To Let a Good Idea Languish

What are manufacturers thinking sometimes?

Sometimes an auto manufacturer will come up with an idea for a new car that is spectacular. They will put the vehicle to market and it will be a runaway sales success. This new model success will make the manufacturer and their dealers piles of cash from being able to sell cars well above invoice and sometime above the MSRP. People can go crazy sometimes and when they really want something that’s hot, to drive up and down their street in front of their neighbors, they will spend all sorts of money that they wouldn’t normally spend. All of this profit that the manufacturers rake in can be funneled into R&D of the next iteration of their success.

If they have their heads on straight then they will continually improve the car over the years and every four or five years they will completely redesign it in order to keep the auto buying public interested. Human nature is to have a very short attention span, and once we get used to some stunning new vehicle, and it becomes common place on our streets, we get bored. That’s just the way it is.

Sometimes a manufacturer will have a fantastic design that doesn’t turn into a big seller but could be if only they made a few changes. Even as these cars are, they might be great but for some small reason the public hasn’t noticed. If a car is great why would people not see it? This could be due to something such as mediocre engine options, or it could just be a lack of proper marketing. Either way the car languishes.

The following is a list of the top 10 most neglected models from recent years. These are vehicles that at some point were class leading, either in design, or sales, or both; some of them have just never been noticed much. Some of them are still for sale and some of them have been discontinued. All of them could be or could have been so much more if only their respective builders and designers wouldn’t have left them on the back burner for so long.

Volkswagen New Beetle

An instant hit because it had much of the charm of the original Beetle, but with none of the headaches. This was one of the first retro styled vehicles that played on people’s memories of the past, and the public loved it for all sorts of reasons. On top of the obviously nostalgic reasons, the car was actually a pretty decent little car. Roomy interior, fun to drive, good fuel economy, and the engine options available in the New Beetle over its model run have made the car even better. Not only could you get your average four cylinder engine, but you could get a peppy little DOHC turbo, or even a diesel.

Why would VW forget about this great little concept? Perhaps because it is retro. What is the natural progression of a retro styled vehicle? If you make it look like something from the past to begin with, how do you update it? Make it look like something from the more recent past? Over the years the New Beetle did receive a few minor revisions in some of the exterior bits and pieces, but from 1998 until just recently, the car has been mostly the same.

Volkswagen is not killing off the New Beetle that has languished all these years, but has in fact redesigned it for the 2012 model year. The new New Beetle is now just referred to as the Beetle. This car is quite different inside and out but it doesn’t really appear to be. The car does look pretty good for the most part and it also seems to catch a bit more of the spirit of the original beetle. Too bad Volkswagen has taken so long to make this happen. Will the masses respond well to this new take on the original car for the masses? Time will tell.
2012 VW "Bug"
Lincoln LS

This vehicle represented a completely different direction for Lincoln when it was released for the 2000 model year. Based a platform that it shared with the Jaguar S Type and the Ford Thunderbird, it was like none of the big boats that we had come to expect from Lincoln. It was available with a thoroughly modern 3.9 L DOHC V8, and rear-wheel-drive so it was a proper driver’s car. This was the first and still perhaps the only car from Lincoln that could arguably be listed in the same class as cars such as the Mercedes E class or the BMW 5 series, at least it was trying to compete with these class leaders.
The LS was a step in the right direction without any follow up.
The problem is that while this car was a great step in the right direction for Lincoln, they never did anything with it. The potential was there to make this car something that could truly compete with the European luxury brands but the LS was ignored by its manufacturer. So after selling over 50,000 units the first year, sales declined to less than 10,000 in 2006, the last year it was available. It’s no wonder the sales fell off, people got bored as the LS languished.

Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger

Same story with the Chrysler 300. Great idea, revolutionary for the builder, unlike anything else on the market when it was first released. The 300 and Charger were both playing off of names that carried some nostalgia but these cars were not really much like their namesakes. They had exciting engine options and rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. They were built to cruise in style and cruise they did, right off the showroom floor and into the possession of people who had never bought a Chrysler product before, because had not built anything like this before.
2005 Chrysler 300. Fancy and tough looking at the same time.

This car hit the market in 2005 and got trapped a few years later. Mercedes dropped the boat anchor in their stock portfolio know as Chrysler, and sold out to a capital management firm called Cerberus. Cerberus rode Chrysler into bankruptcy. After the government took control of Chrysler through the bankruptcy process, they dished most of it off to Fiat. During this time the 300 and the Charger were ignored while Chrysler was just trying to figure out a way to keep the lights on.

After Fiat got control of the reigns they looked around and realized that all of the Dodge and Chrysler models needed a refresh. So for 2011 the 300 and Charger were tweaked. They will say redesigned but tweaked is really more accurate. They got new headlights and taillights, strings of LED lights here and there, and a few extra folds in the sheet metal. The V6 option is the new and improved Pentastar power plant, but the V8 options are pretty much the same. These cars might have more life in them with this recent refresh, but they may still die an ignominious death if they get ignored again. And by the way, the 300 is actually imported from Canada not Detroit, no matter what the commercials say.
2011 Dodge Charger. Is the "redesign" enough?

Honda Ridgeline

A truck that was not like any other truck, but a truck that probably needed, or at least still needs to be perhaps a bit more like other trucks. This truck is truly unique because it actually has some of the capabilities of a traditional pickup truck but really is not built like one. The transverse mounted V6 linked to a five speed automatic is actually biased towards front-wheel drive, but can transfer power to a locking rear differential that provides a great deal of traction when the situation requires.
Not exactly a truck, but it's not exactly supposed to be.

While this truck is unique and capable in many ways, it has a few problems that show signs of its languishing. It has remained mostly unchanged since it hit the market in 2005. A few minor tweaks were implemented in 2009, and again for 2012, but these are mostly cosmetic. This truck needs something new in the powertrain department. A V8 perhaps, or at least a V6 with more power or maybe even just better fuel economy. Some of the new V6s that are on the market in similar vehicles provide more bang for the buck and much more bang for the gallon. A V6 can be just fine but it has to be able to obtain at least 20 mpg around town, and the current Ridgeline could only get that going downhill on the freeway. Honda says the Ridgeline will live on for the time being but who know how long that really is. Rumors of a complete redesign for 2013 could lead to something more worthwhile.

Honda S2000

A true driving machine! When you say “sports car” this is the car that you should think of. A small, powerful, high-revving engine that would wind to nine grand with much eagerness, with one of the snappiest 6 speed manual transmissions that was ever invented by man, directing power to the rear wheels. A convertible top that would allow you to let the wind blow through your hair as you strategically pick your way through the gears. This thing is just extremely fun to drive in every way!

Honda released this car in 1999 to commemorate the 50thanniversary of Honda Motor Company. The car was built until 2009. During that time some slight changes were made to the engine, transmission and suspension, and a few things were done to the exterior of the car as well, but overall not much changed. Some say that you need not mess with a formula such as this that works so well, but this line of thinking doesn’t account for the short attention span of people with money who buy new, frivolous cars such as this one. Some say that Honda never intended to keep this car in production and that it was only meant to be temporary. Who knows for sure? One thing is certain; wouldn’t it be better to keep people interested through continuous improvement so that we can keep a car like this in production? Seeing a good idea languish is tough.
There is a shortage of affordable sorts cars in this world, why
did this one have to die?
Nissan Titan

A big truck like Nissan had never made before. A powerful 5.6 L V8 that was modern and could put out as well as any other V8 engine in any other pickup truck. The name Titan seemed very appropriate for this manly new truck from a company that had a good reputation for building dependable trucks, but up until this point they were all little trucks.
2005 Nissan Titan. A legitimate truck.

The Titan hit the market in 2004 and just like many other vehicles in this list has been a good seller, or shown great promise, despite this the Titan was seemingly forgotten. A few years ago Nissan announced that the next generation Titan would be a rebadged Dodge Ram. Is this any way to develop an alternative pickup truck? Literally cloning the competition and putting your own name on it? Luckily this never happened, but the Titan is still there, long in the tooth and languishing. Supposedly Nissan has said that the Titan will not be killed, and that they are currently working on the replacement. This isn’t expected to hit the market until 2013 or 2014, ten years after the original hit. Can any vehicle recover from such a long model run?

Chrysler PT Cruiser

Chrysler PT Cruiser
Whether you like this little retro wagon or not, one thing is certain, it was a sales juggernaut for its first few years of production. Lines at the Chrysler dealership were out the door, full of people wanting one of these little “old fashioned” modern cars. These things were on the market from 2000 to 2010. You would think that if you had a product that was so wildly popular you would do all that you could to keep the public interested. The PT Cruiser was based largely on the Neon so development costs couldn’t have been too steep. Never the less, the PT Cruiser languished. For a few years they came out with a convertible model but that wasn’t enough to keep the model interesting.

Acura RL

Honda builds a screamingly awesome V8 engine for the Indy Car racing circuit. And in case you didn’t know, race cars with V8 engines are rear-wheel-drive. The RL has none of these things which is too bad. If Acura wants to have serious and exciting competitor in the luxury sport sedan market they need to have a V8 and a rear-wheel-drive propulsion system. The current car has a snappy V6 and a sophisticated torque vectoring AWD setup, but this is not enough for a supposed flag ship like the RL. The RL continues on selling fewer units than anything else in the Honda family, and every once in a while there are rumors of a V8 but alas, it has yet to materialize. The RL will continue to languish, and won’t last much longer without it.
2011 Acura RL, a fantastic car but it's not really enough.

Mitsubishi Galant

Forgettable, At least that's what Mitsubishi thinks.
Unbelievable that this car is still sold as new from Mitsubishi dealers. The current generation hit the market in 2004 and has not changed much since then. Past Galant models such as the old Galant GSX with AWD and a turbo from the early 90’s was a genuinely fun car to drive, kind of like a turbo eclipse but with 4 doors, or sort of like the granddaddy of the Evo. For what seems like decades now this solid sedan has languished while Mitsubishi has focused on smaller more popular cars like the Lancer and the Outlander. Most likely Mitsubishi Motors has simply been lacking the funds necessary for some R&D of a new Galant, but the thing that is hard to understand is that they will be releasing the new i electric car sometime next year. That couldn’t have been cheap to design and build, so they must not be totally out cash yet.

Ford Ranger

This little truck has been around for a very long time and during its existence it has been a good seller in the compact pickup market for Ford. Over the past 10 or 15 years this segment of the auto market has changed. None of the domestics have been able to move many of their little trucks for some reason. The Japanese have maintained sales pretty well based on the reputations that they have built for putting out a solid product, the lack of sales has cause the domestic small trucks to languish.

The Ranger first hit the market in 1983 after ford decided to bring their compact pickup model in house. The Ford Courier that preceded the Ranger as Ford’s little truck had been built by Mazda. The Ranger was a good seller from the beginning and Ford at least tried to keep the truck somewhat fresh. The current model has remained mostly unchanged since 1998, and is scheduled to be discontinued in December of 2011. That means that this truck has been around in its current form for 13 years. But wait there’s more! The changes to the truck in 1998 were mostly cosmetic and in reality the truck has actually been mostly the same since 1993. In reality you could find many similarities in the base design of the first 1983 Ranger and the last 2011 Ranger; this little truck at no point received a full and complete redesign. If it were not for fleet sales, Ford probably would not have sold any Rangers for the last seven or eight years.
The ho-hum Ford Ranger
In all likelihood the Ranger will be back at some point, especially if gas prices go back up and people decide that they want more small truck options. Rumors abound concerning the matter, and in foreign markets Ford sells a completely different Ranger that is much more modern than the one that is about to die. This global Ranger could be the one that we see here in the U.S. in a few years. Why did Ford ever let the Ranger languish to begin with? Why does any company ignore or forget a good idea?
The Global Ranger that we can't buy here in the U.S. at least not yet.

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