LOOK BACK AT THE BRANDS THAT DIDN’T STAND A CHANCE… AND ONE THAT ALMOST DID!

Well it looks like Toyota has decided that it is time to ensure its rule continues uninterrupted and executed its youthful Scion brand. Although Scion has been selling cars for 14 years, it has been doing so less and less since 2006, it was not pivotal to Toyota keeping its global sales crown. This was not the first time a major brand has failed at keeping a new brand on the market. Let’s look back at brands that automakers wish time would forget.

No dead brand invokes shudders from its parent as much as the name Edsel does. Synonymous with the word failure, Edsel was a short lived brand from Ford that was to be a premium line of cars that would compete with Buick but not steal away sales from the more expensive Mercury brand. The brand experiment would last only three years and produced just over 110,000 cars. The reasons for its failings are numerous, but the number one issue was pricing. The four model line up from Edsel was priced in the same range as Mercury cars and had no brand recognition to differentiate the cars. From the start, vehicle sales were slow and it got worse due to an economic recession in the late 1950’s. After a $400 million ($4 Billion in today’s money) investment from Ford, the Edsel brand was deemed a failure and the marque was abandoned. To this day it is considered an insult to call a business plan an Edsel.

Feeling left out of the luxury car market in the 1950’s, Chrysler needed a plan and a brand to compete with the likes of Lincoln and Cadillac. The top minds at Chrysler decided to spin off theirflagship Imperial into its own brand and market it as the best in American luxury cars. The Imperial brand was introduced with four models based off the D-Body platform and were built with all the latest technology from Chrysler. These behemoth cars, 220+ inches long and weighing 5000+ pounds, were powered by big block V8’s and three speed transmissions on a smooth riding chassis with the fine leather interior and some of the best sound systems you could get in 1956. Imperial would go on to build a coupe, convertible, sedan and a “hardtop” that removed the B pillars for a more open air design. The Imperial line would see regular updates to the design as well as new available features every couple years while it was an active marque. But in 1969, the Imperial branded cars started to share their C-Body platform with the lesser Chrysler makes, and from there sales started to decline. Then, in 1971 the Chrysler name again returned in front of the Imperial and the brand was reduced to a model in the parent’s brand. And, we all know that the 1981 to 1983 “Imperial” does not count – putting lipstick on a pig does not make a brand!

In the 1980’s, Chevrolet was losing market to small import cars from competing Japanese brands. Rather than try to beat them, Chevy decided to develop multiple joint ventures with Japanese competitors, specifically Suzuki, Isuzu and Toyota, to create the Geo line. Geo’s initial line up of four cars included nearly a full line, a small fuel efficient hatchback, compact sedan, a performance coupe and a small SUV. At first, Suzuki and Isuzu were providing vehicles, but once the NUMMI joint factory started producing the Toyota Corolla-based Prizm, Geo was getting supplied by three Japanese manufacturers. Even though the Prizm and Tracker had strong sales, they could not keep up with the original offerings from their Japanese competitors. The cost of running a distinct brand for the Geo models was more than GM was willing to spend on the sales and Geo was closed in 1997. All Geo models were rebranded as Chevrolets and slowly phased out by 2003. 

What is a car company to do when it buys a competitor that has no positive brand equity? Rename it! Too bad it really didn’t work out for Chrysler when they purchased American Motors in the 1980’s and rebadged the AMC vehicles as Eagle. The initial line up of Eagle vehicles in 1988 were strictly re-badges of vehicles that AMC already had on sales, including the Eagle Wagon, Medallion, Premier and Vista. Only the Eagle Wagon and Premier were AMC developed vehicles (though the Premier was technically based on the Renault 25 platform), the Medallion was a rebadged Renault 21 and the Vista a re-badged Mitsubishi. The late 80’s saw Chrysler in a continual state of financial trouble and the Eagle brand suffered from little support. By 1993, the Eagle brand was just 3 cars and two of of them were rebadged Mitsubishi vehicles. Sales continued to decline as nothing about the Eagle brand stood out against Chrysler’s other brands and it continued to receive little to no support. It would be another merger that would kill the Eagle brand entirely as Chrysler sold itself to Daimler AG. 

Sometimes a brand is not a victim of bad management or marketing, but rather a victim of circumstance. In the case of Hummer, it was skyrocketing oil prices during an economic downturn. Hummer started life as AM General, selling its M998 Humvee with civilian upgrades and calling it the H1. The most famous owner and supporter of Hummer is the man that “flexed his muscles” to help get the brand started in 1992, Arnold Schwarzenegger. By 1999, General Motors saw something special in Hummer and purchased the brand from AM General and, soon after, GM released their own H2 and H3 that shared the same platform of other GM models. Sales stayed strong as Hummer was considered a popular lifestyle brand, even though it faced harsh criticism of its products’ sizes and poor fuel economy. By the late 2000’s, the price of oil was skyrocketing and with it fuel prices. Large SUV and truck sales started to decline. When GM entered bankruptcy in 2009, it had to close the struggling Hummer brand and attempted to sell it. After a year and no available suitor, Hummer production ceased and the brand completely closed up.

General Motors bankruptcy killed four of its brands in total, but none made more of a shock to the parent and public alike as Saturn did. In 1990, GM started the Saturn brand as a “new kind of car company,” with a totally new approach when it came to designing vehicles, developing the brand identity, manufacturing, dealer network and “No Haggle” pricing. The Saturn brand kicked off with just three models, a coupe, sedan and wagon, and in five short years Saturn reached the million vehicles built mark. The model line up started expanding in 2000 working up from three models to seven by 2007. In 2000, Saturn introduced the L-Series on a shared platform with Opel (GM’s European division). This would be the first of many platforms that would be shared across the other GM brands. Saturn regularly introduced new models on shared GM platforms from 2002 until 2008 when the troubles for GM escalated. Even though the Saturn brand never reached the optimistic numbers GM had hoped for, it did spend its last four years growing sales each year until its last shortened year. 

And then, there was Scion, the little brand that almost could. Scion started at a time that Toyota was looking to bring in younger buyers with a new type of brand and vehicles that were not previously seen in the US. The sales strategy of “Pure Pricing” meant no haggle deals and vehicles without traditional trim levels, but lots of add on features to “personalize” a vehicle. The first two cars in the Scion brand, the small hatch xA and boxy xB, reflected the youth oriented nature of the brand. A year later, the most successful Scion vehicle, the tC coupe, would be released and help surge brand sales to its peak in 2006. Part of the charm of the Scion brand was making the vehicles personal, with lots of available options, dealer sold performance upgrades, and special release series that were limited edition cars with unique extras. The brand started to falter in 2007, losing sales with the sized-up second generation xB and new xD model that replaced the xA. Scion would be a three car brand until 2012 when the very small and very unpopular iQ was introduced. From the start, iQ struggled in sales and didn’t improve the brand’s image as being a sinking ship. The well received FR-S was thought to be the start of a brand recovery for Scion and, although an initial sales push helped to rebound sales in 2012, it would not stick. The model line up for 2016 looked totally different than it had 12 years earlier. Instead of two unique hatchback subcompacts, Scion was now a blend of mainstream, somewhat bland vehicles. The Scion iM was a thinly disguised Corolla with a hatch, the iA was a Mazda with different bumpers, the sales giant tC was on its last year, and the FR-S was coming off its worst sales year. Sales were quickly sliding into oblivion and a planned future crossover could not save the brand. As if the industry was actually surprised by the news, Toyota announced that the 2016 model year will be the last for Scion, and any 2017 model vehicles will be rebadged to Toyota. And, it’s for the best really as the poor Toyota sub-brand never stood a chance selling cars at MSRP when its own parent company Toyota is selling its own models at often highly incentivized prices.

Alyson Yarberry