By on August 4, 2013

mendoza-1980-card

It’s not clear exactly just which weak hitting infielder named Mendoza unwillingly gave his name to baseball enthusiasts’ term for batting mediocrity or who coined the phrase. It’s also not clear if the line is Bob Uecker’s .200 on the dot, career minor-leaguer Minnie Mendoza’s .188 in 16 at bats for the Minnesota Twins in 1970, or Mario Mendoza’s .215 after nine years in the bigs. It’s most likely the latter, attributed to Hall of Famer George Brett. Either way, Wikipedia tells us that the Mendoza Line is the cutoff point below which it is hard to justify keeping even an outstanding defensive player on a Major League Baseball roster.

The term came up during a broadcast of a Detroit Tigers’ game and it got me thinking, what is the automotive equivalent to the Mendoza Line? What car is the benchmark for motoring mediocrity? A car that would be on your list if a friend asked for suggestions, but would also be at the bottom of that list.

Remember, we’re not talking terrible here. People often confuse “mediocre” with “bad”. Websters tells us that mediocre means “of moderate or low quality” and gives one synonym as “so-so”. Low quality, not no quality. The “med” part is from the Latin for middle, and “ocre” is related to edge. A full etymology probably means “the [lower] edge of the middle”.

So what car, currently sold new, would you consider to be the lower edge of the middle, the worst car that still is worth keeping on the roster in the garage? In keeping with Mario Mendoza’s good glove no hit reputation, it might be a car that has good handling but poor straight line performance, or a car with good performance but has an interior that seems cheap. Or, it could be a car that is not a class leader in any category, having no real commending aspects but also no disqualifying dings. So what’s your current benchmark for so-so cars?

mario_mendoza_autograph

By the way, while some think that the term disparages Mario Mendoza, it should be noted that he himself was at or above the Mendoza Line, since he did have a fairly long career in baseball. At least he’s remembered for staying in the major leagues, unlike Wally Pipp (who actually had a longer, more successful career than Mendoza before history made him a footnote to Lou Gehrig’s career).

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52 Comments on “What Is The Automotive Mendoza Line?...”


  • avatar
    Windy

    From a logic standpoint it would be when the production number for a model drops below or fails to reach the number that he bean counters have determined represents a profitable number taking into account the ROI and the length of time it is given to reach that number after introduction. things like model refresh costs would also be a factor.

    not having access to those figures I would have to drop back to personal dislike and that does not seem fair as I would put Lotus products in the line as I can not fold myself into a small enough space to drive them,,, but those who can drive them say they are fun so that must keen that even though the designers have decided to exclude tall drivers from their target market the think they can sell enough to folks who will fit to survive.

  • avatar
    Monty

    I nominate the Chevrolet Cobalt for this (dubious) honour. While it’s predecessor, the Cavalier was absolute junk in every iteration, the Cobalt was not so bad. Even though, in hindsight, the Cobalt was a stop-gap measure from GM, and by any metric wasn’t class leading, or even class contending, it was a huge improvement. It was good enough that I could recommend it to friends who wanted a domestic small car and didn’t want to lay out a lot of money. Based on my own anecdotal evidence, the transaction prices for the Cobalt were far less than even the Hyundai Accent, making it the cheapest car in the local area. Based on prices, owners got a decent amount of bang for their buck, so to speak.

  • avatar
    noreaster

    Pontiac Aztek? Good utility, but hideous? The IQ? High smugness factor, good (but not great) mileage, but somehow completely laughable?

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Aztek is that highly drafted pitcher that makes his first relief appearance and gives up 2 walks followed by a Home Run to a Mario Mendoza type hitter and is promptly sent back down never to be heard from again.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Thank you for this excellent workout of the brain’s analogy centers.

    So many variables and personal prejudices to be considered, but I would look at sales ranking for each segment, pick what’s right in the middle of the list, and bounce those results off CR’s safety and reliability results.

    If CR shows no black circles, even partial ones, for the mid-ranker, draw the dotted line just below it. Otherwise, move up one sales slot at a time until you get to no black.

    And yes, it’s unfortunate that the guy who *was* good enough to keep gets his name associated with the threshold for those who aren’t. They should de-personalize this.

  • avatar
    Zekele Ibo

    Chrysler 200. They are selling loads of them, it’s kind of OKish as a car, quite spacious for the price. I see it as the least-good acceptable-level car on the market at the moment (the Dodge Avenger drops below the line).

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      And duh…It is called the 200. .200 is the Mendoza line…period. As a Braves fan I am keenly aware of the Mendoza line as it is generally about where our outfield hits and usually 20 points higher than Dan Uggla’s average. Thank goodness when they do hit one it often clears the wall.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    The challenge was cars “currently sold new”. My nominations:

    The entire Mitsubishi brand. In the words of Randy Newman, “ain’t got no reason to live”. Still selling gas engines with timing belts, still have the 2012 Galant on their website (can still find them in dealer inventory).

    Dodge Avenger. Rendered tolerable thanks to post-Sergio refresh and the Pentastar. Still, that 3/4 Charger styling just doesn’t work, and it still feels like a 90′s FWD car. But, hey, you have to rent something, and it’s more enjoyable than a ..

    Toyota Corolla. Yes, they are as durable and reliable as a cast iron frying pan. They also have the same level of styling, finish and comfort.

    Korean-designed Chevys. The factory may say “GM Korea” but the DNA is still Daewoo. The current product is better looking inside and out but just as tinny. In the turbo Cruze I drove, the lag from a stoplight was a full 2 seconds. This is also the only car I ever drove whose steering wheel drew blood. These may be the best small cars GM has ever produced but that’s not saying much.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “styling, finish and comfort”

      Can they be permitted to influence this as they are the most subjective possible criteria?

      The premise here is a managerial decision, not fan reactions.

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        Feel free to show me where the question referenced management decisions. Unless “your friend asking for suggestions” is also your boss.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        “The premise here is a managerial decision, not fan reactions.”

        Says who? The article asks what *our* benchmark is. It does not require it to quantitative.

        There are far more reasons to keep someone on the roster than raw numbers. After all, what matters to sports teams is making money, and if a player has lousy numbers but puts more fans in the seats & sells more merchandise than a replacement, you’d be dumb not to keep him.

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          You’re talking stars, not borderliners, which is definitely what the article is about.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            :facepalm:

            Not all popular players are stars. And just about every star becomes very mediocre at their end of their career. Thus, the question of when to dump them is exactly in line with this question.

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            Yes, stars have a huge magnetic field swirling with all kinds of merchandising bonanzas and sentimental appeal. That hugely complicates dumping them at the end of their road.

            Lifetime .200 hitters aren’t stars.

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          “The article asks what *our* benchmark is. It does not require it to quantitative.”

          Exactly why I would consult sales figures, filtered for safety and reliability, for determining where to cut. The aggregate of mostly subjective choices, the vast majority of which will be anathema to any one of us.

          How could one *not* need to be quantitative here if seeking to give unprejudiced advice? Isn’t doing so to the best of one’s ability a “benchmark”?

  • avatar
    08Suzuki

    A few options, quite a few borrowed from Jalopnik (though with the modification that these cars are merely mediocre, not outright awful):
    – Mitsubishi Galant: poor dealership network and indeed very mediocre if not outright poor compared to the competition. Strictly speaking, compared to the competition, mechanically obsolete. That said, it has more-than-decent interior room for the price and is fairly mechanically reliable. I also hear it has a relatively strong V6. Maybe not necessarily in performance, so…I guess this involves some sort of new definition of “strong?”
    – Dodge Avenger: Once again, an obsolete platform (compared to the competition), tight interior room, poor interior fit and finish. I’ve driven a rental, and I’ve driven a Dodge Dart loaner, and I for the life of me can’t fathom why someone would choose an Avenger over a Dart. The Dart’s interior is nice, comfortable and contemporary-looking, it’s a much better driving experience and worth every bit of the (actually very few) cubic feet of interior room you sacrifice. Other than the “dream” 392 Challenger SRT-8 or Charger Super Bee, it’s the only Dodge-badged product I’m actually considering purchasing. At least the Chrysler 200 has a better looking (if not bland) exterior, a slightly better badge and the interior doesn’t look that bad when your’e staring at it from the outside in (dat in-dash clock!) That said, you can’t argue against the Avenger’s cost. It’s also mechanically solid (more or less) and it will haul four people (well, so can the Dart). You also can’t argue against the Avenger’s actually competitive V6, the only opportunity you have to marry “Dodge Avenger” and “competitive” in the same sentence.
    – The 2012 Civic: I think this is living proof of what the Mendoza Line looks like, at least for an individual car company. I’ve driven one of these. It’s actually a great product when it’s taken in a vacuum. The Dodge Avenger is a very great product when taken in a vacuum. It was comfortable, it drove well, it was reliable. But was it a good value? Of course not. Honda built its past reputation on being a great value, but it built its current reputation on building a quality, dynamically-driven car (buzzspeak!) that happened to be a great value. Say what you will about the bloated past-gen Accord, but it was fantastic at being a bloated full-sizer. The ’12 Civic couldn’t even get the value part right.
    – The (for the time being) Hyundai Tuscon. Oh. My. God. Only the exterior is really competitive with Hyundai’s own product line, even with that stupid black piece of cheap-looking plastic trim along the rockers (which, bizarrely, is mandated on the GLS and Limited and deleted on the bottom-feeding GL). The interior is at least two steps backwards, almost as if they didn’t change a damn thing since the Tuscon first came into being. The GLS’ cloth-insert “leather” seats remind me of a boulder. I’ve driven an Elantra. A relative owns a brand-spanking new Sonata, another has a Veracruz (the undeserving Hyundai stepchild, actually a very good product) and I myself have a Santa Fe. I’ve had Accent loaners. At least for what it is, there’s only one car right now in Hyundai’s lineup I’d describe as awful. And I’m telling you, the Tuscon is awful. Very awful. Not almost-Avenger awful, truly Avenger-awful. The Sportage is so vastly superior I can’t believe they’re related cars.
    But it still reaches the Mendoza line because it’s still a marked improvement over the dismal cars that still mar Hyundai’s reputation. In my mind it truly marks the line between where Hyundais can be sold, and where they can’t.
    – The Jeep Liberty. Because it’s better than the Compass/Liberty twins. Those two cars shouldn’t be sold in all good honesty.
    – The Chevy Malibu. See ’12 Honda Civic, minus what made even that car good. Basically, any car that lasts only one model year before emergency revisions have to be taken.
    – And its stablemate, the outgoing Impala. It’s a good car. I’m almost tempted to say it’s a great car, actually. It’s comfortable like nothing you would believe. It’s truly a poor man’s Caddy. The final iteration’s 3.9 V6 has identical numbers to the SS’ 5.0 V8, except the improved (and actually competitive) fuel economy. Yet other than interior room and laz-y-boy (note not necessarily supportive) seating it was very average at best. The vanilla exterior and interior isn’t what doomed it to mediocrity. The Camry and Corolla, frankly, is living proof that those aren’t factors in the modern American car market. What did do it for the Impala was the lack of any real competitive features, especially in technology. Oh, and being too big. The last-gen Accord barely fits in my garage as it is.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Rental cars: If I have to settle for an Avenger, 200, Jetta, Camry, Corolla, Impala Classic, Elantra, any CUV from Hyundai/Kia, or minivan,
    then I consider that my rental car Mendoza line has been violated.

    I have not come across the Dart at National, so I don’t know where it stands w/r/t the Mendoza line.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Anyone else having a synesthetic moment from that card picture?

    Mmmm… bubble gum, summer grass and sweet lotion-y smells coming from…girls?!

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Any car that starts and runs reliably with regular maintenance is above the Mendoza Line. Any car that makes me reach for the AAA card too frequently is going to get a visit from the Turk.

  • avatar
    redav

    I would say for overall mediocrity, the Cruze & Malibu. I think they are perfectly adequate, but there are better options with better value. I would not recommend them, but I wouldn’t talk a friend out of getting one if they wanted it.

    (Thinking on it, I think that’s my working definition: Mediocrity is the space between recommending a car & advising against it.)

    For some good traits barely making up for some lousy ones, the Mazda2. Lousy power, not great mpg, but lightweight & fun to drive.

  • avatar
    manu06

    Honda CRZ. Decent styling , good handling but so -so fuel economy and quickness.
    Would I buy one at a slightly lower price ? Maybe, maybe not.

  • avatar
    Caboose

    I’m going out on a limb here: FRS. (Though not necessarily the BR-Z.)

    That little coupe is the car-ification of Mario Mendoza: FRS is just barely good enough for the strata (price category) in which it plays. Like Mendoza’s all glove-no bat, FRS is all chassis-no balls. Compared to many other cars its size, it’s great. But compared to most cars in its price range, its barely good enough.

    Like Mendoza, FRS has its fans. Mendoza’s fans said, “Look, the guy’s a great infielder, a great one. Who cares if he can’t hit? He’s so far down the rotation it barely registers. And by the way, that’s why we hire hitters and sluggers”. Likewise, FRS fans say, “Look, it’s a great handler. A really great handler. And the suspension is pretty darned supple for the amount of handling you get, too. And the seats are really comfortable. Who cares if it gets blown off the road in a straight line by a V6 F-150, or by Toyota’s own 2004 facelift of the LS430? That’s why we buy other ca…oh”.

    See? The big difference between Mendoza and FRS is the time in which they play. In Mendoza’s Pirates, most players were one-trick pwnies. That was fine, because that was the game at the time. The Mendoza Line, as a concept, was initially a recognition that the game, it was a-changin’.

    Today, FRS has to be most of its buyers’ only car. It can’t afford to not do it all. In order to really justify its place in the lineup, it’s going to need some PEDs.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Not true…a guy that can play anywhere in the field and hit over .200 will land on a major league roster. It may be a new roster every Spring, but he’ll be there.

      Thus is the FRS. If you want a small, sporty RWD car but you have to have a back seat and are on some sort of budget, it’s the only game in town. A true utility infielder.

      • 0 avatar
        Caboose

        I knew Back Seat. I fooled around in Back Seat. And that, Sir, is no Back Seat.

      • 0 avatar
        JD23

        I like the baseball analogies, but I think you’re underselling Chipper. He obviously declined and was injury prone during his last few seasons, but he was still an above average player and one of the best hitters on his team in his final season. Also, he is easily one of the top five players of all time at his position. I’m not sure the Frontier’s peak was ever that high.

  • avatar
    salguod

    GMs Lambdas, and I say that as an owner of a ’10 Outlook. Great design, drives well, decent towing for a CUV (5200 lbs), attractive and brilliant packaging. Frankly, it does most things in the top half of the segment. The thing that puts it on the bubble for me is the worst in class (in many classes, frankly) reliability. Too many expensive trouble points – timing chains, transmissions, steering racks, sunroof leaks, etc. Had I known in June of ’10 what I know now, I might have a Pilot in the garage instead.

    But, I needed the extra space behind row 3 and the extra 700 lbs towing (available without AWD) and I liked the styling & packaging better on the Lambda than the Honda, still do. GM nailed the design and layout, if they could build them better they’d be tops.

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Mendoza Line, thy name is Nissan. A full line manufacturer of also rans, from the xB- aping Cube to the sorta full size Titan, and coelacanth-grade holdouts like the Frontier and the Maxima. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with any of these, but there isn’t much of a compelling reason to cross shop them, either.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      As a die hard baseball game this is fun. My Frontier is more Chipper Jones in his later years than Mendoza…Solid player but hung around a couple years too long which makes my old Rangers the Julio Franco’s or Jamie Moyer’s of the Automotive world.

      The real question though in light of all that is going on in Baseball is what is the A-Rod of the automotive world. You know, the promise, the flash, the high price tag and then…the utter disappointment and scandal. Delorean?

      As I said earlier, the obvious Mendoza is the 200. The barely good enough attitude of this car is right in line and just like even Mendoza had his day as noted on his card (2-4 with 2 runs scored and 3 RBIs and a Home Run in 1978), didnt the 200 have it’s career game with Baruth lapping one around a track?

      • 0 avatar
        Caboose

        “…what is the A-Rod of the automotive world. You know, the promise, the flash, the high price tag and then…the utter disappointment and scandal[?]”

        –Any modern Porsche.

        • 0 avatar
          This Is Dawg

          I’ll drag the dead horse back into this, but the brand new MKZ. I passed one on the highway and stopped and stared. I really like every angle of that car but damn did it drop the ball.

    • 0 avatar
      Cubista

      As a Cube owner, I don’t disagree (although you’re wrong with your comparison to the xB; the Cube was the original box back home in the JDM…Toyota and Kia copied it)…I was about to suggest it if no one else had.

      It’s an SUV/CUV that seats bewteen 4 and 5 very comfortably, travels reasonably well, and exceeds 32mpg even in city conditions exclusively without breaking a sweat. The amount of gear you can move in it varies with the amount of passengers you’re seating, and you can spec it up nicely w/ SAT-NAV, SMART key, rearview camera, alloy wheels, etc…and still pay less than $24k.

      All of that is, of course, very good. But along WITH that you get the love-it-or-hate-it looks, a VERY anemic 122hp, and if you want anything more than the most basic trim level, you have no gearbox option but the CVT.

      Speaking of Latino shortstops and the Atlanta Braves, Rafael Belliard is probably the best Mendoza equivalent in that team’s history…an injury to starting shortstop Jeff Blauser had Belliard playing every inning of the 1995 World Series against Cleveland. He grounded into 2 douple plays, managed one RBI, and hit .000 for the entire series. His fielding percentage wasn’t great at .875 (committed two errors in 16 chances), but he was there when they needed him and he’s got a World Series ring for the effort.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    A flair, a quail, a seeing eye single. I think we all think of few small cars that fit in that category. A AAA Phenom that should have never made it to the bigs? Doesn’t happen now days.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Saturn nuff said.

    • 0 avatar
      salguod

      “currently sold new” doesn’t apply to Saturn. They sold a few 2010s but 2009 was their last full year. And in the end Saturn was mostly just another flavor of other GM cars. The Aura was a re-skinned Malibu, the Sky a sharper Solstice, the Outlook an Acadia with a big grin, the Vue a revised Equinox. none significantly more or less offensive than its platform mates. Only the Astra was really unique and I’d say it was well below the Mendoza line.

  • avatar
    niky

    Gotta agree with jpolicke… the Corolla is an excellent example. In terms of stats, it’s superseded by many of the competition in interior space, number of gears, power, on-paper fuel economy and equipment for price.

    But it’s such a good, solid value that Toyota has been selling it with the same basic equipment for over a decade. And despite what on-paper stats say, fuel economy is actually pretty swell. Nobody really idolizes it. It’s not a headline-maker. But it does the job where it counts.

    • 0 avatar
      This Is Dawg

      I’d argue the hyundai accent against the corolla. Hyundai has drastically improved their image in the last few years and I’m not aware of any major failings in the accent, but it’s just less popular than the corolla. I almost like the back end but the front is a solid “Eh.”

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    I would say the Chevy Impala embodies low end motoring mediocrity and has held the title for over a decade.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    GM, who’s goal is mediocrity and value for money exempts them selves from this discussion because they have achieved their goals so effectively.
    Because I don’t know enough details of the mediocre cars I vote for any 3 box automatic sedan with rental fleet specs.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    The Chevrolet Malibu, because anything with bigger negatives isn’t really “a contender” and would not be the equivalent to a big league player. The Malibu isn’t the best at anything except maybe interior noise. Yet, even its most commonly mentioned weak spot, back seat room, is not nearly as bad as some other cars past and present.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    1. Mitsubishi
    2. Dodge
    3. Nissan
    4. Chevrolet


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