Unfortunately for them, we’re here to remind you.
We always applaud automakers when they take chances, especially with design and engineering advancements. However, just because an idea or concept looks good on paper, it doesn’t mean it’ll translate into solid sales. That’s why automakers run focus groups to help gather consumer data and analyze feedback.
Unfortunately, there have been instances in the not too distant past where automakers either totally misinterpreted consumer data or ignored it entirely. They paid a price for this.
All of the following cars debuted with a lot of pomp and circumstance because the automakers believed they were either potential segment game changers or sales hits. None of that happened. Quite the opposite. One look at any of these vehicles and you’ll understand why.
You gotta give credit to GM back in the early 2000s for a few creative ideas, one of which manifested into the Chevrolet SSR, which stands for Super Sport Roadster. The SSR, built from 2003 until 2006, was something of an anomaly: a retractable hardtop convertible pickup truck. Its retro design was one of those love it or hate situations.
Chevy gave the SSR the LS2 V8 with 395 hp also found in the C6 Corvette, Trailblazer SS, and the Pontiac GTO. There was even a six-speed manual option. So yeah, on paper, all’s good, right?
The problem was its styling, which was inspired by late-1940s Chevy pickup trucks. It was also expensive, priced at around $42,000. The SSR was a decent hot rod but a pretty bad pickup truck. It was, at its core, an overpriced toy.
Subaru is today one of the most reliable and conservative automakers. It rarely takes a chance because, honestly, it doesn’t have to. But back in the early 1990s, Subaru was still trying to find itself. While all-wheel drive was already (mostly) standard, the Japanese carmaker had not yet invented its standard bearer, the Outback. And so the two-door grand tourer Alcyone SVX came to be. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign, the SVX came with a naturally aspirated 3.3-liter boxer flat-six with 231 hp and 228 lb-ft of torque.
The sole gearbox was a four-speed automatic. It took Subaru two years to get the SVX ready from concept to production and it finally went on sale in 1991. Only 25,000 examples were sold (15,000 in the US) until it was discontinued in 1996. Subaru invested a lot of money in the SVX in the hope it would take the brand to the next level, specifically the luxury and performance car market.
Oh man, where to begin? Perhaps it’s best to ask this question: ‘What was Honda thinking?’ The Crosstour was originally called the Accord Crosstour when it debuted in 2011, and was based on the eighth generation Accord. By this point, Honda no longer sold an Accord wagon so when the Toyota Venza arrived a couple years before, Honda felt the need to respond. ‘A reborn Accord wagon with even more space? This can’t go wrong,’ is what Honda thought. Too bad the Crosstour was butt ugly.
Although it could be optioned with AWD, the Crosstour (the Accord prefix was later dropped), this wagon/quasi-crossover ultimately failed to hit sales goals for obvious aesthetic reasons. Honda gave the Crosstour a refresh for 2013 but that still didn’t do much to win over customers. In 2016, Honda announced the end of Crosstour production. Nobody cried.
We felt it was important to show you the Audi A2 even though it was never sold in the US. Why should you know about it? Because it was designed by Luc Donckerwolke, whose previous work included the Lamborghini Murcielago, among others exotics. Yes, even some of the greatest designers out there stumble from time to time. The A2 was produced from 1999 until 2005 and marketed as a compact MPV supermini. Its five-door hatchback body style allowed for up to five seats.
Audi had big dreams for the A2, even going so far as constructing it from aluminum, which was quite expensive at the time. This translated to a curb weight of no more than 2,200 pounds. Excellent fuel economy was a key goal and the A2 came with a wide range of engines, both diesel and gasoline. But it was just too funky looking, even for Europeans. That says a lot.
Some cars are just asking to be mocked and the Chrysler Crossfire is one of them. Launched for 2004, Chrysler was in need of a new product and thanks to the Daimler-Chrysler “merger of equals,” an opportunity presented itself. Take the platform and some 80 percent of components from the second generation Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster and turn it into a Chrysler. To Chrysler’s credit, the production Crossfire very closely resembled the concept version which appeared a few years prior. Unfortunately, that concept was far from pretty. Its designers didn’t know when to lift the pen.
Chrysler even admitted it wanted to polarize people with the Crossfire’s design, knowing full well it would either be loved or hated. With V6 power and an optional six-speed manual, the Crossfire certainly had potential, but it was expensive, especially for a Chrysler, and the SLK simply looked better.
Never heard of the Volvo 480? That’s not surprising because it was never sold in the US, even though Volvo initially had plans to do so. Built from 1986 until 1995, the 480 was Volvo’s first-ever front-wheel drive car. Its chosen body style, a compact two-door coupe with seating for four, was also appropriate for the time (pop-up headlights!), especially in Europe where it was built (the Netherlands, if you must know). Volvo wanted to sell it as a “sports wagon” in the US, but it never happened because of unfavorable US dollar exchange rates at the time. Volvo spent six years developing the 480 and even hired Lotus to design its suspension.
It was an expensive project that failed to bring in the buyers Volvo had hoped for. Along with being underpowered, the 480 was also a bit expensive. Volvo, however, did not learn its lesson when the 480 was dropped in 1995, though it would take another decade before the carmaker made another coupe/hatchback attempt with the C30.
Of course the Plymouth Prowler was going to make an appearance here. The retro-styled hot rod definitely looked cool, but it was horribly underpowered, had an interior on par with a Plymouth Breeze (a rebadged Dodge Stratus), and for some idiotic reason was designated a Plymouth. Chrysler’s bargain brand was already on its deathbed so it made no sense to launch the Prowler under that marque. But Chrysler did it anyway when the Prowler launched for 1997.
The project was a labor of love for designers and engineers, but Chrysler still made a few mistakes. For starters, it lacked a powerful V8. The Prowler initially launched with a V6 making only 214 hp but was later replaced with another V6 good for 253 hp. The only transmission ever offered was a four-speed semi-automatic.
Underpowered and not especially fun to drive, despite being rear-wheel-drive, the Prowler managed to extend its life by a few years following the discontinuation of Plymouth. It became the Chrysler Prowler and lived to see the 2002 model year. A total of 11,700 Prowlers were built and while Chrysler does deserve some credit for being bold here, the Prowler was not only the wrong car at the wrong time for the automaker, it wasn’t really necessary to begin with.