You think you’ve got marriage problems? Try being an automaker
Looking at government statistics, you may wonder why people get married. After all, 48 percent of married couples will divorce before their 20th anniversary, with almost half of those occurring within five years.
That may seem gloomy, but it’s far superior to when automobile companies get together to build a car. More often than not, these unions produce a vehicle that pencils well, since the economies of scale yield greater profits. But mostly, the end product is a result of political and financial compromise rather than true inspiration.
If you need convincing, check out these six unhappy offspring of cooperative automaker ventures. One read will be enough to convince you that people, not automakers, are the ones who should get married.
1940-41 Graham Hollywood/Hupmobile Skylark
Like many other automakers, Graham and Hupmobile struggled through the Depression, using various means to survive as sales dwindled. By the late 1930s, Hupmobile had bought the dies for the Cord 812, but lacked the funds to get it into production. Graham supplied the backing and soon, both automakers had new models that differed mainly in styling details. But neither company took into account the cost and complexity of building these cars. These warmed-over models didn’t fool the public; it would be the death knell for both marques.
Given that the British auto industry was on its last legs, the Sterling sure seemed like an inspired idea. Combine the best of British car-building – the wood-paneled, leather-lined ambience, with the best of Asia, in this case a reliable Honda platform. Sounded great on paper; the reality was quite different. The same indifferent British work force that propelled British automakers to extinction assembled the resulting sedan. Known as the Sterling in the United States, sales never reached expectations, even after quality issues were rectified. Parent company Rover never recovered.
1989-91 Chrysler TC by Maserati
When it came to dressing up entrails into merchandise that could be passed off as something pricier, Lee Iacocca had few equals. Remember, this is a man who passed off the lowly Ford Falcon as the sporty Mustang. Or took K-Car parts and launched the Chrysler minivans. The formula finally failed with the debut of the Chrysler TC by Maserati. Not only did it resemble the far more common Chrysler LeBaron, the Milan-built TC used the K-Car’s platform and four-cylinder engine, although topped with Maserati cylinder heads. Later TCs even used a Mitsubishi V-6.
1991-94 Mercury Capri
The Capri started life in the 1970s as a European sports car, and went on to become little more than an overdressed Ford Mustang. Come 1991, the Capri name was applied to this marriage of Italian styling and front-wheel-drive Mazda 323 mechanicals. Ford had a controlling interest in Mazda at the time; what could go wrong? Lots. Assembled in Australia, the Capri suffered from lackluster build quality. What’s worse, it came to market in response to the rear-wheel-drive Mazda Miata, which used the same engine and parts, yet was more appealing to look at and drive.
2001-08 Jaguar X-Type
Another company that Ford took over in the 1990s was Jaguar. While the Yanks did much to improve quality, they stumbled when trying to compete with the rear-wheel-drive BMW 3-Series. Thanks should go to the corporation’s legendary bean counters, who couldn’t resist extracting maximum profits by using the mundane front-wheel-drive Contour architecture. It didn’t fool consumers, who could tell that, somehow, this wasn’t a real Jaguar. That is, until the car aged. Then, its lack of reliability reminded them that, yes, the X-Type was every bit the Jaguar of legend.
2004-08 Chrysler Crossfire
Once DaimlerChrysler’s “merger of equals” was consummated, a series of vehicles emerged that failed to click with consumers. One of them was the Crossfire, an interestingly styled Art Deco two-seater assembled in Germany using 1997-2004 Mercedes-Benz SLK hardware. This meant that the Crossfire inherited the SLK’s confined cabin and less-than-sharp handling. Given that Mercedes-Benz quality control slipped in these years, the Crossfire suffered from numerous annoying gremlins, an attribute not unknown to Chrysler products of the era.