- Multiple well-known car brands have become defunct over the past 20 years.
- They include cars under parent company umbrellas like Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Toyota.
There are few things more thrilling than seeing an old car on the road and wondering, “Wow! Whatever happened to that one?” In fact, it’s the thrill of finding such a car, which we thought had been dead and buried, out on the street again that is the main factor for our excitement. We know all cars, and their brands, have a lifespan. And like it or not, a lot of great cars, and their iconic brands, have gone defunct in past 20 years alone.
Almost everyone born prior to 1990 remembers television commercials touting Saturn as “a different kind of car company.” And it wasn’t too long ago that some us may recall the dozens of Plymouth Voyager minivans which lined the streets as soccer practice ended. And who can forget when Lebron James received a Hummer for his 18th birthday? (and immediately prompted a major investigation)
These cars of early-2000s past are just a few that have been disbanded by their parent companies in recent years, leaving many of us to wonder: What exactly happened?
Most just failed at appealing to customers, whose tastes shift decade to decade. But more than anything else, what changed the auto industry forever was the tumultuous effects of the 2008 recession and subsequent bailouts of and bankruptcies by Chrysler and GM in 2009.
Each iconic American car company emerged from the bankruptcy proceedings profoundly different: Chrysler’s ownership was transitioned to the United Auto Workers union and Italian car company, Fiat S.p.A.; GM became an asset of the U.S. Treasury, who forced them to sell off multiple brands as part of a 2009 bankruptcy restructuring agreement.
Regardless of the controversies and business failures, these cars once meant something to their drivers. So take a walk down memory lane with us, and revisit a collection of cars which were on the road not too long ago.
Hummer (GM): Originally produced in 1992, GM purchased the brand in 1998 and the Hummer H2 hit the market in 2002. Sales peaked at 71,000 in 2006, but high gas prices and the 2008 GM restructuring doomed the Hummer’s fate.
Mercury (Ford): Founded in 1938 as a middle-tier division, Mercury was positioned between the everyman’s Ford and the more luxurious Lincoln line. An inability to attract younger buyers led to Mercury being closed in 2010.
Plymouth (Chrysler): First produced in 1928 as a lower priced alternative to the Big 3 flagship cars, Plymouth was eventually dissolved by Chrysler in 2001. But who can ever forget the Plymouth Voyager, king of 1990s suburban minivans?
- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Pontiac (GM): One of the most iconic brands in American history, Pontiac was first incorporated in 1926. Pontiac was responsible for some unforgettable cars in American lore including the Silver Streak, the Firebird, and the GTO. GM dissolved the brand in 2010.
SAAB: The Swedish automaker was founded in 1945, and GM took a $600 million dollar stake in 1989, acquiring the remaining shares in 2000. Following the 2009 fire-sale, a collection of European car companies owned the troubled brand until it dissolved in 2016.
Geo (GM): Originally conceived in 1989 and based on the Suzuki Swift (among other models), the Geo only lasted until 1997, when it fizzled out due to a lack of interest by American consumers.
Oldsmobile: The world’s first carmaker, Ransom E. Olds, brought his original Oldsmobile to the market in 1897. General Motors purchased the brand in 1908. Thirty-five million vehicles later, the esteemed car company shut its doors in 2004 due to declining sales.
Saturn (GM): Formed in 1982 and branded in the ’90s as “A different kind of car company,” Saturn was created mainly to compete with smaller Japanese brand models. After years of slagging sales, production was halted in October 2009.
Scion (Toyota): Toyota’s Scion experiment was an attempt to create a smaller car that would appeal specifically to younger customers. It failed as sales declined substantially following the 2008 recession and the brand was dissolved in 2016.
Eagle (Chrysler): Chrysler started Eagle in 1988 to compete with GM’s Saturn. Eagle was really the last vestige of American Motors, who was bought by Chrysler in 1987. Unlike like other brands, the Eagle did not feature the iconic Chrysler Pentastar logo, which may have contributed to a lack of consumer interest. Eagle was phased out in 1999.