By on April 27, 2013

As you know from my previous post, I recently attended a Nissan LEAF drive in Nashville. This was lots of fun and impressively quiet.

On the drive back from to Atlanta, I encountered a very unusual sight. Somewhere in north Georgia, I was passed by a green Honda Accord Crosstour with an Alaska license plate. This person drove more than 4,000 miles to get to that stretch of highway, crossing through much of Canada, the Upper Midwest and half of the South. And my first though upon seeing it was: Someone bought a Crosstour?!

The Crosstour is an unusual car. It was created to rival the Subaru Outback, which had been running away with the “all-wheel drive wagon” segment since its 1995 debut. The Crosstour would also placate everyone who abandoned the brand after the 1997 model year, when Honda dropped the Accord wagon. (This included a total of 19 people, all of whom lived in the Portland area.)

But in creating the Crosstour, Honda failed to understand what made the rival Subaru Outback so successful. The resulting car wasn’t a brawny SUV alternative, but rather a bizarre cross between the Honda Accord sedan and a flat-brimmed baseball hat, with its size borrowed from a three-bedroom split-level in West Des Moines.

This isn’t the only time Honda delivered us the wrong car at the wrong time. Obviously, there’s the Acura ZDX. But how about every time they come out with an all-new Legend, or RL, or RLX, and we beg Honda to create a rear-wheel drive V8? They decline, arguing things like: we know it hasn’t worked the last four times. But this time … we have super handling all-wheel drive.

Honda isn’t the only brand who has trouble with timing and market demands. One of my favorite examples of this struggle was Audi’s inability to create a luxury SUV. In the late 1990s, there were luxury SUVs from Land Rover, Mercedes and Lexus. BMW came out with the X5 in 2000, the Acura MDX was out in 2001, and Porsche and Volkswagen – Audi’s own sister brands – were players by 2003.

And what did Audi give us? The Allroad Quattro. The only bigger failure than Audi’s understanding of our market was that car’s suspension. It wasn’t until 2007 – a full decade after the M-Class debuted, that Audi finally rolled out the Q7.

Doing It Well

So what brands notoriously build the right cars at the right time?

To me, BMW is one of the best. I know what you’re thinking: there’s no right time for the 5-Series GT, except possibly 6pm on the last day of the quarter at a BMW dealer who’s two units short of its target. And that’s true, though I would submit it’s also the perfect choice for a German state funeral. But beyond the 5-Series GT, BMW seems to have it down.

The X6, for example, led the charge in the highly-competitive Upscale SUVs That Won’t Get Let Over in Traffic segment that’s now populated by a wide range of vehicles, all of which are leased. The 1-Series came out after the Audi A3, but somehow managed to convince us that we all need compact luxury cars. And the X3 was the very first luxury SUV small enough to attract sorority girls, not just their moms.

Generally, Cadillac is pretty good at understanding what the market wants. (Pretend, for a moment, you live in a world where the XTS doesn’t exist.) In the 1990s, you and I would never have bought a Cadillac. Back then, only two types of people were buying them: wives of Cadillac dealers, and parents of General Motors employees. In the business, this is called “The Buick Reatta Strategy.”

But in the heat of the SUV craze, Cadillac created the Escalade, satisfying virtually everyone except for other road users. In 2003, they came out with the CTS, which was actually a decent rear-wheel drive sport sedan. And the next year, the CTS-V borrowed its engine and manual transmission from the Corvette Z06 for the enthusiasts. All were highly successful, especially at convincing Cadillac dealer wives to instead consider Buick.

Cadillac’s had even more hits in the years since. The current SRX is rather popular, though they don’t seem interested in doing a V version no matter how many letters I write begging for it. The ATS is a capable sport sedan. And the XLR was a great example of providing exactly what the brand’s customers wanted. Unfortunately, it was a failure because most of those customers died before Cadillac could bring it to market.

So, TTAC: you have my suggestions. Now it’s your turn. What automakers do you think build the right cars at the right time?

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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113 Comments on “Building The Right Car At The Right Time...”


  • avatar
    european

    sure,

    there comes a right time when one ought to realize that he
    aint funny and blogging isnt for everyone.

    this is followed by the right time to go back to porsche
    and “manage” keeping the photocopier paper feed full so the other relevant porsche co-workers dont waste time waiting for thee.

    ya know…

  • avatar
    mr_muttonchops

    Toyota:

    SUV Boom? “Yeah here’s a Rav-4 to compliment your Land Cruiser.”
    Post 9/11 Fuel Crisis? “NICE HYBRID! THEEEENKS!”
    Crossover Craze? “We killed the Camry Wagon, have a Venza instead.”
    Model Bloat? “Oh hello Internet. Allow me to introduce your new friend Mr./Mrs. 86″

    (Yes, I’m aware the Rav-4 is more of a crossover, but when it was released in the 90′s it was a very convincing looking li’l SUV.)

    • 0 avatar
      RedStapler

      Toyota really captured the soft-roader market perfectly with the RX300/Highlander. They sold a bunch of jacked up, AWD Camry platforms for $10-15k more and defined the segment.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep. Toyota is a very good one.

        • 0 avatar
          Sammy B

          As the proud owner original owner of a 1984 Toyota Van (5MT), I will say Toyota definitely didn’t have good timing on the minivan market. They could have easily brought it over here before 1984 to not look like copycats of Chrysler [yes, i realize the Van and Caravan were very different and could never be considered \"copies\" of each other]. This isn’t to mention that since they did RHD versions, they engineered it for sliders on both sides. would have been awesome if they gave us sliders on both sides before Chrysler “invented” it in 1996

          Then they gave us the (excellent) Previa right around the time the gen2 caravan came out. Again, missing the mainstream target.

          Honda did the same by waiting until 1999 to finally come up with a mainstream competitor. 15 years late!

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    I’d say Toyota. They built the Prius during the Canyonero pig-SUV craze, and spawned a whole industry while nobody was looking. Toyota did faux-lux brand Lexus as a reaction to Honda’s Acura – but did it right as Acura floundered, indeed the original LS400 is a mini-legend in history of luxo-bombers. The Corolla and Camry are complete focus-tested things evolved over thirty years to about as much car as most people want for what most people can afford. And the Hilux? ‘Nuff said.

    Toyota has their stinkers, too. The T100 completely misunderstood it’s target market. Scion seems more and more a misfire much as Lexus is a success. And Toyota is GM-esque with sporty cars – every time they start to hone in on having it right (Supra, MR2, Celica) they cancel it. And I’ve never owned a Toyota myself. But they seem to have the greatest variety of vehicles in the greatest number of markets that hit the mark.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Scion has never been given a sales car. Period. End of story. It has had no 4 door traditional compact, no 4 door midsize, and the only modestly successful cars have been the compact-SUV toaster xB and the 2-door coupe tC which are essentially niche vehicles. I don’t see how Scion has failed in essence because they have never been more than a sub-brand to a parent who already does everything in that price range. Scion is R&D/Dump to bringe niche vehicles here without damaging Toyota’s image. Give Scion the Rav-4 or Corolla in an interesting new skin and you’ll see sales climb.

      • 0 avatar
        CarnotCycle

        What you say about Scion all might be true (I’m not particularly savvy on the brand), but it still represents Toyota getting it wrong in so much context of this article – about having right stuff the right moment.

        By that measure, Scion, beyond any one single car, is biggest miss in a long time. Scion is Toyota of America’s corporate Freudian slip wanting Geo back, but all in-house. Strange.

    • 0 avatar
      Flybrian

      HS250h was an abject failure, too.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Right car at the right time? Its so much easier to say what the wrong car is at the wrong time… Or even to say how someone effs up the right car at the right time… Or how someone finally gets a car right when its too late.

    Apparently the Buick Encore is the right car at the right time judging by early sales numbers.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Buick was on the money with the Rendezvous – premium-trimmed crossover on a budget architecture for a fraction of the MDX/RX’s pricetag. Still lives on successfully through the Enclave.

    Avalanche was also the right car at the right time – caught the crew cab pickup wave.

  • avatar

    When Toyota’s “unintended acceleration” debacle broke, THE HYUNDAI SONATA was being freshly delivered on car lots. Went over to a Toyota and they couldn’t even show me a Camry.

    Always made me wonder – did Toyota truly have a problem or did the media hype up Hyundai so we could send as much of our money to South Korea as possible in time to bolster their defenses for the upcoming war? something never smelled right.

    Fast Forward to last year and you have great new car models hitting lots just in time for Hurricane Sandy to TOTALLY DECIMATE many people’s new and used car. My business partner lost her ML350 and one of my girlfriend’s Accent was annihilated. I took her to get an Elantra GT (naturally forcing her to buy the NAV above all else since that’s my main desire in a new car before we get to the seat’s heating/cooling and other goodies).

    You’ve got to have a layered gallery. Offer a little of everything and see which way people spend their money. Hyundai has an awesome portfolio -better than the domestics do -in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      One of your girlfriends?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I love a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone else but… Toyota unintended acceleration story breaking (with NTSB investigation and all) because Hyundai is rolling out a new model and SK needs money to bolster its defenses for a war that never happened?

      You might be on to something with the Hyundai Auto NA is an arm of the SK gov’t/military thing, but the rest of that seems a bit farfetched.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      That speculation that the media hyped Hyundai so that they could sell more cars is, quite frankly, ridiculous. To be honest with you, the Sonata didn’t need hyping. Its looks alone spoke for themselves. Besides, it’s sort of our nature to root for the underdog. By 2010—just before the introduction of the new Sonata and Hyundai’s new “fluidic-sculpture” design language—Hyundai products still weren’t interesting to look at or drive, nor did they have very many features, but they had gotten to the point where you at least knew they’d start up in the morning and be as reliable as their respective Honda, Toyota and Nissan competitors. Naturally, many of us were excited to see Hyundai, always the boring budget brand, produce a car that was actually desirable…and one that **still** managed to undercut the competitors in price.

      I do, however, agree with you that Hyundai has one of the best product-portfolios around. The Elantra GT could stand to be a bit larger…but I understand that it’s really just a European-market vehicle brought to our shores, and that it prioritizes European tastes first and foremost…

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    To me building the right car at the right time is building any car that sells enough copies to pass the break-even point for its maker.

    Rather than list specific models and manufacturers, “the right car at the right time” should be profitable for its makers.

    And even though the public can easily be drawn to another “right car at the right time”, fickle as the public is, as long as that first car has been profitable for its maker, that’s good enough to be a “right car at the right time.”

    Some dismal failures? Well, there have been too many to list.

    So that whittles it down to the profitability of the automaker. By process of elimination we can drop those in the US that were bailed out, sold or nationalized, which leaves the Ford Motor Company as the ONLY successful American automaker consistently building the right car at the right time for the US.

    When it comes to the foreign brands in the US it becomes a lot more complicated since entry into the US often came only after those companies were established and prospered on their own home turf.

    What is not in dispute is how the foreign automakers beat the American automakers on their home turf in America by building better cars suited for the times, resulting in the great exodus and migration to the foreign brands. A market share majority the foreigners continue to hold.

    I would gauge success by the best sellers in each segment, category and class. Annual sales numbers tell the all-encompassing bloody details.

    The buying public holds the key.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      By that definition, the current W-body Impala, as well as the previous one, is the right car at the right time. I’m sure the tooling was paid off a long time ago. That’s also probably true of the Ford and GM SUVS, trucks and vans.

      I’d like to nominate the GM Lambdas. They debuted as stylish people carriers–ironically right after GM had helped to decimate the minivan market with its horrid U-body vehicles. Sales of the Lambdas have been strong, they are generally well-put-together, and they have fairly-high resale values…

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Yes, I agree with that. Without getting into specific manufacturers, there have been several “right cars at the right time” that made a lot of money for their manufacturers. Real cash cows!

        A few manufacturers had winners that made money for them, but they still lost the war for a variety of reasons, resulting in bankruptcy. This includes old brands no longer in existence. By and large, the bread and butter cars are the ones that really shine. And buyers determine which ones they are.

        The way I see it, the top best sellers are the right car for the right time. They are well accepted by the buying public and they make tons of money for their manufacturer. Everybody wins.

        I always get a kick out of the niche vehicles. They certainly can be the right vehicle for the right time in a buyer’s life, but the sales numbers can be lacking.

        Take EVs and Hybrids as an example. Certainly they are the right vehicle for the right time, but their sales numbers make them non-contenders.

        So, in the end, isn’t the right vehicle for the right time really dependent on the right buyer for that vehicle, at that time?

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “By that definition, the current W-body Impala, as well as the previous one, is the right car at the right time.”

        The various iterations of the W-body were in production so long, at certain points throughout that period, they were the right car for the right time.

        I seem to remember the W Impala’s sales peaking well after their 2000 MY introduction.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    The X6?
    Leading the charge?
    Please…I would so much rather purchase the Honda vs the over the top expensive X6. There is no comparison, really. Both are impossible to see out of…yet at least one is affordable.
    Not even close.
    Both stupid…but one is at least far, far less to purchase and likely maintain.

    Yur affection for all thing BMW shows your warranties have yet to run out.

    • 0 avatar

      Haha. I think you’re talking to the wrong person if you want to accuse someone of having an affection with BMW.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        welll that is what was puzzling me. And I am not familiar with your writings…
        You make the reference of them leading the charge…but then kick at BMW right after.
        But if MBW is leading any charge anywhere…it is to over weight over engineered and hard to repair.
        And their run flats going on everything is frustrating as hell.

        to me…the fastback honda is a way better deal than the x6…if I ever wanted a car that has no storage and is difficult to see out the rear from.

        god bless the rear view camera!!!

    • 0 avatar

      Every car BMW makes is the right car for the right time

  • avatar

    Doug : “What automakers do you think build the right cars at the right time? ”

    answer : Mazda mx-5 .

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I think there’s a right car for the right moment, and its usually a game changer that causes other makers to follow the formula. My nominations:

    Original Pontiac GTO and Ford Mustang, Jag E-Type, 1977 Chevy Caprice are my nominations. Closer to today would be the 1990 Lexus LS, 1992 Lexus ES, 1997 Lexus RX, 1998 Lincoln Navigator, 2002 BMW 7 series, 2004 Toyota Prius, 2006 Mercedes CLS, 2012 Range Rover Evoque, and 2013 Tesla Model S.

    I don’t nominate cars like the 3 series or Camry since they don’t even follow the size template they established.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Post-embargo Japanese cars, of course.
    80′s Chrysler minivans.

    More recently, KIA Soul, Toyota Prius.

    Generally, any one of the dozen or so cars that are ubiquitous as obese people constitutes a win… RAV 4s, Equinoxes, any full-size pickup, Sonatas, Sportages & Sorentos, Caravans… maybe even Passats.

    The industry really has made a lot of good decisions.

  • avatar
    carsRneat

    Sometimes a car surprises the enthusiasts and “industry experts” by selling well. Or if it has been around for a while – it gets a second life. When this happens perhaps it is a sign that the manufacturer delivered the right car at the right time. These successes are not always planned. Sometimes it is just dumb luck, or desperation, or a vehicle that works in the home market and suddenly appeals in other markets, and sometimes it is a result of world events.

    In any event, in this context some vehicles that come to mind:

    1970s – Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla (OPEC oil woes combine with improving quality from Japan)

    1980s – Chrysler Minivans (boomers have kids)

    1990s – Mazda Miata (reliable sports car – what a concept), Subaru Outback and Jeep Cherokee (AWD/4×4 craze)

  • avatar
    olddavid

    This will brand me as the crank I guess I am but here goes – the X body GM offerings of the early 1980′s. These cars had an inventory life measured in hours, not days. They seemed to hit a sweet spot with buyers who wanted to buy American, and the first units were acceptable to most owners. At the time I was a Pontiac/GMC rep, and I usually drove a Grand Prix SJ V8, but was assigned a Phoenix SJ coupe with a V6-4spd. manual for about 2 months. I loved the car enough that I bought it for the wife du jour. The subsequent problems cannot erase the success the car was upon introduction. Too bad about the wasted opportunity that the General had to make inroads in the small car market. Contrast the acceptance of the X to the later intro of the J-body. The buying public assumed a “show me” attitude and was no longer in the mood to spend their money with a company that failed them so many times so miserably.

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      I was a big fan of the second gen cavalier coupe, and luckily I get to drive by a prime example everyday on my way to work (SoCal), the third gen ruined that car. Every citation I ever had the displeasure to ride in made my disgust with GM grow a little bit bigger.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      I vividly remember reading and re-reading the Motor Trend COTY issue on the Citation.
      Everybody was trumpeting the new Japanese-killer. The ambiance was epochal. We ignorati were led to feel that American industry was resurgent.

      No forgiveness after a set-up/smack-down like that.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The X-Bodies would have been great if they’d been engineered properly…

  • avatar
    nickoo

    Right car at right time: Dodge charger/300/magnum/challenger. Nothing else quite like them on the market when they came out, and they still pretty much own the space to this day. Even better for them, fiat owns the small car space which Chrysler gave up on when they killed the first gen neon, and Chrysler/fiat didn’t have a lot of overlap in their pre-merger sales regions.

    On the crosstour: I actually think it’s a brilliant idea and that it could be a heck of a good car with a few minor changes: Lowered, rear end made a bit more sleek and sophisticated, and re-position it as a euro GT competitor rather than an outback competitor. I don’t believe there are currently any midsize sporty hatches for sale outside of a few European brands, Honda could own the niche.

    Didn’t the first acura legend use a transmission in front of the engine to push the engine back/move the front wheels forward and improve weight balance? It seems like such a good way of packaging, it’s a shame they abandoned it along with the double wishbone.

    • 0 avatar

      If Honda positioned the Crosstour like that, it would certainly own the segment – all 12 sales per month :)

      Your point about the Charger/300, however, is precisely correct. Possibly the best answer yet.

      • 0 avatar
        slance66

        I think he’s right. The idea is a good one. The execution is poor. First of all, it’s bloated and unattractive. The new Accord will be a much better base for it. Toyota did it better with the Venza, but not well enough and Honda could improve on that.

        The evolution of the CUV shows me that people never wanted to drive truck based SUVs, they just didn’t have any options. They wanted AWD. They wanted some ground clearance and a better ride on choppy, pot-holed pavement. They like a slightly raised seat height and view of the road. They do not like step-up truck height SUVs for the most part. They want room for their stuff. Every one of them gets more car like and lower. X3, Escape…they are all becoming more wagon like.

        The original Volvo Cross Country was the right car at the right time, and would still be if they didn’t make the back seat smaller while adding 350 pounds and a thirstier but less responsive engine. Volvo killed a good thing. The new Accord is a great platform to build a Crosstour that works like the old Cross Country. I’d snap it up and many others would as well.

  • avatar

    Actually Crosstour was Honda’s answer to Toyota Venza in the same mindlessly aping way the “new” Insight was an answer to Toyota Prius. It never had anything to do with Outback. The actual class of the vehicle was previously typified by Chrysler Pacifica. Since it’s difficult to imagine Doug being so monstrously ignorant, I have to conclude that he was trying to make a joke.

    • 0 avatar

      To me, both cars were clearly spurred by the Outback, as they were AWD wagon versions of the popular midsize sedan. To say the Crosstour answered the Venza when it came out less than a year later is wild – no one develops a car that quickly. Either way, neither car is even slightly related to the minivan-like Pacifica (which has third-row seating).

  • avatar
    olddavid

    When did Doug become the TTAC lightning rod? I thought that was Bertel’s job.

  • avatar
    TorontoSkeptic

    Right car at the right time (now): Nissan Versa. The economy is bad, car prices are too high, a $10k econobox with decent space inside is going to get tons of sales (and tons of hate from reviewers of course).

    Right car at the right time (recent): Mazda3, the semi-sporting, kind of good looking car for young people who want something vaguely cool without breaking the bank.

    Right car at the right time (older): Civic, Camry, Sentra, reliable fuel efficient Japanese economy cars introduced at the nadir of American carmaking.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Dating myself, but 1982-85 Saab 900 Turbo 3-door hatchback.

    I curse you, GM, for ruining this brand!

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      Well, that dates me, too. I obsessively collected photos and drew side and 3/4 views of that beautiful car till I was pretty good at it. Never got one, ex was in grad school paying out-of state through those years.

      There was just something so “alien intelligence” about those 900s.

    • 0 avatar
      moedaman

      If it wasn’t for GM, Saab wouldn’t have been around to be ruined. They would have continued to build quirky cars of questionable quality that nobody bought and then closed down by the mid-90′s.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Chrysler PT Cruiser.

    Hell, I had one. Great little car at the time when compared to others at the time. Nice roomy interior, felt upscale, very roomy, and comfortable on trips. Then Chrysler let it drag on, and didn’t seem to know what to do next.

    It’s a car that gets a lot of grief, but there is no denying the popularity when they came out, and I can attest to 5-years and 80,000miles of ownership, that it wasn’t that bad of a car either.

    • 0 avatar
      Mervich

      The first three years of the PT Cruiser, it seemed like everybody and anybody running a contest/promotion had a PT Cruiser as the grand prize…leading me to believe about 90% of the PT Cruisers on the road were not purchased, but won! Never cared much for the mini hearse myself.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’ve thought it would be entertaining to get a GT Cruiser (turbo FTW) and put all the ridiculous accessories on it, woodie kit, continental kit, baby moon hubcaps, whitewalls, and then go cruising for kids to shock in the stoplight drag races with their riced out Civics and Integras.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Well, judging by sustained U.S. market success the past several years, Subaru knows how to anticipate demand, and in order to do so, has even taken the extraordinary step of abandoning a former segment of its buyers (those who want a not too tall, reasonably capacious, agile and safe vehicle such as a Legacy wagon, last sold here as a 2007). I admit there are many former owners of “proper” Subarus (in general, those with frameless door glass) who don’t feel this way and now own a newer-type Outback, Legacy, or Forester. But Subaru deserves credit for seeing that their cars needed larger rear seats to stay competitive, even at the risk of alienating former loyalists like me.

    It might also be that several years of hard winters made a difference to more potential buyers than before. There were gigantic snowstorms in the Northeast in December ’09 and February ’10, and another in late January ’11, not to mention more recent big weather events. (We became a two-Subaru family just before the January ’11 storm, and a good thing too.)

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The nice thing about Subaru is that all their vehicles come with AWD. We live in the mountainous high desert and the people who own Subaru cars love them, year ’round, in sand, in snow, on steep, winding gravel roads in the mountains, on trails (where many people live in the mountains), and even on paved roads.

      Most of the ski-lodges have Subaru vehicles in addition to the 4WD fullsize Vans and Suburbans.

      So in my book, Subaru has been building the right car at the right time for a long time, for the niche buyers that choose to drive Subaru.

  • avatar

    Doug, don’t underestimate Californians especially ones living in SF Bay area. Not only they managed to bankrupt three cities (hey they deserve kudos for that!) in 21st century (which will be known as a century of defaulted socialist states and pension plans like 20th century is know as a century of three World Wars, last one being cold) but they also find Honda Cross Tour pretty attractive but more reliable than Aztec. I see them all over place. It is easier to find Honda Cross Tour on the parking lot than say Ford Fusion (known to have problematic AT. Well Honda is also famous for blown ATs. Well transmission may may be junk but it is still Honda).

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Yeah, right. I’ve seen all of one CrossTour in the Bay Area. I probably see more Azteks!

      I have seen some ZDXs, but even cars that allegedly no one wants, according to TTAC commenters, such as the Chevy Volt or Tesla Model S are seen far more often. You probably see more new Jaguar models than CrossTours.

      Californians who want a wagon-type vehicle will more often get a Jetta or Subaru, especially now that the other Euro-wagons are harder to obtain.

      As for the new Fusion, I’ve seen several and also seen one as livery already. Anecdotes aren’t data, of course.

  • avatar

    Agree totally with your premise, Doug. Another great article, thanks.

    I would offer up the Ford Mustang. Created a segment people didn’t know they wanted.

    In that light, Audi A3. After failure of Class A proved some people are unwary enough to pay for a badge.

    VW New Beetle, started the retro car category that lives on.

    Chrysler and Renault minivan.

    VW Golf, practically invented the medium hatch category.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Sometimes a vehicle is there all along just waiting for the world to discover that it does what it does best and you suddenly need it and have to have it… Jeep Cherokee XJ

  • avatar
    Mazda Monkey

    You forgot the Miata! Only car that could revive the inexpensive sporty roadster market after England electrical failed it to death. Such a popular segment now, even after Mercedes did their best with the SLK to try and ruin it.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Renault / Dacia Duster. How successful is this car (outside the USA…) and how right must it be?

  • avatar
    ect

    This is basically a pointless article. Who consistently builds the right cars at the right time? Sales stats answer that question. Period.

    So, Toyota and VW are the champs. Honda, looking at results since (say) 1990, has also done very well. GM (also looking at results since 1990 – though one could go back to 1976) is an abject failure.

    Audi’s results since 1995 show a very successful brand. The fact that they didn’t enter the SUV market until 2007 is meaningless. Consistent sales and share growth over almost 20 years is very meaningful.

    Cadillac has floundered over the past 30+ years, and in any event is only a brand within GM, not an automaker. Carmaking 101 – contrast Audi (with its own design, engineering, manufacturing and sales)and Cadillac (with almost none of the above).

    • 0 avatar

      And you’ve contributed despite calling it pointless! And your contributions are quite correct!

      Either way: there’s always next week.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I think Audi’s popularity has less to do with building the right car at the right time, and more to do with what they’ve done with their brand-image…as well as leading certain styling trends (like LED accents).

      As far as Cadillac not having its own styling team, you might be right. Even though the GM brands were competing more with each other than anything back in the day, something was definitely lost when they all got folded into what is essentially one operation. The good thing is that most of the badge-engineered models have been eliminated, and the few badge-engineered models that remain only exist because they’re uneconomical to differentiate heavily (like the trucks and SUVs)…

      • 0 avatar
        olddavid

        I believe Audi approached the brand enhancement the right way. From the inside out. I assumed the early 90′s 100 was just a face-lifted extension of the 5000, only to be blown away by the interior. That made me conscious of the ensuing models to see if they had continued that theme. Every year, the domestic OEM’s would have comparo’s at dealer or staff meetings where they tried to show the comparative advantages of their own cars. Difficult proposition when the other guy’s car is so superior. It seems that Cadillac is attempting to do this method also. I have limited experience with their cars, but the ones I have driven in the past four years have seemed light years ahead of the previous cars, and the X model I drove recently had what I believe was a world-class interior and driving dynamics. I was disappointed by the V6 power, but that may be my own bias toward this class needing V8′s to show leadership. That is the key, to me – make the view from the driver’s seat a memorable one that stays with you. Cadillac is trying hard, and I am rooting for their success. It’s a generational thing, I guess. What are they going to do if the American makers are still adrift when my generation dies? The institutional memory of behemoth GM – with world-class engineering like they had in 1965 – will die with us. No more legacy that they didn’t earn. Maybe that is a good thing. I used to chafe at Farago when he would yell that GM is dying, thinking it would never happen. Shows what 40 years in the business taught me. My Dad used to say there were two types of experience in business – the twenty years where a man would learn and grow as time went on, and the guy who had twenty years – one year twenty times over.

  • avatar

    I enjoyed the article but I hate to burst your bubble. There is a better than average chance that car did not drive from Alaska. In fact it’s a fair bet that car has never been to Alaska. (of course, noting all of that would have totally missed the intro hook about “Somebody bought a Crosstour?”)

    Georgia is home to two major military installations, and a couple of minor ones. A military person stationed in Alaska can and will establish state citizenship after a few years. Then it is a requirement to visit every few years and submit proof. This allows the military member to collect Alaska oil dividends, which if you have a family, can be several thousand dollars a year.

    The plates are a great deal too, it allows military folks to purchase vehicles and avoid state sale tax, inspections and registration fees. I believe it cost about $26 for a military member to register a car in Alaska. It can all be done via the mail.

    Again, enjoyed the piece. Anyone calling this piontless is missing the discussion below. So having made my needless piont that contibutes nothing to the discussion (see, thats the definition of piontless)
    I will resume my daily activities.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    One car company that seems to be somewhat quirky…aloof, almost…is Jaguar/Land Rover. They seem to do whatever they like. I do applaud them, however, for the Range Rover Evoque—although the price of entry is steep compared to other similarly-sized offerings—and for putting AWD on the XF and XJ.

    Another car company that seems to be off is Volvo. Why they would neglect a very competitive and lucrative segment by keeping their large-crossover on the same body and platform for more than ten years is beyond me. Unless you just love the Scandinavian design, you can do far better with the Infiniti JX35 (QX60) or Buick Enclave…and probably the 2014 Acura MDX as well…

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      I gotta say Kyree I still love the look of the XC-90. Beautiful clean lines. Not a big fan of the Scandinavian interior; and of course past experience tells me reliability would be a bitch.

      But beautiful to look at….

  • avatar
    Carrera

    I don’t know if I would call the BMW X6 a success. The only place I’ve seen these on the road in significant numbers was in Eastern Europe where any self-respecting pimp drives one. I currently live in a very vain place ( Halifax, NS) where the population loves German vehicles and I’ve seen only one in my three years here. In Florida where my permanent residence is, the X6s are very rare.

    • 0 avatar

      Anecdotal evidence. Stop thinking that’s relevant.

      Its concept isn’t duplicated by competitors for no reason.

      • 0 avatar
        azmtbkr81

        How is it not relevant? TTAC is full of opinions, observations, and thoughts from enthusiasts all over the world. Without these it would be a pretty boring site.

        I’ll echo Carrera’s comment. I live near one of the most pretentious cities in the US (Scottsdale, AZ) and I’ve seen surprisingly few X6s on the road. This is shocking to me since Scottsdale prides itself on being on the bleeding edge of douchebaggery and all of its related affectations.

        I don’t care to dig up hard sales numbers by zip code to prove my point but it is pretty safe to say that they are not selling especially well in my neck of the woods.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          Agreed. Supported opinions and personal perspective are welcomed. Being a dick isn’t.

          For those who refute everything but hard numbers, BMW sold 6749 X6s in the US and 998 in Canada in all of 2012.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    The problem with the Crosstour is that is kind of ugly. Every time I see it, it reminds me of a GAZ M20 Pobeda made in the USSR. I’ve been in a Crosstour before and it’s a very nice vehicle but I think it answered a question that no one really asked. I also think that my Ridgeline was a right vehicle at the wrong time. As a “pick-up” it’s good 90% of the time for 90% of the population, but it came out in 2006 when the gas prices were going up-up-up. For a midsize, it gets crappy fuel consumption. I average 17,5-18 mpg which is pretty bad.

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      The 2 main problems of the CrossTour is Honda’s insistence on making it a member of the Accord brand. First, the design is gimped by being an Accord instead of a clean sheet crossover design. It ends up looking like a gross, distorted mutant Accord. Second, when you brand it an Accord, there are those of us who remember the awesome little sedan from the 80s, and we see that mutated abomination and we throw up in our mouths a little. And the worst part of it is that it’s really not that much larger than the bloated regular Accord. I have the same response to the Mini Clubman.

  • avatar
    carguy

    For right car at the right time I would nominate 4:

    1. The original Mustang in 1964. A perfect example of lightning in a bottle in terms of recognizing changing consumer tastes.

    2. Ford Explorer. While the Jeep CJ/Internation Harvester Scout may have blazed the trail, the Explorer seemed to arrive just at the right time when the SUV craze took off by tapping into Americans love of a rugged outdoor image. Countless automakers and outdoor clothing stores followed.

    3. The Mazda Miata. Roadsters were all but extinct in the late 80s when Mazda unveiled what appeared to be a too small and underpowered fun-mobile. It sold like hotcakes and just about every European brand as well as some Japanese and domestics hurried to imitate their success.

    4. Lexus RX300. Toyota was way ahead of the curve in seeing the sales potential of midsize luxury CUVs – a segment that is still inexplicably growing like a weed.

    Also an honorable mention to Chrysler minivans. They may not have been sexy transportation but the recognized a consumer need that is still alive despite its image.

  • avatar

    Ford Model T. Enough said.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Let’s see…
      177ci 4-banger
      22bhp
      83 Ft-Lbs @ 900 RPM torque
      mpg 20/city 25/hwy (to be invented)
      0-60 (not for several years)
      45mph top speed (with the wind 40mph against)
      2 speed forward AND reverse
      1200lb curb weight
      MSRP $550
      Target market, horse owners

      Rejected marketing slogan “Have You Driven a Car…Ever?”

      • 0 avatar

        What’s wrong with that in 1908?

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          Nothing is wrong with that. I put the specs up just as a refresher as to what it took to get the whole thing started. Actually the specs on the “T” are a lot better then I thought. Then I wondered in today’s terms how would you go about marketing a car to people who had no experience with cars

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Funny comment. Their actual original slogan was “If we take you there,
            we’ll bring you back” – a pretty good deal in 1908. But you left out the recommended fuel: alcohol, the recommended 10,000 mile engine rebuild, and the cable operated brakes that necessitated those spring-loaded bumpers, so you could use the OTHER way of stopping: run into something.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    The 1984 Civic line – Coupe CR-X, Sedan, Shuttle wagon, Hatch – was a tour de force really w/o peer.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I like Lie2me’s nomination and want to nominate the one that (eventually) surpassed it. The original air cooled vw beetle from about 55-70. It was here before that but they sold a batch during those years. It seemed to usher in a new way of thinking about cars for some folks. Or else it satisfied that way of thinking.

    I owned and/or drove several and watched other fads come and go.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I haven’t read all the comments. I think you are forgetting a couple of cars there. Don’t blame you because they are sold outside the US.

    Fiat Palio/Siena and Renault Logan. Those cars started the low cost cars for developing countries. The first 2 launched in ’97 started rolling the ball and the Logan kicked the landslide.

    Down here, I think the VT Commodore made a big splash back in 1997. I think it broke the mold of local cars, and was the basis for a big family of models.

    In Europe, I think the Fiat 127 was another car hitting the market at the right time. It would become the template for the super minis and “cheap” FWD cars from then on.

    Forgotten in the comments, the original RAV4 and CRV. The first 2 compact crossovers on the market. Kudos to both of them on seeing the gap in the market and take the risk.

    The original ’86 Ford Taurus is another car that comes to my mind. The template for the modern American midsize sedan. So good was its style that Toyota basically copied it for the 4th gen Camry.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Finally, someone mentioned the Taurus. Not only was it a hot seller, it saved Ford, and helped usher in the era of the “jelly bean” car, along with the other Ford offerings and the 5000s. It was Ford who let down the Taurus and not visa-versa in its later years.

      For the same reason, the Chrysler K-cars. They transformed Chysler overnight from a builder of bloated, heavy RWD cars to modern space efficient FWD cars. Much of the Chrysler lineup in the next decade, including the minivans that made so many lists, were based on their underpinnings.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    To recap, the ones I agree with:
    Miata
    Chrysler minivans
    Explorer
    Mustang
    Outback
    300/Charger
    X cars (despite the reliability; they were a bold step and statement)

    I add for your consideration:
    GTI – created the hot hatch segment
    320i – euro panache in a sports sedan
    Thunderbird – personal luxury

    One last question – wasn’t the Navigator out first? Regardless, that and the Escalade did light a fire for luxo barges….

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Navigator first appeared as a 1998, The Escalade a year later as a 1999. Cadillac has sold twice as many Escalades then Lincoln sold Navigators. No one does garish decadence better then Cadillac

  • avatar
    Driver7

    Good comments about Right Cars at the Right Times.
    I’d nominate the Dodge/Chrysler minivans, and the Honda Accord as Right Cars for their times.
    Regarding the X6 – I dislike crossovers, and detest Bangle-era BMW design. But the X6, to my eye, works as a handsome, coherent exercise in styling.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    How about the original VW Beetle?
    It too defined a market segment here, in a time dominated by small unreliable British sports cars and big American road hogs. It was the easily repairable 4-seater economy car, loved by yuppies and hippies alike.

    It lasted form 1938 to 2003 as the Type 1 model. That must be a record of some sort.

    ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Beetle

    ——————-

    • 0 avatar
      chrishs2000

      Seeing as how the original VW Beetle was built specifically to the specifications of the Nazi party to be an indestructible and cheap military vehicle, ERRR AUTOBAHN VACATION VEHICLE, and was only built so long because of European post-war blight, hippies in the 70′s and third world countries in modern times, I guess you have a good point.

  • avatar

    The thing with BMW is BMW tries.

    It’s a bigger risk to bigger reward kind of company. Volkswagen may be bent on domination and the S-Class may be the very latest and greatest, but no one knows what the people want and how to do it like BMW.

    Flame surfacing? Derided, copied. X6? Derided, copied on every level. MINI? Just enviable.

    I knew this article would say the right thing about the X4 when I saw the picture of it.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      nzecowitz – - –

      As you can see from my avatar, I certainly feel strongly about BMW’s. In fact, you have hit upon a key issue in the “right car for the right time”: BMW’s also defined a segment, the sports sedan. And so, the BMW 1800 and 2002 series should be a candidate for this title as well. Certainly “everybody” is using the successor 3-series now as some sort of “gold standard” and trying to copy it (e.g., Cadillac ATS; Hyundai Genesis coupe; Mercedes C-Class, etc).

      In fact, one writer (Jamie Kittman at Automobile Magazine), absolutely “hates” BMW’s because he feels they were the death knell of the British sport car here. No doubt, they had some influence. But if Jaguars, MG’s, Triumphs, and Austin-Healey’s in the 1960′s and 1970′s had better reliability, there would not have been a problem. Of course, it was hard to compete with a small, light-footed sedan that could run rings around a Jag (and anything else on the road in America) and still seat four people comfortably.

      —————–

  • avatar
    chrishs2000

    Regarding Honda: They have an established corporate culture of completely ignoring what the market wants and producing the cars that THEY want to make. This was a pillar of Soichiro Honda’s vision. It’s what gave us all of Honda’s successes in the 70′s/80′s, the CRX, NSX, S2000, etc.

    The problem 20 years after Soichiro’s death is when Honda tries to blend this core value with consumer focus groups. That’s when you get complete disasters like the Honda CrossTour, Acura ZDX, Honda CR-Z, 4th gen TL and all of the RL’s, “THE BEAK”, etc etc. I have to imagine that if Soichiro was at the helm, none of these would have gone to production as they did. I can’t imagine that these cars are what engineering wanted. This company used to be led, managed and executed by engineers. That brought us ridiculous cars that went against the market but were so well executed that they became beloved. Now we have ridiculous cars desperately trying to follow the latest market trends.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    “And the XLR was a great example of providing exactly what the brand’s customers wanted. Unfortunately, it was a failure because most of those customers died before Cadillac could bring it to market”.

    The internet keeps saying this, but how many $100k Cadillacs to they have to sell before they are “successful”?

    Over 15k XLRs were sold and in their peak years sold more than Bentley as a brand. Is it because they’re discontinued and are no longer produced past obscurity? Does a car need to have a 2nd generation to be considered a success?

    Even with 15k sold, they surely made their money back considering much of the car’s funtamentals were largely shared with the Corvette, and they were built in the same factory. I’d say the XLR was a success for what it was.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    All you people saying 2005 retro Mustang, 1986 Taurus/Sable, GTI…are correct.

    And I will raise you…’32 Ford Model B. Cheap powaaahhhh to the masses.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Just going to list a few.

    Original Corvette
    Pontiac GTO
    Mustang

    1970 Muscle car of choice (I think 1970 was THE year for all manufacturers)

    Firebird firechicken Burt Reynolds car

    BMW 2002
    Honda Super Cub(do motorcycles count?)
    Honda Accord
    Honda Civic

    Dodge K-cars
    Chrysler/Dodge Minivan
    Dodge Dakota (collapsed the small pickup category and moved the entire category to midsize trucks)
    Viper
    Model T
    Original 300
    Cab-forward dodge/chryslers
    New 300
    Cadillac Escalade
    Original Dodge Dart
    Audi Quattro
    Subaru WRX
    Celica GT
    Cobra
    Omni GLH-S

    The list goes on and on of great successful vehicles that redefined the company or redefined the market.

    Any Harley Earl design post WWII.

    Which car had the original rumble seat?
    First car with power steering?

  • avatar
    lezier

    If you are planning to construct a car the best thing that you will do is to call an expert in order for you to minimize your expenses as well Rover v8 Engine Parts as for your safety and protection.


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