ford has gotten its share of government largess as well.
    Finally, the auto/government oligarchy has kept new concepts from becoming the cars of the future. They destroyed Tucker in the 50s, Delorean in the 80s, and may prevent Tesla from succeeding.

  4. It would be a shame to see Mitsubishi go the way of Suzuki. I’ve owned several Lancer Evolutions and while they are pricey and somewhat impractical, the Evo is one of the most exhilarating rides one can own. The technology packed into the AWD system and SST transmission puts Subaru to shame, which worries me because if the Evo disappears then the STI will dominate the market. Not that the STI is a bad car, but the EVO/STI competition is good for consumers who prefer a car that can run a 12 second 1/4 mile with minor modifications while also being capable of safely carrying your kids to school with plenty of room for groceries afterward.

  5. Everybody makes cars more or less just like everyone else. Products sold in the US have the gov’t up their asses BIG TIME. Nobody takes a risk – except for maybe Tesla – but then he has billions to play with. Perhaps a car like the ELIO, hopefully coming out in 2014, will be a game-changer. Something totally different than everything else out there. But mainstream Americans, the clovers, being what they are, will just keep buying SUVs, because they have been mass-marketed and brainwashed into thinking that they actually need such things. Hell, if the Tata Nano was sold in America for anywhere near its India price of $4k, I’d probably buy one to use at least as my around town car (which is 90+% of my driving). Even if Mitsubishi goes under, I’ll be looking for a used 2014 Mirage in 4 or 5 years when my 2007 Yaris will be in need of replacement. Of course, if the ELIO actually does come to market, I’ll buy two of those and be all done car buying for hopefully the rest of my life.

  6. Huh? I know you’ve never liked the MB Smart but this report in Automotive World seems to tell a different story …

    “Demand for the smart fortwo two-seater rose by 13.3 percent in November. The smart is particularly popular in China and the USA, but sales of the city runabout have also increased in established markets such as Germany and Italy where it has gained market share.” Source:

    You also neglect to mention that outside the US the gasoline powered Smart is 10mpg more fuel efficient and that the even more efficient diesel option is not available in the US either, thanks to the protective Federal regulations you so often and correctly complain about.

    • Hi Robert,

      You’re correct that the Smart sells well in Europe and other markets. But it has not sold well here – except for the first year.

      This stands to reason.

      In Europe, with its densely packed cities and very narrow urban streets, a “city” car such as this can make sense. But the version they sell here is both far too small – and far too underpowered – for other than in-city use, which makes it very impractical given that most people who drive need a highway capable car.

      It’s also pricey. Nearly $14 to start – which is very close to the base price of several much more versatile/usable (and fuel efficient) compact sedans that can carry 4-5 people vs. just two.

      I agree it’s too bad that U.S. buyers can’t get the more powerful/fuel-efficient versions – and that may have something to do with the weak sales here.

      Still, even if it were more powerful – and fuel efficient – it would be a hard sell, because it’s a marginal car for high-speed/highway use. That tall profile and super short wheelbase renders it “twitchy” at high speed, and very vulnerable to oversteering loss of control. The draft of a passing semi can knock the thing across two lanes of traffic, or incite a panic swerve.

      I’ve driven them – and they scare me. And that says a lot!

      • Good points, Eric. I will disagree with you on the issue of their driving characteristics though. I have owned and driven one for 5 years and while I agree that it handles very differently from standard wheelbase cars it is – in my 5 years with it – not nearly as dangerous as a few test drives might have lead you to believe. I drive it on the highway almost every day and at full middle or left lane traffic speeds. Even drove it all the way from Chicago to Niagara Falls. Yes, it takes getting used to, but so does driving a Lamborghini. I will even say that its size and handling has gotten me out of at least one pile-up that i would not have been able to escape in a bigger car. As far as getting blown off the pavement by a passing semi? Nothing even close to that has ever happened to me. Quite to the contrary, people new to the Smart who ride with me invariably comment on how surprised they are at the solid “big car” feel of the ride. Just saying.

      • eric, I have seen one Smartcar in my life, in Tampico. I guess it makes sense there but not traveling from town to town in Mexico as you well know. The wash off those big semi’s would send you down the mountain or into the ocean. That’s the car they should let people drive in those electric cart only retirement places except now those are 4 passenger or more and probably more comfortable. I think they even let them use gas engines of limited size.

      • I would love to have a smart car, and a stable of at least a half dozen cars for various purposes. Probably the biggest stumbling block is government. Insuring and registering several vehicles quickly gets cost prohibitive. Along with the fact that the price is so high because of regulatory impacts. The Smart Car would be a great $6-8k car to just use around town, even in medium sized cities. At double that it makes no sense at all.

        There’s a reason that Americans drive large vehicles that is largely unaccounted for. It is so cost prohibitive to own multiple vehicles and there is considerable need for a vehicle that is capable of driving long distances for most everyone. So, when one purchases a vehicle they have to have one that can be comfortable to drive for hundreds of miles on the freeway. Even if that driving is only a small percentage of what one uses a vehicle for. My choice for that in 2000 was an F350 Crew Cab 4×4 and I’m still driving it. Great highway vehicle and the diesel with some aftermarket programming gets nearly 20mpg. I also regularly have the need for hauling or towing. And, three or four times a year I do need to be able to get around in snow for a couple of days. But even now working as a handyman full time the need for what such a big truck provides is probably less than half the time. But it’s the only thing I own and can’t really afford to have a second vehicle that can’t be used as general purpose.

        • Excellent point Keith. My solution to that conundrum was to buy the car that I thought would fill my needs 90% of the time. To make it fun, I chose the cabriolet and loaded it with most of the options. Having owned it for as long as I have, I have found it to actually do the job 95% of the time or better. Example: I had no idea how much stuff you can transport in a Smart and how bulky the items can be. I still amaze myself some times. Fuel consumption, which I monitor with a “Scan Gauge” has also turned out to be far better than advertized. On the rare occasion when my need is for something bigger, I take a taxi or rent the perfect vehicle for the purpose. This still comes out far less costly than buying, operating and insuring a much larger vehicle “just in case”.

          • Hi Robert,

            Per Keith’s post, I think Benz/Smart would be smart to offer a “basic” (as basic as possible) version priced under $10k. Ideally, around $8,500 or so.

            That would sell like proverbial hotcakes, I bet.

            Heck, I’d be interested.

            Because what you’d have is a vehicle priced competitively with a motorcycle that offered protection from the weather for two people, with comparable fuel economy. It’d be just the ticket to reduce the cost of getting from A to B (with, as you suggest, something bigger/more powerful as a “fun” car held in reserve for occasional use).

            I hope the new Mitsubishi Mirage – which is conceptually in tune with this – does well.

          • Well, the truck has been an excellent choice. I’m separated from my wife but when we were together we also had her MINI Cooper S. Not great on mileage but extremely capable and fun and a great long distance driver for two people.

            Since I’ve separated and in about a year went from being unemployed to having a handyman business heading towards over $30k/year and still growing I probably never could have made it without the truck. I’m now looking to get a smaller used car for the 30-50% of the time I don’t need the truck. But I’m still not going for a boring and ultra-small econobox because that still doesn’t suit my needs well enough. Kinda looking at an MR2 Spyder. Fun for mountain roads and capable of doing reasonable distances. Reasonable fuel economy. It would suck in snow but I would still have my truck for that.

            In Colorado a Smart Car still doesn’t fill enough niches to be practical at anything over $10k. Where I am right now financially might be great at under $5k with no further expenses other than fuel and maintenance. But that’s obviously out.

        • You make a good point, Keith.

          I own eight (I think; I lose track) vehicles and the cost to insure/tag them all is obnoxious. It’s a strong incentive to not have multiple vehicles – which I suspect is exactly what they want.

          I’d like to see a $6-$8k Smart car, too.

          At that price point, I’d cheerlead for the car all night long.

          But $14k?

          At that price point, I’d rather have a Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent or Fiat 500.

          • Absolutely Peter, consider however that at the time of my purchase of the Smart none of those options existed yet. In the mean time it has turned out to be more fun to own and drive than I ever expected and that from a guy who has owned some of the most exotic cars ever made, including RR, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Porsche and others. So what will my next car be? I haven’t a clue. It probably hasn’t even reached the design studio yet. Will let you know when I see it. 🙂

          • The price was what made the decision for me on the MINI. In 2002 when they announced pricing at around $16k for the base I had my name on the list with a $500 deposit within 2 weeks. Even then, with the first shipments at least 4 months away we were something like 500 on the waiting list. Had to wait 6 months to get our car. And when we actually placed the order we spent a lot more than the $16k. We bought an S with everything we could get on it for around $25k. It was a great choice.

            Even at todays price with a Cooper base at only $6k more than a Smart Car, why would anyone buy the Smart?

          • I think the penalties, the cost structures for multiple vehicles comes directly from the conformist control freaks (clovers) that live amongst us. The government and its close corporate friends just go along with it. These people can’t fathom why a person would have multiple cars and thus bring about legislation that works with and encourages that. It’s good for them, so it must be good for all of us.

            Having a bunch of cars seems to annoy conformists too. They don’t like it. Too many cars in driveways and nonsense like that. Then the what-ifers think people like you and I will run car rentals or something. That we’d be scamming the system somehow if we paid insurance based on the reality that we can only drive one at a time.

            We’re just supposed to buy the most expensive car our debt allowance can support instead of having a paid for fleet I guess.

        • Keith, I’m with you on reason for owning big vehicle. I bought a 1999 Suburban 10 years ago when my kids were in elementary and middle school. It was great for family outings, as well as the schlepping of sports gear to whatever sport the guys played that year. Now that they’re grown, I rarely need the size, but it’s quite handy, it’s cheap to fix, cheap to insure, and too damn convenient not to keep as a 2nd or 3rd household vehicle. I have 200k miles on it, just fixed blown head gasket, and expect to keep it another 150-200k miles. Onward thru the fog……

      • Eric, et al,

        While I recognize that my most recent stints in Europe are a couple of years old, every German, Italian and Swiss person with whom I discussed the Smart car had nothing but scathing negative commentary. The only advantage there is parking ability and that role is more ably addressed by cars like the FIAT 500 (new or old). I test drove one once in Austin when I lived there and it scared the hell out of me. That thing is simply too dangerous to drive in “big boy” traffic. It suffers from a bad ROI potential. I tend to agree that it will go away pretty quickly. This should surprise nobody, as it was a collaboration between Swatch and Mercedes and looked like it…..bilious from the getgo….as always, OALA, EHOATAS and YMMV.

  7. There are interesting parallels – the main one being that in both cases, building cars is a secondary business for these companies. Mitsubishi heavy industries makes industrial equipment – and electronics – and lots of other stuff in between. Its car operation has always been relatively small potatoes and thus, even if the cars go away, the brand is in no real danger. Similarly, Suzuki is one of the major players in the motorcycle world – but never managed to translate that success to the four-wheeled world.

    But the car industry is one of the few that genuinely does have synergies with other areas of activity, so firms in which they are a suitable secondary business – or in which they are primary with a suitable secondary business – actually have a competitive advantage.

  8. A three-cylinder Mitzi? If it’s anything like the Geo, I could be interested. I’m still smarting over the death of Plymouth, though. Long live my Volare, not a great car but my last link to the brand.

  9. What’s Mitsubishi’s “neat little three-cylinder subcompact” called? Now that my Yaris is totalled, I’ll need to replace it with something, and I like little goofy cars that get good mileage. If I can’t find another Yaris or maybe a Suzuki SX4, I’d be keen to look into it.

  10. The problem with Saab and Volvo is that they lack an identity behind the brand recently because most cars are “safe” these days. Both cars tried to market their product as an upscale vehicle to compete with BMW and Mercedes with FWD drivetrain system? Seriously…Acura is also just as guilty too in this regard except for some of their SH-AWD models.

    So you have an inferior handling system that’s trying to disguised itself as an upscale car, add in a tapped out middle class and on top of that a pie that keeps on getting smaller and smaller thanks to the Korean automaker (Hyundai Genesis) and this is what you’ll get, not enough chairs for the number of participants after the music stop. Completely agree with your list. Goodbye Volvo, we’ll miss your Scandinavian quirks! 🙁

    • I guess nobody ever told guys like Erik Carlsson or Stig Blomqvist that FWD was inferior. But even of it is, the great majority of “Upscale” buyers aren’t inclined to push the cars they buy to their handling limits anyway. Oh, and many of the “classic” Volvos that sold in good numbers (such as the 200 series) were RWD.

      • Christian von Koenigsegg did tell Carlsson and Blomqvist that FWD sucks…stop burning your brakes and revving high at the same time…

        Speaking strictly in economic and marketing terms, charging a premium price for a crappier drive train set up will be a tough sell as the market place has told Saab and now Volvo. There are other factors which contributed to the demise of Saab and soon to be Volvo but the main reason IMO is their inconsistency with their product offering compared to the competitions. A true free market place will always be right.

        • Unless and until someone comes up with a useable and separate definition of “true free market”, that last sentence is the sort of unhelpful tautology that can easily be twisted into a “no true Scotsman” argument.

          • Eric, the problem with that is that it is what they call in the trade a necessary but not a sufficient condition. For instance, it fails in a thought experiment Rothbard described: a controlling regime decides to reform, maybe to make things easier or safer, but first its rulers parcel out all its assets to the controllers so that they hold all the cards once things start working “freely”. Things like that have actually happened (the nouveau riche after the Protestant Reformation and other revolutions in various countries, the Russian oligarchs, U.S. oil companies in Iraq who got concessions locked in before the transition to “democracy” ten years ago, etc.), and that’s just one failure mode. And no, it’s not good enough just to say that you have to get initial conditions right by looking back and undoing the preceding unfree stuff, because on the one hand that just moves the problem of getting a way to assess that as a general principle back one, and on the other hand it shows that simply having something without coercion isn’t enough to make it self-repairing, so it might well end up defective after other sorts of damage.

      • Hi Uwe,

        I dunno. Audi is doing fine and all its cars are FWD-based.

        One of the best-selling luxury cars on the market is FWD: the Lexus ES350.

        The problem Volvo (and Saab) has goes a lot deeper – unfortunately for them.

    • I miss Saab…

      The old 900 turbo was a twitchy, freaky-looking car – but it was also fun. Like lighting off a pack of firecrackers at a stuffy party.

      • Eric, of all the cars I’ve owned since 1980, 2 of my favorites were 1987 Volvo 760 turbo wagon and 2003 Saab 9-5. The Volvo was the first import I ever owned, and was amazed who well it drove. I got rid of it when it’s 2nd turbo blew at 200k miles. My kids cried when it was towed away.
        The Saab belonged to my son, who moved out of the country when he got married, and I took the car off his hands. I enjoyed driving that car, and would have it still if parts were readily available. I was happy to trade that in on a gently used 2001 Lincoln Town Car.

    • “Sounds like a great time to get into the used car parts business.”

      Even that might be a bit iffy, given that the ever-increasing use of plastics in vehicles for critical parts. Consider how plastic has a finite life span, especially when subjected to extreme temperature shifts in the average engine compartment.

      Plastic radiators, plastic coolant pipes, plastic sensor housings, plastic valve covers, plastic intake manifolds – all of it goes away much more quickly than in cars of days gone by that had all that stuff made of metal. Hell, unlike a car made in 1963, fifty years from now you’re not likely to even see a car made in 2013, let alone one that has too many of the original parts.

      • The plastics from the 1960s and 70s were far less durable than modern plastics and many of those parts still aren’t reproduced. Those cars are still around. Engineers have known how to properly test plastics by accelerated aging for a very long time.

        Simply put, properly spec’d and tested plastics will be around a good long time.

        And lastly, with rapid prototyping processes (called ‘3D printing in the mainstream media) becoming more and more advanced and more and more affordable, it will be a simple exercise to make any functionally needed parts. Jay Leno’s shop is already utilizing these techniques.

        • That’s not the only issue with plastics. Here are two more:-

          – They tend to be fail-sudden, whereas metal and even more so wood in the corresponding roles usually give signs of impending failure (that’s why miners preferred wooden pit props to steel ones, despite their being weaker for their size, less durable and more expensive – they creak and groan before failing; steel at least usually sags more just before failing, but plastic sags even while it’s working). Of course, that’s irrelevant if you don’t check anyway or if certain kinds of redundancy were put in to handle sudden failure despite that offsetting any gains from using plastic.

          – Plastic tends to be more elastic, i.e. to give more. That change of shape matters a lot in aviation, but it still matters elsewhere because it can make parts jam or alter function, e.g. car doors can jam, so if that is an issue designs need the extra complication of being “iso-elastic”, i.e. bending in ways that don’t affect the crucial issues, e.g. wings bending without that changing their angle of attack. Modern plastics are much less prone to this, but that has a trade off with cost and other functional qualities – like that fail-suddenness.

          • “plastic” covers a wide range of materials with widely different characteristics. These broad brush statements you made apply to some but not others. If there is an adverse property for an application then its the result of a trade off or the wrong material was used. If the former the drawback of the tradeoff should be accounted for in the design. If the later, well it is no different than using the wrong metal or alloy or any other wrong choice. Metals too, even just steels, cover a wide range of possible properties.

            Although this is getting away from the topic of if modern cars will just disappear more than older ones have. In that respect I don’t think it will be plastics, or even so much complexity, but rather the lack of places to put them. The kind of places where cars from the 60s and before ended up being parked to rot until desirable have largely disappeared. There’s the legal pressures too on people to send their cars to the crusher. No just parking it out back. Junkyards are often big corporate operations now too. Not some private business where the owner put stuff he liked off to the side. Meeting the shredder is going to make the big difference, not the use of plastic.

          • On December 5, 2013 at 11:43 am, BrentP wrote:-

            “plastic” covers a wide range of materials with widely different characteristics. These broad brush statements you made apply to some but not others. If there is an adverse property for an application then its the result of a trade off or the wrong material was used.

            Didn’t I tell you all those things, when I described them as “issues” and no more, mentioned trade offs and alternatives, described how some plastics have different combinations and qualities (that make trade offs possible), and so on? Doesn’t my putting in all those qualifications and alternatives make all that not “broad brush statements” after all, but rather pointing out the various other things that really do have to be borne in mind?

          • Your first line:
            That’s not the only issue with plastics. Here are two more:-

            Then with each you wrote tends to be

            So, no those qualifiers do not say that to me, but says all but special cases, and it’s not that at all. Furthermore you had no other qualifiers.

            Some plastics have a lot of plastic deformation before they fail. Others have none. Some have a lot of elastic deformation before failure, others have practically none. It’s all over the map. I’ve never seen a tendency across the broad swath of materials called “plastics”. There are tendencies within certain divisions, but not for “plastics” in general.

  11. I always thought the big attraction of the Swedish brands was their ruggedness and reliability; I remember some old Volvo ads featuring a guy chipping his car out of a block of ice and then driving off. Of course that was many years ago, before all the auto companies tossed the engineers in favor of beancounters, and I think the Japanese companies ran away with the reliability reputation. I have 2 Corolla’s over 10 years old and both are plugging along fine, just the usual maintenance of brake pads, belts, etc.

    • That’s related to an adage I learned so long ago that I can’t remember when, that you should never make an engineering decision for accounting reasons. Of course, the same goes for any such mismatched decision among the three legs of any business, operations, finance and marketing. There are many horror stories to illustrate that, e.g. when a bank’s I.T. department went to switch on its back up generator during a power strike, only to find that accounting had ordered all equipment not used for a year to be sold off, or a vacuum cleaner product line that suddenly had a lot of warranty claims when certain washers were switched for ones made of a cheaper alloy.

  12. The first view I had of a Smart was when one was used as Inspector Clouseau’s car in one of the Pink Panther remakes. I suppose the writers of that movie caught on to the joke inherent in the car long before most of the people who bought one. 😉

    • A couple of years ago there was an email making the rounds – photo of a “Smart” sandwiched between 2 Suburbans, with the caption “Not so Smart now, eh?”

      • That and the one with the Truck was a complete fake. All the panels on the Smart are plastic which doesn’t crumple the way metal does.Here is a video of a remote controlled Smart slamming into a concrete barrier at 70mph and the doors still opening and closing normally after. No, I am not suggesting for a second that anybody would have survived such a head-on impact in any car.

    • I’ve been trying to find out whether the deal Saab had with GM to buy the 2.0 turbo four is still in place… and if not, what’s under the hood of this thing!

      I’d like to see Saab revived – if it means real Saabs, not badge-engineered re-sells.

      • My father told me that, when our family was in Iraq in the 1950s, Saabs didn’t sell well there because “Saab” is Arabic for “difficult” or “nuisance”. It’s a bit like the story of the problems that Rolls Royce had selling the Silver Mist in Germany because of what the German word “mist” means.

        Off topic, a few years ago I saw someone in a restaurant who had the Arabic lettering for “Saab” tattooed on his arm. I asked his girlfriend if he knew what it meant. She said it meant “hard”, in the sense of “tough”. I didn’t have the heart to clarify that it only meant “hard” in a different sense, but I suggested that they consulted someone who spoke Arabic.

        • Yup!

          One of my favorites is the story about John de Lorean choosing “Banshee” for the name of his prototype roadster. Shortly before the car was scheduled to be unveiled to the public, someone looked it up in a dictionary:

          noun: banshee; plural noun: banshees

          (in Irish legend) a female spirit whose wailing warns of an impending death in a house.
          “the little girl dropped her ice cream and began to howl like a banshee”

        • Don’t forget the Chevy Nova’s spectacular failure in Latin America because “no va” is Spanish for “it doesn’t go.”

        • good one / gut ein / جيدة واحدة

          manure Dünger, Mist, Dung
          dung Dung, Mist, Dünger, Schmutz
          droppings Mist, Bohne
          muck Dreck, Mist, Kot, Schmutz, Schund, Zeug
          rubbish Müll, Abfall, Unsinn, Schutt, Quatsch, Mist

          difficult عسير, صعب, معقد, عويص, صعب الإرضاء
          tricky صعب, مخادع, دقيق, شائك, معقد, خادع
          harsh قاس, قاسي, صعب, جاف, فظ, مزعج
          rough خشن, هائج, قاسي, وعر, قاس, صعب
          complicated معقد, صعب, مطوي على نفسه, عسير
          risque صعب, خطير
          severe قاس, حاد, خطير, صارم, عنيف, صعب
          uneasy غير مستقر, قلق, صعب, مضطرب, مرتبك, مهموم

  13. I agree about all the brands you have forecast will die.

    Even agree about Volvo, but think you have listed the wrong reason. It is not that other cars have become as safe as Volvo, although that’s probably true. People would still buy Volvos and believe that even if other brands are almost as safe, none are “more safe.”

    Volvo also has (had) that “Scandinavian” ambiance going. It had a whole cultural niche of buyers who would rather be driving a Volvo than anything else. And almost by default, it had captured the market in sleek yet practical station wagons, that you could have either fast, or frugal. Volvo had a lot going for it.

    The real problem is that Volvo has been sold, and resold over and again to a line of owners who are progressively more out of touch, and unworthy to continue the line. Ford was bad enough….but now the Chinese??

    It is virtually impossible to believe that all those Volvo virtues, intangible or objective, can be found in the current offerings. And almost as impossible to believe they will ever return.

    • You make a good point in re Volvo, Mike.

      Like ’em or hate ’em, the pre-Ford era Volvos were very distinctive, both looking and driving. Current ones have lost something in translation, the “Volvo-ness” you describe.

      I often wish I were 30 years older – so I could have done what I do during the great days of the car industry, when the various brands were as different as Ron Paul and Hillary Clinton – instead of like Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, as today.

      • I “discovered” the Volvo line in about 1972. I found them to be pretty amazing cars…. solid, reliable, “sleepers”, if I tuned them well they would run all day at 85 mph and deliver 42 mpg doing it…. and multiple hundred thousand miles were common. Easy to fix, plenty of room to “get at the innards:, confortable, and handled well stock. Slight mods made them real sleepers, faster than most all the Brit sports cars and most of the Italians. Looks? Well, they were a bit unusual, but one got used to them quickly. I’ve owned quite a number of them over the years, the latest being the 72 140 series. Then, off to Mercedes for a number of years still own them). A few years back I decided to get another Volvo to drive as a second car when I did not need the brute force of my one ton Ford diesel for hauling. Save some fuel by driving the “economical” Volvo, right? WRONG!!!! I got a solid, clean 89 240 wagon, non turbo five speed box. That stinking thing never got above 25 mpg, handled like a stupid YankTank, had NO character, was gutless, inane….. I paid more in insurance to keep the second one liscensed than I ever saved in fuel not bought in any given month. I sold it… just before the Cash for Clunkers debacle flooded the market with cheap used cars. Got my money back out of it… barely. What a joke that car was. Certainly NOT worthy of the marque…… I’ve also worked on a number of the later ones, the five cylinder transverse cars. Miserable pieces of junk. Impossible access, changed major parts every two model years, unreliable… and only returned fuel economy in the low 20’s. Can’t even buy a lower ball joint for one, you have to buy the whole lower trunnion with ball joint integrated…. something like $250 for the unit. Insane!!! I’ve been advising anyone who asks to avoid them. No wonder they’re going under. They quit building CARS probably twnty years ago. I hope the chinks lose their kimonos over them….

    • Volvo’s designs prioritized safety at a cost to other things. In this highly regulated era government sets priorities politically.

      The reason why cars are becoming so similar is because the design priorities are being dictated. What makes one product different from another is how the engineers and designers prioritized one aspect over another. Engineering is an art of balancing many different goals and factors. Push one and another is pulled. They are all inter-related. It is the balance point that is decided upon that makes products radically different. That’s the art. The art is being replaced with political bureaucracy. Little by little.

      The classic Volvo boxy tank wouldn’t work today. It has to be detanked and more aerodynamic to meet the dictates from from government. The list of changes to meet the various requirements goes on until what we are left with is something vaguely Volvo looking but isn’t much different than anything else.

      That’s not to say some odd things haven’t come out of it. Ford’s ecoboost, GM making these pushrod engines surrounded by modern technology as if it were some 1950s sci-fi of the engine of the future, and so on… but as time moves on only a few solutions will make the cut of ever greater bureaucratic demands. Convergence occurs.

  14. Eric….Do you think its the economy or that there are just too many brands offering the same type of car? After my last trip to buy a new car I noticed most brands had the same type of car with their logo on it. It got to the point I would not even look at all the SUVs as they looked and performed the same. On the road it gets very difficult to even tell what just drove by you. I think its the law of economics?

    • Hi Joe,

      I think that’s part of it, certainly. The trend toward ever-more homogeneity is a function of all the government ukase that every automakers must take into account when designing a car.

      I agree they’re becoming like toothbrushes. Pretty much all the same beyond superficial things like color and size.

      • Eric. Thats very true. The feds dictate just about everything a car manufacturer must build into their cars…even how many big engines may be sold.

      • Editor’s Note: Clover apparently hasn’t been to New York. As far as closing down useless things… well…


        Tell us Eric, where is the horse drawn carriages any more? Maybe if something is not needed or wanted any longer you close it down. Did you ever think of that or do you think we need millions of carriages to be built? How about keeping that 9 mpg Hummer around. We need that.

          • Clover

            Sorry Eightsouthman that you disagree with me and think we need millions of carriages. What happened to those 60 hp cars we used to have. I guess you and Eric think we still need those also. Outdated cars need to be gone. That is business but I guess you are incapable of business logic. It is obvious you do not run a business.

          • Clover – I work with people that are very well paid (i.e. can easily afford a new clovermobile) who manage to keep their early to mid 90’s Geo Metros going because they are lightweight, get great gas mileage and with their 49 HP, 55HP (and later…oooh…aaahh…70HP high output) engines irreplaceable by any “modern” clovermobile. So extract thy cranium from whatever dark smelly orifice into which thou hast inserted it and realize there is most definitely a market for small, fuel efficient, bare bones basic automobiles. It’s up to me to decide if a car is safe enough or fuel efficient enough or even comfortable enough, not you and your nanny state “I might be a victim!” ilk. You know, that whole caveat emptor thingy. And by the way, the horse drawn carriages are down by the waterfront on the East side of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. It’s a very pleasant ride, you should try it sometime.

    • JoePA,

      I think part of the similarity between vehicles from different car companies is due to the need to improve fuel economy in all vehicles.

      Most vehicles are designed to have better aerodynamics. This leads in general to “smoother” more oval shaped vehicles.

      Another part is the “me too” syndrome. If one car maker makes a successful model or feature, other companies will eventually copy the designs and/or features that are selling well. (ie the minivan from the 80s)

    • I think the shift to Computer Assisted Design (CAD) was the death rattle for car design individuality – that and the corporate bean counters in control of design. They hire unimaginative engineers and designers who are all trained on the same computer programs. Just look at how alike even the new “bumpy” headlights are. We’re being shoveled a pile of poo that the collective design consciousness thinks is “cool” or “cutting edge” when it is neither. The designers are all interchangeable and unimaginative drones working tirelessly to bore us to death visually while continuing to expand the ways our own vehicles can spy on us and even be taken over by others through the use of computer gadgetry. Just as a matter of principle, I won’t drive a vehicle newer than 1999. New enough to be an efficient mode of transportation and old enough to retain some spark of originality.

      • arthur, I have said the same thing. Somewhere along about 2000 Audi came out with a new car with big rounds over the tires on the fenders, with flattened out arches perpendicular to the ground. The next ten years or more we have that same styling on everything. Ford comes out with the ugliest pickup body known to man, the SuperDuty and then everybody else follows along. Still looking for a 92-93 GM diesel pickup, the nicest looking body on a pickup in my eye, well, 88-98. Dodge comes out with that “Ram” look on the front of their car and then everybody has a snout for a few years. Spare me the look-alikes on everything.

        • In the early 70s the turbine car was run at the Indy 500. I was there when that car went by. All you heard was a swish. The turbine would have won the race but a $5 bearing failed 10 miles from the finish. The next year so many restrictions was placed on the turbine it could no longer compete.

          This is the new trend. Sue the darers to protect the rest of the lazy lot from having to spend money to catch up to the new guy on the block.

          Only if the new invention furthers the power of the state does it become accepted. And adopted by the state to enslave the people.

          • to5, not to mix apples with oranges but racing was so political back then, and probably always has been, I became incensed over things such as that and great innovations of other sorts. I have been on this soapbox here before in relations to the turbine car. When Jim Hall created the Chapparal series cars he did what no one else had done, all within the rules but he outran everyone so badly they came up with special “Chapparal” rule that effectively nixed every inroad he made. When nothing was done after little mick Andretti purposely stopped in front of Jim to cause a huge wreck because the little shit was losing, I was more than incensed nothing happened to him. He ended a racing career out of sheer assholeness, something Andretti’s are known for to this day. Thankfully I don’t hear anything from either one now.

          • Hi To5,

            The turbine engine in an automotive application might indeed have potential. I especially like that it operates on (or can operate on) simpler (less refined) fuel. IIRC, some of the practical problems to be hashed out included fuel consumption (relatively high) and low-speed operating characteristics. But it’s a neat concept and I’d like to see it developed, if it would be cost-effective and practical.

            As I see it – assuming we’re sticking with IC for propulsion – the engine, as such, is not the issue. It’s weight.

            A modern spark ignition piston engine can be extremely fuel-efficient… provided it is not tasked with pulling 3,000 pounds.

            Or even 2,000 pounds.

            Get the curb weight down to around 1,400 pounds (ideally, less) and a two or three cylinder engine making say 80 hp or so would be capable of getting it moving quickly enough to be viable in modern traffic (including on the highway) while also being capable of delivering at least 50 MPG, average. Such a car would probably be capable of better than 70 on the highway.

            That would cut the average person’s fuel bill in half. Effectively re-creating the vanished world of $1.50 a gallon unleaded.

            Now, imagine our hypothetical car selling for $8,000 instead of the $30,000 that the average new car sold for in 2012.

            It could, too. If it could be built without air bags, without any of the government mandated “safety” equipment – which government has no right to mandate since it is none of the government’s business (and no one else’s business) whether your car has or does not have things like air bags.

            And emissions? A 1 liter or so twin or three cylinder engine with fuel injection, O2 sensor and cat would be “clean” by any reasonable standard. The “global warming” people should be placated by the fact that such a little engine that burns such a modest amount of fuel would produce a mere fraction of the C02 that a big V-6 or V-8 makes. Etc.

            Mind, I do not tum-thump for such cars being made mandatory. Only that they not be forbidden.

          • eric, you say “The “global warming” people should be placated by the fact that such a little engine that burns such a modest amount of fuel would produce a mere fraction of the C02 that a big V-6 or V-8 makes. Etc. ”

            I’m reminded of air pumps, 10% loss of fuel economy for 5% gain in emissions.

            • Hi Eight,

              They’ll never be placated. The moment after a non-IC, “zero emissions” vehicle becomes viable, it will be targeted on some other basis.

              The true goal is regimenting everyone into urban hives – and mass transit.

          • eric, yes, it will be tires or brake dust or maybe the waves created by electric power or the energy trail left over. They’ll use psychic power to set “limits”.

          • You are absolutely right Eric. The control-freak busibodies in society will never be placated and will never rest until they have everything completely under their control. Whatever the cause, when it comes to prohibition, too much is never enough in these cretins’ worldview. They’ve done everything they can to wipe out smoking, largely relying on the supposed hazards of “secondhand smoke.” So what does the free market do? Well it brings us “vaping” as a nicotine delivery system. Now the prohibitionists are hot after vaping, because “it looks like smoking” and might send the wrong message to the children (

            These nosy shitbags never give up. If its something people do that they enjoy whether it’s drugs, driving, homeschooling, natural food co-ops, ad infinitum, the latest application adjusted iteration of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union marches right in, flags a-waving with their strident message of what the rest of us should or shouldn’t be doing. And the Political Prostitutes and Juris Jackals are all too happy to line up and pass a law and then take it to court, at everyone else’s expense. When someone dares to say “we live in free country” around me, I give ’em correction straight away.

      • At large, major corporations, engineers get a surface model from the industrial designers, these are the people that come up with what the product (in this case the car) is going to look like. Engineers may only make approved changes for the sake of manufacturing the parts and assembling the product. This is all in general, specific products and companies may vary. But usually only at small companies do engineers play industrial designer.

        As to all cars looking alike, take a look at any traffic scene from any other era… yeah they all look alike to anyone but those who are familiar with the details. Once a person stops following cars in detail they end up all looking alike after a few years. Further more, if one really studies the cars of the past the me-too design has been long present. Furthermore people change jobs and bring their ‘style’ with them.

        Oh and headlamps have to meet various federal requirements.

  15. > Mitsubishi heavy industries makes industrial equipment – and electronics – and lots of other stuff in between.
    Including Tuna. Don’t forget the Tuna — LOL

    I suspect the Chinese bought Volvo for the IP/tech.


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