QOTD: Can You Name an Automaker's 'Dork Age'?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
qotd can you name an automaker s dork age

A reader from the UK sent me a nice email not too long ago, asking whether I’d consider forming a Question of the Day around a totally unfamiliar term: “Dork Age.” I’d never heard of such a thing before (providing more evidence that Steph ain’t with it), but a helpful link told me everything I needed to know.

Most commonly applied to a brief — and awkward — period in the life of a long-running TV series or musical group, Dork Age is a close cousin to the more popular term “Jumping the Shark.” The latter term, as we all know, refers to that painful moment when a popular series or band (or whatever) signals its unstoppable downhill slide with a moment of cringe-inducing awfulness. The audience throws rotten fruit at the screen (or stage).

Dork Age is a little different. It doesn’t signal the same final descent into crapdom as Jumping the Shark. Rather, it’s a strange little interlude in the broader story arc of a TV show, movie series, or band that most fans would prefer to forget. A period where the creative minds decided that adding something uber trendy would jazz up an operation in danger of growing stale. Of course, the impact of this decision only serves to turn off longstanding fans.

Car companies can do it, too.

First, a Dork Age primer. An episode of The Simpsons illustrates the concept perfectly. In order to bolster ratings, Bart and Lisa’s favorite show adds Poochie to the cast — a totally rad surfer dog character who’s too cool for school and tells kids to, “Always recycle, to the extreme.” Poochie, who arrives with his own rap song, lasts one episode before being killed off.

Another example is The Rolling Stone’s 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request, which was Mick and the boys’ ill-fated foray into psychedelia. It was The Summer of Love, after all, and this mind-expanding, tripped-out sitar shit was all the rage, man. Like acid, everyone was doing it. Problem was, some were doing it better than others. The album arrived with a thud.

Within the automotive realm, the reader suggested Mitsubishi finds itself in an awkward Dork Age right now. Having abandoned its longstanding commitment to sedans and lower-end sports cars, leaving just the itty-bitty Mirage as its only traditional passenger car (once dealers finally cast off remaining Lancers), Mitsu’s hopes now depend on two aging crossovers and a new one — the unfortunately named and questionably styled Eclipse Cross — as its saviours.

It’s a weird lineup but, given Mitsu’s new Nissan-Renault parents, it surely won’t be its last. The company now has the cash (and access to platforms) it so desperately craves, meaning this likely isn’t a Jump the Shark moment heralding the brand’s descent into oblivion.

Now it’s your turn, Best and Brightest. Knowing the definition of a Dork Age, think back to other examples. What long-running automakers fell victim to trendy but short-lived fads that only served to water down the brand’s heritage and turn off its fan base?

[Image: Mitsubishi Motors]

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2 of 92 comments
  • Alff Alff on Aug 22, 2017

    Not a particular automaker but a type of vehicle - we are witnessing the depths of the midsize sedan's dorky period.

  • Geo Geo on Aug 22, 2017

    Early 90's GM. Weird styling (e.g. Lumina/TransSport, Achieva, Skylark, Caprice), W-body updates that ruined an originally nice design, that odd-colored coarse, scratchy paint meant to hide imperfections; interiors with all the aesthetic charm of gym lockers -- even on their trucks. Bob Lutz's book gave some insight on how these dumb design ideas made it into production in GM's corporate culture. A poor design would be tested poorly with a focus group, but it would be pushed through with one or two of the glaring design flaws "fixed", or with the insistence that the design was ahead of its time and by release time it would be accepted.

  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.
  • Lorenzo The other automakers are putting silly horsepower into the few RWD vehicles they have, just as Stellantis is about to kill off the most appropriate vehicles for that much horsepower. Somehow, I get the impression the OTHER Carlos, Tavares, not Ghosn, doesn't have a firm grasp of the American market.