Five Cars That Saved Their Companies

About a month ago, we chronicled five cars that actually put their respective companies out of business. Here are five that did the opposite – they actually saved their companies from oblivion.

  1.  1968 BMW 2002– BMW of the 1950s and ’60s was a very different company, one that lacked focus and the ability to deliver what its market wanted. With an odd, bifurcated product line of tiny cheap microcars and hyper-expensive luxury cars, BMW was unable to hit the sweet spot in the middle and was headed for possible oblivion. BMW’s U.S. importer, Max Hoffman, suggested that the company stuff the largest engine possible (a 2.0-liter four-cylinder) into its small two-door “new class” body, and the sports sedan was born in the form of the BMW 2002. Overnight, BMW became the darling of the enthusiast press, and “The Ultimate Driving Machine” was born.
  2. Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon – Following a sharp recession and the first fuel crisis, Chrysler was on the ropes, having heavily invested in inefficient V-8 sedans and suffering from quality control issues that had eroded owner loyalty. The Omni/Horizon arrived just after the second fuel crisis, and it beat GM and Ford to the punch of producing a domestic competitor to the VW Rabbit, one of the first successful front-wheel-drive economy cars. It gained Chrysler a reprieve until the next crisis. (See Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant).
  3. Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant (The K-car) – The reprieve gained by the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon was temporary. Chrysler was still too dependent on old and inefficient designs to remain in business. Chairman Lee Iaccoca gambled on the success of the upcoming K-cars to secure $1.5 billion in government loan guarantees to stave off the grim reaper. It paid off. The first of the K-cars was a huge success and spawned numerous variations. It led to the blockbuster Dodge Carvan minivan and kept Chrysler largely off life support until the next inevitable crisis.
  4.  Porsche 944– Porsche had been a single-model company for much of its life. The 356 and its successor, the 911, had been its mainstays. Both were expensive and sold in relatively low volumes. Every Porsche attempt at producing a less expensive volume car profitably had been a failure. The 912 and 914 weren’t cheap enough to produce, and the 924 got clobbered in the marketplace by better and less expensive Japanese competition. The 944 (which was a vastly improved 924), kept Porsche off of the endangered list. Fast, good looking and a fantastic handler, it brought Porsche ownership to a much larger audience.
  5.  Aston Martin DB-7– By the late 1980s, Aston Martin was a company with a great name and history but little else. Ford’s acquisition of Aston Martin was the only thing that kept Aston from actually being consigned to the history books, but Ford needed a car to justify the expenditure. The Ian Callum-designed DB-7 was it – the first really modern Aston Martin. Granted, it borrowed some styling cues from the Jaguar XK8 (Jaguar was also owned by Ford at the time) and shared some cheap-looking switches from the Ford parts bin, but in the end it didn’t matter. The car was beautiful and exclusive and sold extremely well, saving 007’s favorite brand from extinction.

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