I keep reading stories about how healthy the car industry is. If that’s true, how come so many car brands have croaked recently? Since ’08 at least seven have gone wheels up: Saab, Saturn, Suzuki, Mercury, Pontiac, Isuzu and Hummer. That’s more dead brands in the space of six years than kicked the bucket during the 30 years prior.
And I suspect it’s not over yet.
There are several brands – some of them big names – looking a bit green around the gills lately. It would not surprise me to see any of the following go for that ride on the white canoe:
* Scion (2004-?)
Toyota’s youth-focused small car spin-off brand is in need of the crash cart, stat.
It’s three weeks away from 2014 and there is nothing new in the pipeline. The 2014s will be the same as the 2013s – and those were pretty much the same as the ’12s… which were the same as… well, you see where this is headed. The only car in the entire Scion lineup that’s not going on four years old without much more than trim tweaking here and there is the FR-S sports car – and it’s a Subaru in Scion drag.
Sales peaked in ’06 – and as of 2012, Scion (all models) accounted for a meager 0.3 percent of all Toyota sales in the US. That is perilously close to Flounder from Animals House’s “zero point zero” GPA. The writing may already be on the corporate wall. Toyota corporate has told all Toyota dealerships that currently sell (and service) Scions that they can drop the brand without penalty.
Cue the music: The time has come to say sayonara . . .
* Volvo (1927-?)
For decades Volvo had something no other brand had – a sterling (and proactive) reputation for putting safety uber alles. Today’s Volvos are safe, too. The problem is – so are everyone else’s cars. The industry that used to resist wet nursing, idiot-proofing and government-snuggling has now embraced those things lustily. But where does that leave Volvo? Its cars are safe … and?
Volvo has not been able to recreate itself as a premium brand, or sexy brand. It’s still the safety brand – and that’s no longer a cornered market.
Even the Swedes have abandoned ship. Volvo is now owned by the Chinese – and they don’t seem to be interested in doing much to resuscitate the brand. Other than a mild refresh of the mid-sized/mid-priced S60, there’s a stillness in the air that forebodes a wake. The flagship S80 is ancient – dating back to 2007. The C30 coupe – also about the same vintage – never caught on with buyers, despite being a neat little car.
There is a new V60 wagon on deck – for 2015. But it may be too late – and not enough – to keep the hounds at bay. Volvo’s total U.S. sales are now well below six figures (around 60,000 so far this year, down from 139,000 in 2004) and that’s a blood-letting that can’t be maintained indefinitely.
For some perspective, Toyota sells about 400,000 Camrys annually.
A cold wind blows… .