By on April 3, 2019

Auto manufacturers don’t always get things right on the first try. Altering existing product takes time and lots of money, two things which aren’t always easy for OEMs to pull together.

Today we ask: When did a vehicle change or evolve during its production, only to still fall short of expectations?

Putting a new model on sale only to have it trashed by the motoring press, dealers, and consumers is a thorn in the side of Big Autos Incorporated. And there’s no guarantee that spending more time and money on a model to revise it will bring on the customer love fest. That’s where today’s example comes in.

Ah yes, the Cadillac Cimarron — or perhaps more appropriately, the Cadillac Cavalier D’Elegance. In 1982, General Motors was desperate for some compact luxury love. BMW was killing it with the 3 Series and taking all the young money down the road. Cadillac watched from the showrooms as its smallest offering (the rather large Seville) collected dust. But what do you do when you don’t want to spend the big bucks to come up with a competitor?

You add leather, change some trim and badges, and voila! Cimarron! Except the desired customer wasn’t having it. The Cavalier Lux fooled nobody, and the motoring press and customer took it to task. The interior wasn’t nice, the engine was a wheezy 88-horsepower inline-four, and the asking price was much too high.

“We can change it!” General Motors thought. And it did. Over the years, the brand revised its styling and standard features, fitting the Cimarron with a 2.8-liter V6 from the Skylark. But the initial engines were perhaps the biggest issue with the Cimarron, and by the time the V6 entered the fray the car’s image and reputation was worse than bad. It was really a case of too little, too late for the Cimarron. Which is probably why it had no successor until the Opel-cum-Catera many years later. And that went well, too.

What are your picks for the Too Little Too Late brown ribbon?

[Images: Murilee Martin/TTAC, GM ]

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80 Comments on “QOTD: A Case of Too Little, Too Late?...”


  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    Fiero v6.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      The Fiero, period. The Fiero started out with front suspension adapted from the T-Body Chevette, and the front suspension from the X-Body (Citation) repurposed as the rear suspension. The 1988 model finally got a much improved front and rear suspension, designed for the Fiero, but by then it was too late.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Vanilla>

      Cant agree. Fiero yes. In the beginning. GGM usually ‘sorts out’ and fixes cars just before they discontinue them. If I remember correctly, The V 6 Fiero was only offered near the end. And by then a lot of the short coming were fixed and those late model ones were pretty darn good. And the V 6 was FAST.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        @ redapple – Actually, the V6 was offered every year except ’84. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontiac_Fiero#1985. Still dumb to introduce a model without its top engine choice, though.

        dukeisduke is on point about the suspension changes.

        I’m going by memory of the Ate Up With Motor article on the Fiero and not by actual figures, but Aaron Severson makes the interesting point that MR2 sales went down, not up, after the Fiero was discontinued. So at least in that sense, GM’s market forecasters were correct, and cancellation may have been the right move. I think there’s also merit in a counterargument about product continuity, playing the long game with regard to quality, and so forth.

    • 0 avatar
      cbrworm

      If the question is what was the car that was finally good right when it was canceled, I would nominate the Fiero as one of them.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Historically GM has had a genetic predisposition against mid-engine vehicles, which has led them to purposefully or unconsciously sabotage any efforts in this direction – examples:
        – Corvair
        – Fiero
        – Corvette (genes may have drifted enough to finally let this one through? unsure)

        The same argument could possibly be applied to any powertrains which don’t involve pushrods (Northstar, EV1).

        (First picture above: I always thought that was a luggage carrier, but I see now that the real function is as a decklid stiffener – it did its job admirably well.)

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I knew a guy with a Fiero V6 convertible, back in the mid 1990s. The convertible was a third party modification. Pretty neat car but I can’t remember what model year.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    GM is really good at this. I’ll nominate the 2nd gen Corvair.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Good call. One of GM’s prettiest designs, IMO, and with a redesigned suspension that (at least according to what I’ve read) leverages some of the concepts from the C2 Corvette’s independent rear suspension.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      Yup, the 2nd gen Corvair was much superior to the Mustang in every way except lack of V-8 power and arguably styling (depends if you like the long hood short deck style). The Turbo-Corsa just couldn’t keep up with a high output Mustang in the straight line, and very few 1960s buyers cared that the Mustang couldn’t turn, had no backseat, and a small trunk, and got 30% worse gas mileage than the Corvair, so the Mustang greatly outsold it and was no doubt cheaper to produce than the Corvair. GM quickly moved to the Chevy II Camaro.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      I owned a ’66 Corsa two-door 4MT back in the early ’70s. Great fun, great handling – handled better than my ’68 912 and a lot more powerful. 140hp from 4 x 1bbl carbs (two were mechanically operated secondaries). I could hit 115mph at the 5800rpm rev-limit. Healed the pushrod tube oil leaks with some government-spec “liberated from the USN” elastomers. Learned the trick of setting the lifters at 0-lash and installed a Mallory dual-point distributor for more rev’s and less point-bounce. Fond memories…uh, except for dumping all the roller bearings out of one of the CV joints on the asphalt one day during lubrication. 32 of ’em IIRC.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Since you brought up Cimarron I’ll go with Cadillac in general. The Cimarron more then anything was insulting. For Cadillac to pass off a thinly disguised Cavalier as something people would believe in and buy as a Cadillac was ridiculous and they knew it.

    Did Cadillac learn anything? No, because they continue to offer mediocre products then when called out they race around trying to justify the product by making it better. It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to bring your “A” game from the start if you want people to believe in you.

    Is it too late for Cadillac? Yeah, I think they’ve had every chance to redeem themselves, but have chosen to “pull a fast one” time and time again. Say goodnight, Cadillac, I think the party is finally over

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      LIE…..

      You hit the nail. Too many fails over and over again by Cadillac. BYE.

    • 0 avatar
      TheDutchGun

      Other than V models which are obviously premium in performance and price, I don’t see who would choose a Cadillac over other comparables in literally every segment. My opinion may be biased as I’ve never been a fan of GM, but that is the way I look at Cadillac. Lincoln for years was the same story, although I find they’re starting to put it together.

      Any time a “premium” brand resorts to badge engineering, you’re gonna have a bad time.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Exactly, Lincoln was doing the same thing as Cadillac, but in the last few years I really feel that Lincoln is trying to be Ford’s best effort and it’s starting to show. That new Aviator is truly a premium looking vehicle even if we all know it’s really an Explorer

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Traveled for business in the last few weeks with colleagues two of whom are in their 50s.

          They love their Lincolns although one went from Town Car to MKT to MKX.

          If I had asked I’m sure it would have been “Cadillac who?”

        • 0 avatar
          SaulTigh

          Wife and I tested a Lexus LX570 and a Navigator back-to-back last weekend and flat LOVED the Navigator. Dealer wouldn’t play near enough ball on price so I walked away, but I was ready to buy. Gonna wait until late in the year and see if I can get a better deal.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    People beat me too it…

    Definitely the Fiero! And that’s in lifetime. GM got it right in the last year, with the suspension AND a V6 with FIVE speed.

    Good job…bozos! After shooting your wad and disappointing hundreds of thousands with a great looking car powered by the lame Iron PUKE 2.5 four, your spent model was now a great car.

    I could say ’65 Corvair, but the new Mustang clobbered the restyled and re-suspensioned Corvair, so the redo was moot. Also, for 99% of its’ owners, the original Corvair was a good car. It sold pretty well (though not as well as the boring Falcon).

    I could say the ’81 Citation X-11, which added 20 hp to it’s V6 with the throttle-body fuel injection, going from 110 to 130. Or the X-cars in general….they morphed into boring, but reliable A-Cars by the late 80s, only took about 9 years to iron out the kinks…

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Chevy HHR? The answer to the PT Cruiser; a question that no one asked.

  • avatar
    TR4

    ’53-’55 MG TF. It was a warmed over TD, complete with early 1930s styling and sold quite poorly. Replaced by MGA with up-to-date styling and sold very well.

    • 0 avatar
      WallMeerkat

      Or the 2007-2011 TF. A warmed over F, complete with mid 90s styling and sold quite poorly. No real replacement, but I’m seeing a lot of MG crossover/SUVs these days.

  • avatar
    CannonShot

    Nissan Titan: the first generation was a nice looking truck but really never saw much in the way of updates. The current Titan is tough to look at and in terms of innovation and tech it was behind the curve as soon as it launched. Nissan would have been better off sticking with the previous generation, like they have with the Frontier.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I agree. The first gen when launched stood the truck market on its ear with the 5.6L+5A that blew the doors off the competition. It looked fresh and interesting, offered a big cab, and was a strong performer all around. Credit to Nissan’s stylists, that gen 1 styling stayed relevant for a long time IMO, ultimately of course they let it whither on the vine and a lot of it began to look and feel rather outdated.

      Current gen? Bland at best, rather ugly if you ask me, perfectly middling specs all around. I suppose I’d consider a Pro-4X at a hefty discount.

      Nissan has an opportunity to come out swinging with the next gen Frontier, but I fear for the worst. it will inevitably lose it’s calling card VQ40, which is a very satisfying and strong, if thirsty, mill.

  • avatar
    DEVILLE88

    If Cadillac had taken the formula they used on the 1975 Seville………..things may have been different. i like the Cimarron, especially the later models(when they finally got the car right). But as introduced…..It should have been a Cavalier LTZ SS. The 1975 Seville was done perfectly right. Based on a Nova but unmistakably Cadillac. The Cimarron was unmistakably…………..a Chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Yep, there’s a big difference in sharing a platform and badge engineering. The Seville proves that Cadillac knew how to work a platform into something pretty special, then they got lazy with the Cimarron and thought no one would notice

      • 0 avatar
        WildcatMatt

        The biggest problem with the Cimarron is the Cadillac insisted on doing it fast rather than doing it well.

        If Pete Estes could have convinced Ed Kennard in 1980 to launch it as a 1983.5 model instead of a 1982 model and followed the Seville pattern, it still may not have been a hit, but it wouldn’t be the stone around Cadillac’s neck that it is today.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          You’re looking at it all wrong, man. The Cimarron was the “Flagship” Cavalier, designed to sell Cavaliers as fast as they could stamp them out, printing money for GM! They looked extremely like the Cavalier for very good reason. It was a huge success, I still see Cavaliers on road limping along, lol!

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            ” I still see Cavaliers on road limping along, lol!”

            You know the saying, GMs are notorious for running poorly for a long, long time

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Who was it that said Cavaliers are the “Cockroaches of the Road”?

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            @Denver Mike: Me.

            I originally said it about the Chevy Citation. But as the supply of Citations dried up, the Cavalier became the default “Cockroach of the Road”.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “Who was it that said Cavaliers are the “Cockroaches of the Road”?”

            I thought that was the Pontiac Sunfire? Hehehe

        • 0 avatar
          Russycle

          Well said Matt. With GM’s history of screwing up their small cars (Corvair-Vega-Citation) they should have made sure the Cimarron was real Cadillac, instead of just a Cav with extra chrome. So short-sighted.

          This was a critical failure for GM. The x-cars, which were supposed to be their answer to the import onslaught, had failed miserably. The release of a badge-engineered on-the-cheap Chevy by supposed flagship Cadillac proved that GM just didn’t get it, and customers responded.

          Even the later V6 model still looked like a dressed up Cav, which just doesn’t work when you’re selling luxury. IMHO they never got the Cimarron “right”.

  • avatar

    Within the last 4-5 years Hemmings had an article on the Cimarron where the author stated it was a warmed over Chevy. Next issue there was a letter to editor questioning the authors parentage. It was up there with the infamous “Leave Britney alone” youtube video.

    There were true believers for this “Caddy”. Just not enough.

  • avatar
    Damian P.

    The Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare eventually developed into a reasonably reliable car (the long-running Fifth Avenue was based on its platform) but only after its reputation had been thoroughly destroyed by its catastrophic first year on the market.

  • avatar
    Damian P.

    The Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare eventually developed into a reasonably reliable car (the long-running Fifth Avenue was based on its platform) but only after its reputation had been thoroughly destroyed by its catastrophic first year on the market.

  • avatar
    DEVILLE88

    All Range Rovers and most Jaguars. They spend half their mechanical lifes in the shop.

  • avatar
    geo

    Ford Five Hundred/Freestyle. Nobody cared when they finally got the drivetrain right.

    Citation II. I believe it ended up being a decent car by 1985, and was re-engineered like the early “ringers” handed out to the press. Obviously it was too late.

    Ford Focus. The PowerShift updates may have helped, but most people knew to avoid the vehicle.

    Pontiac G8. Now that was more like it, after that last-gen Grand Prix! But too late to save the company. They were also getting a new small rwd based on the ATS.

    Fiero. Forever the poster boy of tltl.

    Allante. I believe this also became a good car at the end, though I don’t know the details other than the new Northstar.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      “Pontiac G8. Now that was more like it, after that last-gen Grand Prix! But too late to save the company. They were also getting a new small rwd based on the ATS.”

      They were also going to get a G8 UTE, even had a naming contest for it before the brand was axed.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    I feel like the same could be said for the Catera, but I don’t recall there being more than one generation.

    Tough day for Cadillac on TTAC…

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The Catera was so stupid. The RWD is nice but its exterior had nothing to do with the Cadillac brand and it got stuck with the hellish Ellesmere V6 and glassjaw 4L30E.

      Holden used basically the same car as the Commodore, but they were smart enough to use the 3800, V8s, and the 4L60E.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Five Hundred to Taurus.

    The Five Hundred was a good package but didn’t have much power and the CVT on the AWD version scared some people away.

    So they went to the razor-face Taurus in 2007. IMO this should have been a big success for Ford. You got 263hp, a conventional automatic, a big interior, a cavernous trunk, and a good greenhouse. It is everything a large FWD sedan should be. But I guess people still didn’t like it.

    In 2010 Ford jazzed the Taurus up (maybe they focused grouped the earlier version). They kept the big trunk and we gained a performance version, but they also raised the beltline and gave it a “cockpit” interior that cut out 7cuft of interior volume. This one didn’t too well either.

    And now there will probably never be another big Ford sedan sold in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      “So they went to the razor-face Taurus in 2007. IMO this should have been a big success for Ford. You got 263hp, a conventional automatic, a big interior, a cavernous trunk, and a good greenhouse. It is everything a large FWD sedan should be. But I guess people still didn’t like it.”

      We didn’t deserve it. Squashed greenhouses are getting so bad my wife and I were in Albuquerque traffic and she started commenting on squashed greenhouses on cars. “More glass!” she said.

      FYI I’m starting to be haunted by Ford Flexes. I love the design but dislike that the fuel economy isn’t any better than what I’m driving now. BUT yesterday trying to leave Albuquerque I saw THREE of them in the space of 20 min, all traveling in my direction.

      It’s like I’m being dared to buy one.

  • avatar
    Terry

    Anything with a Saturn nameplate. The horror stories coming out of our sister Saturn store would make you cringe.
    ” I know! They wont buy our Chev/Pont/Buick/Olds/Cad crap? Let’s bring out a line of import-fighters! Hey Toyota, Honda, Nissan–eat our dust!!”
    “Our Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky will blow those pesky Miatas right back to Japan!”
    Sure thing, PAL!

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    I’m happy there are a few non gm examples, gm is clearly the king of inflicting terrible cars and then improving them until they got less terrible, but by then no one wanted them anymore. To pile on Cadillac, the 4.1 was an absolute disaster, making less power than the Buick 3.8v6 and fragile, but evolved into the solid 4.5/4.9. the Northstar had years of problems but was revised A DECADE LATER to be reliable. I’d also nominate the w body as a car which started out as not very good but by the second generation in 1997ish vastly improved in some areas, although quality declined. Lest we forget, Hyundai/Kia came very close to withdrawing from the us market even though their cars had improved and Audi came very close to withdrawing after the sudden acceleration allegations and Audi horrible quality of the 80s. The cars improved but it took ages before anyone wanted one.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      The automotive propaganda arm ^H^H^H^H press deserves some of the blame for the Northstars. R&T, and others, raved about them when they were introduced, and how the variable cylinder technology could theoretically prevent them from overheating if they lost all their coolant. In practice, their weakness was that they’d run too hot even with all of their coolant.

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    How about Suzuki, which had finally come up with a coherent brand identity as a budget Subaru and then got yanked?

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    I wonder if the Chevy SS makes the cut. The excellent final iteration of the G8 that no one knew about.

  • avatar
    V16

    The first generation Olds Aurora still turns heads.
    The second generation lost it’s way, along with the Oldsmobile brand.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Pontiac Bonneville and 6000STE from the 80’s and 90’s. Those cars were kinda sorta intended on challenging BMW. They were really family sedans with cladding that has aged kinda well in the sense that it still looks really 80’s and 90’s and you can get a good chuckle at the memory of thinking it kinda looked good at the time.

    Most recent example was VW’s Passat GT. They should have thrown 4 motion on it, updated it infotainment screen and asked $1500 more. It might have lasted a few more years.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I mean, really, domestic compact cars.

    The Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge, Dart, and Ford Focus (I love that alliteration) may have been decent and even competitive cars when they were killed off—but the Big Three had decades of producing crappy small cars, so no one wanted to buy the domestics without steep discounts that made it unprofitable.

    • 0 avatar
      TheDutchGun

      Yep. I am a current focus owner in ST trim, but would not have touched the previous north America spec generations with a 10 foot pole. Even the svt from a number of years back was at best a middling attempt at a “hot hatch”.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      Domestic companies are not very good at building cars to sell in the international market. Foreign companies live on those market and then try to push into the US market. So, economy of scale breed products align to what their bread and butter is at, and import companies run circles around the domestic, and the opposite in full size trucks and SUVs.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Lots of choices. I would just say that it starts with the base platform. No matter how much lipstick you put on it a pig still remains a pig.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    Cadillac CT6:

    They fixed the exterior styling and developed a new engine but it still has the same low rent interior.

    Silverado/Sierra:

    Redesigned but still falls short on crash safety and interior quality.

    Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler Neon:

    Fixed the frame less windows but gained too much weight, still stuck some models with the 3 speed auto and dropped the ECC DOHC engine. Never had rear power windows although the 2nd gen model touted to have “thousands of improvements”.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Just to throw something different out there, I’ll submit the 2007-2008 Chrysler Pacifica.

    The interior was just fine when it came out in 2004 but it was underpowered for its weight and the engine cradle would disintegrate.

    The engines were tweaked in ’07 and except for the horror-show 3-piece AWD driveshaft it was pretty well sorted. But Chrysler had tried too hard to push it upmarket and the crossover segment hadn’t found itself yet, so away it went.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    Acura TL. By the time they fix the transmission issues the reputation is already bad.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    How about 94-98 mustang & 99-04 mustang?

    94 & 95 retained the 5.0L but the styling was a big step backward from the fox body. New, inferior engine in 96.

    No improvement in the styling for 99 redesign and marginal improvement in 2V 4.6 engine performance. Later models in the 99-04 model cycle added numerous non-functional body pieces meant to look like air intakes.

    Only saving grace for this period in Mustangs was the 03-04 terminator and to a lesser extent the minimalist Bullitt version.

    My opinion of course.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The 94-98 Mustangs were still severely sandbagged with 2.73 (axle) gear sets, or 3.08s if you or the dealer knew to order them, same as with former Foxes.

      3.73 gears are always optimal (and yes they’re optional on current Mustangs) and 4.10s for automatics.

      3.27 became standard issue on 99-04 Mustangs, so that’s a little better.

      I don’t know about the V6 Mustangs (as if they matter), but pre ’05 Mustang GTs are notably smaller and lighter than modern Mustangs, so with a couple of upgrades, it should wake them up, and certainly they’re more tossable. Maybe Catback turbos?

      • 0 avatar
        TheDutchGun

        I’d take an 05-09 GT over the preceeding 10 years based on styling alone even if it is heavier. The 3V 4.6 is pretty easy to wake up as well.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          I prefer the edgy/contemporary 99-04 Mustangs, not to mention the “Terminator” supercharged, DOHC 4.6, forged internals, Tremec 6-speed, etc, Cobras.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    This is like being in school again, I’m loving it =8-) .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Second-gen Chrysler 200. The first one was a mildly refreshed second-gen Sebring (which, IIRC, was about ten years old at the time). The second was the then-new Dodge Dart, slightly upgraded. Both had good advertising, and little else.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    The current Ford Taurus. The prior one–based on the Five Hundred–was pretty good for what it was supposed to be–roomy, good visibility. Its replacement offered sleeker styling, on the same chassis, at the expense of the roominess and visibility.

    Yes, I know someone beat me to it.

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    The 1990s European Ford Escort. A terrible car in 1990, by the second facelift they’d ironed out most of the issues and made it into an adequate car. But it was always adequate, especially up against the fun to drive 306 or the British-Japanese ‘R8’ Rover 200.
    Then the Focus came along and was actually a good car, and they quietly killed the Escort off.


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