By on August 1, 2019

Last week we played a round of Armchair Alternative History where we discussed missed opportunities in the automotive industry. Conversation focused on actions automakers didn’t take when they should’ve.

Today is round two. Let’s go back and erase things that actually happened.

Some of you branched out into this topic last week in the 270-plus comments the article received. Today you’ll just have to pick a different past mistake to erase. No one covered your author’s selected misstep for this week.

This one had “AVOIDABLE” written on it in red paint.

1989: General Motors decides not to get involved with Saab

In 1989, Saab (cars) and Scania (trucks) were a single large company. The company restructured itself so the more profitable trucks were separated from the struggling automotive branch. The newly independent Saab Automobile AB needed some assistance, and it leaned on two new capitally-rich owners: Investor AB and General Motors, each with 50 percent ownership. Investor AB was (and is) a private equity firm controlled by the same family since 1916. Typically its investments are in large Swedish-based companies. Though it only has about 80 employees, the firm is worth over $30 billion. General Motors, a much different sort of company, spent $600 million, just like Investor AB. The investment came with an understanding that GM could purchase the remaining stake in the company within 10 years. It did so in 2000, at a cost of $125 million more (quite a discount).

It never should’ve happened. Though the new GM-based 900 was successful and caused the company to turn a profit, Saab was a story of continual struggle. With quirky ideas, unique engineering, and a small following, it was a bad match for the Costco management style of GM. By late in 2008 the brand’s future was in doubt among all of GM’s financial troubles. From there it was sold multiple times, split up, and finally rendered defunct in 2012. NEVS made some electric Saab 9-3s for a while, but those didn’t really count.

In my alternative history, the Saab brand goes to Investor AB and some other firm, probably in China. Eventually wholly Chinese-owned, Saab is just a name for cars that would normally be called Roewe or Great Wall. The company’s last real vehicles were the 900 and 9000, which lived until circa 2002 with minor revisions. Here, General Motors saves itself some money, and does not dilute the final chapter of Saab with things like the Trollblazer 9-7X, and the Saabaru 9-2X.

What’s your historical automotive misstep to erase?

[Images: Saab]

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116 Comments on “QOTD: Alternative History of Avoiding Disastrous Consequences?...”


  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Was China ready to buy Saab thirty years ago? They hadn’t bought Clinton’s election and Clinton hadn’t offshored our economy and military technology yet. It would have been best if Saab had just folded then. The cars were horribly made antiques and horribly made rebadged Fiats. But GM wouldn’t be GM without doing mind-bendingly ridiculous things.

    • 0 avatar
      SlowMyke

      I agree with this, I’m not sure China was ready to start their financial conquest of all struggling things automotive.

      Also, if GM diluted Saab with things like the 9-7x at the end, how do you think a Chinese owner would do even remotely that well? I don’t think most Chinese forms do remotely as well as Geely has done for it’s acquisitions. As you said, Saabs would become Roewes and Great Walls, and the 9-7x would comparatively be as good as the old 9-2.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Let’s keep poking fun at GM…

    The Fiero disaster. We all knew that first generation had a little problem with unintended ignition. But there isn’t much out there that summed up the half-assed, lazy, who gives a (blank) attitude that GM had towards the buyer, the critics, and even their own employees than the Fiero. They knew the Iron Duke was the wrong engine for the mid-mount. They knew that due to the redesigned oil pan, the engines were going to be running low on oil during normal operation. They saw the consequences themselves on their own test tracks when pre-production cars caught on fire. And they still sold them! And they continued to sell them even though they knew that they were going to face customer and critical backlash, destruction of reputation, lawsuits, and customer deaths. And what did they do when it came time to finally issue a recall and fix the problem? I believe they tried to issue the recall (make it public) hours before Thanksgiving when GM hoped no one would be paying attention and the media might not pick it up. Well, they did, and the backlash was ruthless.

    I think most of agree that they finally got it right in 1988 with the correct engine and solving a lot of the handling and engine problems, but there was so much damage done that there was no salvaging the name and the brand. So, to save face, Pontiac/GM issues a half-(blanked) press statement saying that they are discontinuing it due to no market. Well, that was proven wrong in two major ways. First, when “your market” has a risk of dying in a fireball in your car, they have every right to look elsewhere. Second, in 1989, the Miata was released with two seats, RWD, and was a blast to drive. It was the same market and it sold like mad, making GM look more the fool.

    There are too many cases to choose from where GM, by not taking the time, energy, and effort, blew their reputation to shreds, lost market share, and just kept dropping the ball to the point where even eye rolls and shrugs weren’t enough. The Fiero was just one glowing (pun intended) example.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Yes (see below)

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      It was also originally marketed as a commuter car, like a Metro but mid-engine.

      Would have been a contender with the Grand National turbo six in it.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        The Iron Duke barely fit! Besides the bad connecting rods, faulty wiring, and loose hoses, there was the oil pan issue. In order for it to fit, the oil pan had to be redesigned. Well, someone with brain power that possibly cannot be measured signed off on a pan that essentially let an engine run a quart low. Combined with a dipstick that gave incorrect readings plus connecting rods that had a bad habit of turning into shrapnel, and that was a recipe for complete and total disaster.

        Somehow they got the 2.8L V6 to fit later on. I guess they could have removed the tiny trunk and installed an even larger engine, but that would have killed all pretenses of a commuter car. I believe the commuter car plan was just so Pontiac could sell it to the brass – they really wanted a performance car, and made it look like a performance car. But the engine, a slow revving, heavy lump, and a non-performance suspension ended those dreams early on. It was just a wad of compromises rolled up into poor decisions and spit out as a dangerous car on an unsuspecting public.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        The Fiero never received a powerful engine to protect the Corvette. The C3 was printing money for GM while the Fiero was being developed, and there was no way Pontiac was going to be allowed to upset the apple cart by developing a modern sports car. The C4 being developed at the same time was going to have the best objective handling of any road car, but it would have been a dot in a 200+hp Fiero’s rear view mirror on any straightaway.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Yep, the 1988 model was too little, too late. The repurposed Chevette front suspension and relocated X-Body-front-suspension-as-rear-suspension was replaced with a proper designed-for-Fiero front and rear suspension setup, but the effort was wasted. Unless you bought one of the cars – A friend of mine bought a 50,000 mile ’88 GT a few years ago, and drives it occasionally on weekends, and also auctocrosses it.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Even with Camaro, Trans Am, future cars like Cyclone, Typhoon, GN, Corvette…the Fiero managed 90,000 sales in 1985. When the Miata broke it had 24K and bested under 39K the 2nd year. Today the Miata is mostly a 5-digit seller.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        GM didn’t get the Corvette right at first. The Camaro may or may not stick around. Syclone? A Truck. Typhoon? A SUV, neither were amde for very long or are being built today. Most GN owners have matching satin jackets and GN ballcaps. It’s a treat to see a couple dressed in matching attire. The Fiero is textbook example of GM hubris; make something that looks great on the outside but is poorly engineered and parts bin built on the inside. Year in and year out, the Miata is a 5-dgit seller. Been selling like that for decades. The Miata is a textbook example of being exactly right the 1st time. Something GM finds more often by accident than purpose.

        • 0 avatar
          theflyersfan

          Jeremy Clarkson on the MX-5. ’nuff said:

          “Well, that’s fine. You waste your money on a Mustang or a Ferrari. The fact is that if you want a sports car, the MX-5 is perfect. Nothing on the road will give you better value. Nothing will give you so much fun. The only reason I’m giving it five stars is because I can’t give it 14.”

          https://www.mazda.co.nz/reviews/mazda-mx-5-20i-sport-tech

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Ren-Center Cadillac meeting:

    “We’ll just slap a Cadillac badge on a Cavalier, the public will eat it up”

    “No, they’re not that stupid to pay Cadillac money for a cheap Chevy. Now, go back a design a small, fuel-efficient car that deserves the Cadillac brand”

    The Cimarron that never happened * sigh *

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      “No, they’re not that stupid to pay Cadillac money for a cheap Chevy. Now, go back a design a small, fuel-efficient car that deserves the Cadillac brand”

      Give them the five years that it would have taken to develop something worthy instead of rebadge and it’s not hitting the market until the oil crisis is over and nobody cares. By 1986 gas was cheaper than it had been in 1973.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Ok, so in 5 years Cadillac has designed a decent small fuel-efficient car that by this time the public is willing to accept that takes them into the next decade with their good reputation still firmly intact. Still a far better position to be in

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          GM did take the 5 years to design something small but decent with the K-body Seville, C-body Deville, and E-body El Dorado. All of which would have been great cars for 1980 but were duds in the market that they actually got. A fourth and even smaller entry wouldn’t have changed anything.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Perhaps they were “duds” because people no longer trusted them. That whole Cimarron debacle gave Cadillac a huge black eye that in some ways they’re still suffering from today. It doesn’t help that Cadillac and GM has done little to make amends

        • 0 avatar
          Greg Hamilton

          And don’t forget the Northstar engine which long term destroyed what little reputation Cadillac had left.

        • 0 avatar
          jamespdx

          Don’t forget the Olds “diesel” put in Cadillacs or the V8/6/4 . . . Cadillac did what it could to destroy itself, the Cimmaron was just icing on the cake.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I wonder if anyone piped up and said we should price the Cavalier/Cimmaron above the Fleetwood and Eldorado like we did with the Nova/Seville. The marks lapped that one up.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The 2011 replay of that discussion gave us the Cadillac ELR.

      The ELR’s price befit Cadillac, but its performance did not. That car never should have happened; they sold less than 2900 of them in the US – ever.

    • 0 avatar
      FOG

      Just a minor point. GM wasn’t in the RenCen until 1996.

    • 0 avatar
      craiger

      Ah, the Cimarron. I was a kid with a paper route when the car was introduced. Even then I was into cars. One of my customers bought a Cimarron, and one morning I came across him washing it in the driveway. A neighbor was there telling him how great it was that he bought a Cadillac. I was too young to recognize that you should never criticize a man’s ride, so I mentioned that it’s a Chevy Cavalier at twice the price. The owner insisted that it was a true Cadillac and bore no relation to the Cavalier.

      I still remember the ad for the Cimarron: “America’s BMW!”

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m going to pick a personal one rather than a “business” one.

    2007-2015. Jaguar keeps at least one “retro” sedan in its lineup. It was terrible seeing my favorite sedans turn into indistinct blobs (inside and out) during the Callum era.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      ajla – Building on that, I’d point the finger solely on Ford losing the playbook of what a Jaguar really is. Ford thought they could convert an economy car platform into the X-Type, cram AWD into it, put a little extra wood and leather in it and call it a Jaguar? How about the Lincoln LS becoming the S-Type? C’mon Ford! The Mondeo might have been an excellent small car, but failed badly with what people were wanting a Jag to be. The LS was a somewhat half-hearted attempt at a Euro-sedan (and the sales numbers showed it), and converting it into a Jag with that melted bar/Jag stereotype style attempt was even sadder.
      Granted, it isn’t as bad as sticking the ignition between the seats inside a Trailblazer and calling it a Saab (and then calling it a day), but this was close. I drove both an X-Type and S-Type as rentals and came away so unimpressed. There was nothing special about them. A Jaguar is supposed to be a British luxury driver’s car. They are supposed to be stylish, quirky, and feel solid (yet give you the impression that the door trim might come off at any time.) It wasn’t supposed to feel like a small Ford.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I actually like the X-Type and S-Type. Especially when compared to their current offerings.

        In fact, if there was an S-Type style car available in 2018 I probably would have bought it.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I knew people who bought X-types. They never bought Jags again, that’s for sure.

          • 0 avatar

            I enjoyed the X type because while it was new I had a Mercury mystique and it was fun matching up all the parts bin parts from my $17,000 mercury

          • 0 avatar

            I enjoyed the X type because while it was new I had a Mercury mystique and it was fun matching up all the parts bin parts from my $17,000 mercury

        • 0 avatar
          theflyersfan

          I will give the X-Type a somewhat thumbs up in terms of exterior styling. It had a better Jag look than the S-Type, and didn’t look like any other small car on the road. That being said, the underpowered, thirsy engine was a blemish, along with a back seat and trunk that were too small to be practical. The compromises for the styling and the AWD system were too great for it to be practical. And the quality scores…ouch.
          Have to strongly disagree with the S-Type. I’ve driven both the V6 and V8 (thanks Ford engines!) and just came away thinking I was driving a wood-bound Lincoln, and an older floating barge one at that. There was terminal seasickness with my passengers in any kind of cornering, the weight of the car overpowered the engine (especially the V6), and there was just this feel that the car was not quite there. Yes, it looked the part. When it was new, the flowing lines and the wood and leather interior impressed. But driving it was such a letdown. It’s like Ford handed the Jag crew a shell of an LS, a couple of engines, and said, “Do your best on the cheap.”
          And those S-Types have not aged gracefully – many of them on their 3-4 owner and look the part with dead, fogged over lights, poor paint, and destroyed interiors.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            ¯_(ツ)_/¯

            I enjoyed the ones I’ve driven, and I loved the look of both. But it doesn’t matter anymore, that sort of car is long gone.

          • 0 avatar
            millmech

            PRESENTING! The Edsel II!!
            https://carfax-img.vast.com/carfax/7082863493821578982/1/640×480

          • 0 avatar
            Joshua Johnson

            Just wanted to clear up a little misinformation.

            The V8 in the S-Type was a pure Jag design (4.0L and 4.2L), definitely not a Ford design. Ford did use a modified version in the LS, Thunderbird (3.9L) and at Aston Martin (4.3L and 4.7L). The 4.2 was far superior to the 4.0L, and the 4.2L supercharged was in an entirely different category. You are correct about the V6, that is a Ford motor.

            The S-Type was not based off the LS sheet metal; all three were developed around a similar platform (DEW) based on co-US/UK designs.

            I agree with the sentiment about the aging of the Gen1 S-Types, but the Gen2 have generally aged much better in my opinion than Gen1 and the LS, especially the S-Type R with no chrome trim.

            I’ve never driven a V6 or NA V8 S-Type, but I would imagine the comment about the weight to be accurate. The electronic suspension in the sport models (all engines) helps immensely in that regard.

            Destroyed interiors and poor paint, that is due to lack of care by 3rd and 4th owners. I regularly receive comments on the quality of my paint. These cars have the older paint that can no longer be made due to VOCs. The leather is real leather as well, not that cheaper stuff the newer models are using. An annual treatment of Hyde Food helps maintain it.

            I can agree with the X-Type comments. I really wanted to like it, especially the wagon. But after driving one and seeing the lack of quality, I just couldn’t do it.

        • 0 avatar
          King of Eldorado

          Ajla — Same here as to styling. If I could find a low-mile unmolested X-type today I would consider buying it as a toy. The X-type wagon was especially good-looking.

  • avatar
    WalthamDan

    I agree with the SAAB story being at the top of the list.

    I would also bring the Saturn experiment as one to consider for discussion. A ‘Different kind of car company’ it was not. Sure you can make an argument that the No Haggle pricing strategy was intuitive and almost a game-changer, leading to today’s no-haggle internet pricing strategy utilized by just about every dealership, but the lack of a quality product doomed the program from the start.

    Plastic panels with gaps wide enough to store a bag of Skittles, drivetrains that droned and lacked any resemblance of performance, instrumentation located mid-dashboard, and eventually shared platforms with other middling GM products.

    Saturn had such great promise. A large investment from GM. A new factory in Spring Hill. A V6 from Honda! Intelligence learned from joint production with Toyota, a new way of selling.

    So what did they progressively deliver? The Ion.

    Need we say more.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      All cars need to pass the “Skittles Test” for fit and finish :)

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        The original S series cars weren’t terrible and the twin cam models were quick in there day and handled well. It was the interiors that let them down. They were loud and had some oil use issues but they run a long time and generally hold up well.

        • 0 avatar
          el scotto

          Mr. Vandelay, I had two Saturn SL1’s. One was totaled by a flood. The second ended up with my parents. At 285,000 miles, something weird broke and a new a part was unavailable. Oh, and the headliner was held up with push-pins. I mean, GM new about their headliner problem for years and did NOTHING to fix it. The seats were not designed for long-distance driving. One of the few vehicles I’ve owned that caused actual physical pain. Again GM; I think the original Saturn’s were built to Toyota quality but corporate infighting killed the quality.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      WD,
      Have you ever owned a Saturn Ion? I needed a commuter car in 2004 and ended up with a new Saturn Ion 1 for $10.6K. It was a very basic model with manual tranny and hand crank windows. The only options were AC and a CD player. I budgeted it to last 150k miles (about 6 years of use when I was commuting a long way to work).
      It turned out to be the most reliable and durable car I have ever owned. The 2.2 Ecotec engine combined with the Getrag 5 speed manual was surprisingly fun to drive and had far better low end torque than a Corolla or Civic. I test drove them both and found them very weak at low rpms. The fact that the plastic body and space frame had no significant rust after 10 years was also a bonus. Yes, the interior bits were not competitive with the competition, but it cost about $5k less.
      In 2014, I replaced it with a new Accord and gave it to my younger son who was going to college in Pittsburgh. The Ion had about 250k miles when I gave it to him and still was on the original clutch. I spent less than $2K total on scheduled and unscheduled maintenance over the 10 years. This included rebuilding most of the front suspension around 200k miles. It met its demise in 2018 in a minor accident that didn’t do much damage, but totaled the car on damages relative to it’s market value.
      I just hope my 2014 Accord will do as well.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        “Have you ever owned a Saturn Ion?” I’m guessing he’s never even sat in a Saturn, let alone owned one. The original SL’s were, on balance, good cars for their era, and they most definitely did not have center-mounted instruments. Yes, the (much) later Ion had center-mounted instruments.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I have an acquaintance who tries to make a living selling old bust-expletive Saturns for $3k a pop. Claims they’re more reliable than Toyotas and are Dog’s gift to motoring. I’ve driven one of these steaming piles of excrement and don’t see how he thinks they’re worth what he’s asking.

      Now, my aunt bought one of the original Saturns and quite liked it, but she wasn’t pretending it was something it wasn’t. When it was about 10 years old she got an SC1 and quite liked it. I rode in that car many times and it was fine; nothing special, but I’d been used to standard first rung domestic fair having ridden in a long line of Fords and a couple Chevys.

      My friend had an Ion with the two suicide doors. That was the first car equipped with a manual transmission that I was able to get moving. I drove it briefly when my friend decided it was time I learned. I was 16 at the time and had only ever attempted it in an older Escort whose clutch felt heavier than it had any right to be, though my recollection could be wrong. For that reason the Ion holds a special spot in my automotive background, but I’ll not pretend it was brilliant.

  • avatar
    Jon

    Hybrids.

    drops mic…

  • avatar
    scott25

    Dieselgate is the obvious one here, it would’ve saved VW a ton of money, but I’m also not sure if it would’ve affected their brand perception really anyway. I mean, we would still have diesels to choose from, and the maybe the governments of Europe would’ve been slower to start banning diesels from their urban centres, but the people who like VW would still like them and the haters would’nt have their mind changed.

    We’ll see if any good will come of it (IE VW pushing the EV further towards feasibility for normal people)

    Either way, I’m sure VAG would still keep the arrogant/complacent attitude they’re known for

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Dieselgate is a good one… if VW had did just what every other company caught red-handed does, and beg for forgiveness and promise to Sin No More, it would have been a moderate amount of fines and restitution; they might have even been able to avoid even a stop-sale.

      Actively insulting the regulators in question by questioning their basic competence after you already know they got it exactly right is not a recipe for favorable prosecutorial discretion when you run out of excuses.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    I’d much rather have Saab dead than being used as a husk to peddle chinese domestic cars.

    I’d eliminate the placement of an automatic transmission from any enthusiast/performance car.

  • avatar
    jmo

    SAAB should have merged with Fuji Heavy Industry and become the luxury division of Subaru.

  • avatar
    scott25

    I don’t get the obsession with Saab, it never was going to be a successful manufacturer, it was always niche and that wasn’t feasible in the long term.

    Personally I think the Koreans might have gotten involved if GM didn’t, it would’ve made sense slotted above Hyundai and giving them early expertise in turbocharging and refinement

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      For me, it’s the early front drive thing. Living where I do, they (and Minis) were legendary for getting through winter storms and jumping giant snow drifts. They seemes to get through when Eldo’s, Toro’s, and 4x4s couldn’t. I think a close second was the VW Squareback wagon, and Volvos. But, then came Civis, F10 and so on . . .

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Saab’s niche was small up when it brought out the 900 Turbo in the late ’70s, and at that point the niche got slightly bigger. Then performance returned in the ’80s. So much for that niche…

  • avatar
    TimK

    It’s 1975 and GM assembles a Manhattan Project team to eliminate carburetors across their product lines. The world is spared twenty years of raw gasoline dripping from exhaust pipes. Millions of lives are saved, global warming reverses, the Millennium truly arrives.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      Hey now, TimK – The electronic QuadraJunk carb was kinda, sorta moving forward toward the modern day.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yes. Also, same time frame, GM realizes the Iron Duke has no future and instead of messing around with rotary-engine Corvette prototypes it develops a modern, all-aluminum, DOHC 4-banger.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        Go back in time and replace the Chevy inline 6 with the Pontiac OHC six going forward. Years later, lop 2 cylinders off for the ‘Duke.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        @Russycle
        Like the Quad 4 in my wife’s car that was still going strong when we retired it after 18 years?

        • 0 avatar
          Russycle

          @Pig_Iron: Sure, the Quad 4 was a good effort… introduced in 1987, years later than it should have been, and was pretty much just a performance option. Meanwhile the Duke soldiered on until 1993 and was replaced by the GMs 2.2 OHV engine.

          Meanwhile Toyonda was building their reputations for smooth, efficient, bulletproof 4-bangers.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        @Jeff Weimer
        Like the Opel 1.8 OHC four we had in our Pontiac that lasted 22 years before we retired it?

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff Weimer

          @Pig_Iron

          No, the six would have been in all the vehicles in which the Chevy six was installed and then the 4 could have been the Vega engine instead of the disastrous 2.3….

          Although the 1.8 would have been a better engine choice for the Fiero – they had it on the J2000/Sunbird so….

        • 0 avatar
          Felix Hoenikker

          I had the Opel 1.8L with Bosch Electronic FI in the 1975 Opel Manta. That was a great combo.

    • 0 avatar
      volvo

      I think 2 recent auto engineering grads could have gotten that job done if left to the task without beancounters and 3 levels of VPs second guessing every decision.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      GM did develop port EFI in 1975 (using license from Bosch for the injectors) but the fact is it was still too expensive and it only made it on to Cadillacs and as a relatively expensive option over the carb equipped 500. Though the Olds 350 in the Nova, er I mean Seville had a throttle body injection system on introduction in 1975 but it was the most expensive Cadillac despite the fact that is was the small one. The wonderful HT4100 was EFI only too.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Erase things that actually happened: Ford turning it’s back on the Bronco’s original mission of being an off-road Mustang.
    https://i.pinimg.com/originals/47/ba/f4/47baf4753811cee12ee28f896e740e92.jpg

  • avatar
    jack4x

    The $7500 electric car credit is never passed. Tesla is smothered in its cradle. TTAC is spared 100,000 angry comments on either side of the debate.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    1) GM decides in 1972 to refocus Cadillac as a genuine Mercedes/Jaguar competitor, foregoing sales at the extreme low end of the “luxury” market, out of concern that such brand dilution would only torment the company for decades to come.

    2) Roger Smith dumps his Saturn plans in January 1985 and instead opts to invest approximately $5 billion towards competitive improvements to the J-car platform. By the early 1990s, these upgrades – which approach Japanese standards for build quality, interior materials and smooth-running multivalve engines – filter throughout the rest of the GM lineup.

    • 0 avatar
      Robotdawn

      As someone who has bought 70% of his cars from GM in his life, and currently owns 2 of them, you could write a book or 17 just on GM mistakes alone. It’s incredible how many times GM could have reversed the slide to bankruptcy with just a little freaking focus for a few years on ANYTHING. They had 50%! market share at one time.
      Heck, I’m convinced the reason why so many people hate GM cars is because just about everyone has owned at least one GM at some point in their lives. What other make can you say that about?
      As much as people crap on Ms. Barra at least she has a plan and is sticking to it. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the plan (as a buyer), but at least it’s a plan that intends to keep them profitable.

  • avatar
    someoldfool

    You are all so young. How about Packard producing a less expensive model that essentially brought the value of the brand down. And failing to produce a modern car in the 50s. The Ford Edsel? Studebaker’s many mistakes. The 50s were perilous times, the Chevrolet/Ford price war, but it shouldn’t have affected Packard. They lost the magic to Cadillac. Chrysler’s rush to production of the 57 model year. Harley Earl’s late 50s style, stodgy and awkward. Ford’s Continental V-12, and Y block with the odd intake passages. And on and on.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Didn’t Packard decide to supply New York taxi fleets with cars in order to expose more people to Packards and attempt to create an aura of indestructability? Instead people got used to seeing filthy, beat up Packards filling the roles of Checkers and Plymouths. I seem to recall that Peugeot did the same thing on their way to losing their footing in the American market.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      I’ll take the Packard line a step further-
      DATELINE: South Bend, Indiana, 1956. Studebaker-Packard and Nash-Hudson announce a merger creating the new American Motors Corporation. The company produces Packards that compete with Cadillac, Lincoln, and Imperial. Studebaker produces trucks. Hudson makes mid-market offerings, while Nash’s Rambler takes on the compacts. The company acquires Jeep from Kaiser in 1970 and Chrysler Corporation in 1979. It also acquires Renault in 1993.
      Today, American Motors sells Packards that compete with Mercedes and Lexus. Studebaker trucks are the top-selling pickup. Rambler Electrics sell in the millions. And the latest Hudson Matador takes the NASCAR Cup for the fifth year in a row.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Ford never went through its everything is a jellybean design phase with the jellybean F-150, fish-eyed Taurus which decimated sales, the Contour, etc. etc. etc.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    No flogging of GM would be complete without mention of the Olds Diesel…and the trifecta of Caddy nightmares known as V8-6-4, HT4100, and Northstar. Truly, GM earned ever ounce of hate they got from those debacles!

    As for Chrysler, I don’t know. It seems we seldom discuss their strategic mis-steps, and instead remember the triumph of the K cars….and the wise acquisition of AMC/Jeep. I don’t know if the Renault alliance (see what I did there?) was good or bad on balance…though I know Cherokee resulted from the engineering tie-up.

    The one thing ALL US manufacturers never succeeded with was the small fuel efficient cheap car. Pinto, Vega, Dart, then Omni/Rizon, Gremlin/Pacer never even came close to their Asian rivals in terms of quality or thrift. In my “fantasy” Detroit, all US Manufacturers would have developed aluminum OHC 4-cyl engines that didn’t vibrate like paint shakers (like the Lima 2.3)…the Chysler 2.2 came close……but it was too late.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      The Renault alliance was already on the way out by the time Chrysler bought in to AMC, but as you said, it gave Chrysler the XJ Cherokee (a massive asset) along with the ZJ Grand Cherokee (another huge plus), and the LH cars owe a ton to the Eagle Premier.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        My wife’s XJ Cherokee was the easiest vehicle to park I have ever experienced:
        – 360 degree visibility with relatively thin pillars
        – Square corners so you always knew where everything was
        – Super-tight turning radius (because off-road) meant you could even swing in the ‘wrong way’ in a row of angled parking places (~135 degree turn) in one go, perfectly

        The back seat was too shallow and the ride isolation needed work, but the overall size was just about perfect.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          I always thought Jeep should have just kept improving upon the XJ with side airbags, suspension upgrades, a taller rear seat back with headrests, improved engines etc. instead of replacing it with the Liberty.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            ^^This, like the Wrangler the XJ design was already perfect and just needed occasional updates for safety etc.

          • 0 avatar
            Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

            Despite its offroad prowess, the XJ structure was rather flimsy and no amount of add-on equipment would have allowed it to meet mid-2000s crash requirements.

            That said, I also wish Jeep had done a better job with its replacement than the woeful Liberty.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    The Secret Service decides against using as a convertible the presidential limousine.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS-100-X

    what simpler times….that I have no idea what it was like apart from rose-tinted stories and grainy video

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    GM keeps the tooling for the Buick-Olds aluminum 215 V8 and doesn’t sell it to British Leyland. They have a compact NA or turbo fuel efficient motor that’s used in a variety of vehicles and allows them to meet CAFE standards.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Can’t believe nobody mentioned DaimlerChrysler.

    Anyone who says they genuinely believe the “merger of equals” to be what was claimed, even on day 1, is lying. Chrysler sold out to Daimler for literally no apparent reason.

    To take the “shouldn’t have happened” alternate history even further, and also prevent the above-mentioned disaster, Lido should have handed the CEO chair to Bob Lutz rather than Bob Eaton.

    And Chrysler never should have bought into Lamborghini.

  • avatar
    geo

    Dodge keeps the “Avenger” name alive on a vehicle worthy of the name. The movie franchise provides Chrysler with clever marketing opportunities (a la Rogue). Sales take off at last, and the vehicle line is saved.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Back in the mid 1980s a friend told me about a colleague that had always been a “Cadillac man” for two decades. A late 1970s Caddy was traded in on a new one. Probably had the HT4100. First one lasted about three months when the engine quit and would not restart. After a tow to the dealer and some confusion, the dealer gave him a new Cadillac. That one had a similar failure, which was never explained in detail. Can’t recall if the count got to three, but at some point the “Cadillac man” got frustrated. He noticed that the dealer also was now selling Acura. He told them to keep the dead Caddy and drove away in an Acura. After a few weeks he told my friend that he would NEVER go back to Cadillac.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Malcolm Bricklin should have imported Trabants instead of Yugos and labeled them as “economy Audis.”

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Mercedes decides to go for market position, not volume, in the ’90s. It doesn’t buy Chrysler; it keeps engineering everything with little regard for cost; and its first SUV is a Range Rover competitor rather than a response to the BMW X5.

    I think that would have set it up perfectly for today’s rich-get-richer world. Imagine if an E-class cost $25k more than a 5-Series… and everyone could see the second they sat in the driver’s seat that it was worth it. You’d have lines of rich people coming out of Mercedes dealers.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    Ford did not launch the 2011 Fiesta and 2012 Focus with a half-baked Powershift transmission and tiny back seat. Instead they opted for a 6 spd conventional automatic and 3 extra inches of rear legroom.
    Both cars sell within the top 3 of their segments, enjoyed above average reliability and customer satisfaction levels, provided a good ROI, thus their new generations are still being sold today in North America.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Ford doesn’t cave to the Boomers in the mid 80’s that insist top tier performance cars must have a v8. The SVO Mustang continues to be developed and much of the potential the aftermarket squeezed out of the lima 2.3 Turbo is uncorked. It becomes the base motor for the SN-95 Mustang. Additionally Ford doesnt restrict their best motor of the era, the Taurus SHO v6 to one trim of the Taurus. Realizing Turbocharging will be huge in future years they double down making the top motor a twin turbocharged variant of the Taurus SHO V6. These motors are shared with the MN12 Thunderbird and Cougar instead of giving us the craptastic 3.8 and the durable but better suited for livery 4.6 SOHC outside of trucks and cop cars. Ford Ecoboost development is now 15 years farther along and I can get my proper new SVO Mustang with the Raptor’s 3.5 twin turbo…only with 15 years more development.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      When I was Mustang shopping in 1985, the SVO was a non-starter,
      Largely because it wasn’t worth the money. Yeah, it had nice peak HP numbers, but the turbo lag and $3,000 premium over the GT I paid $11,666 for meant that, like me, almost no one was interested.

      Oh, and that “best motor of the era” in the SHO Taurus? It was a Yamaha engine.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I don’t care who built it…it was the best motor you could get in a Ford in that era. You’d see it in all sorts of concepts back then. I’d have loved to see it in a RWD platform.

        I’ve spent time with GT’s and SVO’s as well as Fox Platform Thunderbirds and Cougars. The SVO would handle…the GT was fast in a straight line. I found the lag minimal in that application.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          The best thing about the SVO is that you can still buy them dirt cheap and stick a Windsor under the hood, taking advantage of the superior brakes, interior, and chassis pieces. Ford could have done it right in the ’80s, and I bet you that the SVO still would have been the best handling stock Mustang with a V8. I’ve been told some of them have weak differentials, but that can be fixed.

        • 0 avatar
          bunkie

          It still doesn’t change the value proposition, which is why it failed in the marketplace. Ford learned from that and, to counter your original point, they ended up back in full-on turbo territory with the Ecoboost series, so I”m not sure it would have been all that different.

          As for the Yamaha “Vulcan”, it was certainly a great engine. Yamaha was on a real tear in the 1980s (particularly with cylinder head design) having introduced the first street-going 5-valve per cylinder engine in the FZ sport bike of 1985. I would venture a guess that the SVO V6 was expensive to produce and, while producing 220hp (Which is, curiously, very close to the rated power of the 5.0 in my GT), I felt it lacked the grunt of the Windsor. I came *this close* to buying the SHO Taurus when it came out but I was underwhelmed by the performance, since I was driving the GT at the time.

          The problem with this entire premise is that it ignores much of the economic reality of making and selling cars. We, as enthusiasts, can dream all we want but, frankly, sales history hasn’t been kind to almost all those examples of cool cars that managed to get past the bean counters. V8s are cheap to build, are reliable and offer a tremendous performance value as witnessed by Chrysler’s milking the new Hemi for all it’s worth. The almost unbroken string of V8 powered Mustangs going all the way back to 1964 1/2 prove this point.

          I have yet to drive any turbo car that doesn’t have at least some throttle lag. It may be fine for most people, but I am not one of them. I’ve driven the latest Ecoboost Mustang and, while it has serious power once it comes on boost, it just didn’t feel like either of my Mustangs (the other was a ’69 Mach I 351W).

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Turbos have certainly improved with respect to lag. I don’t notice it at all on either of mine (2.7TT and 1.6 Turbo). The 1.6 one in the Fiesta ST will run with any of the 5.0 Fox Bodies that were parked in my high school parking lot.

            People say the v8’s days are numbered. They said the same thing in the mid 80’s but I think they are correct this time because the Turbos are so much better than they were 20 years ago and many of the advantages (easy to work on/modify) are gone. A Coyote V8 is not a windsor and isnt much easier to modify than a 3.5. Even the LS has complex controls nowadays.

            I like to feel the turbo come on boost. I think modern turbos have lost some of that unique feel nowadays. Plus you can’t even hear them at work.

            The ecoboost Mustang compared to a Mach 1 isnt really a fair comparison as it is a BASE motor. As a base engine it destroys any base motor ever offered in a Mustang. A true top end turbo Mustang would use some variant of the 3.5 Twin Turbo…probably something akin to the Raptor version and maybe some performance limited version that uses a detuned version from the GT. They don’t build this because it would step all over the Coyote.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Also I’ve had a couple of SHO’s. I know good and well who built it. The 3.4 V8 in the oval SHO was also a Yamaha motor and it was frankly a pile of garbage.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        No the SHO never had a “Yamaha” engine.

        The first ones were a variation of the Vulcan 3.0 and the short block was built by Ford, shipped to Japan where the Yamaha designed and built heads, intake and front drive was installed.

        The 3.4 was based on the Duratec V-6 and Ford cast the blocks in the US before shipping them off to Yamaha for completion.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Does this mean that there was never a four cylinder Lotus engine? They used Ford and Vauxhall blocks.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Was it ever in a Ford outside of Europe? Thought that was way before the period I’m taking as well.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Are you asking about the Lotus Twin Cam or the Ford Kent it was based on? The cars the Lotus was installed in were all built in England, IIRC. They were sold in the US. The Kent engine evolved into the base engine in early Ford Pintos.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Another from GM.

    What if Chevy had not gone the air cooled, rear engine route with the Corvair and had instead introduced a conventional front engine, rwd compact in the fall of 1959?

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    What if Chevy gave it a good rear suspension. It sells better, Detroit gets into the small car game earlier, Nader never writes “Unsafe at any Speed”, remains unknown, and the Lions share of the 97,421 votes he got in Florida in 2000 likely go to Gore.

    Not injecting Politics…just pointing out that one had some serious ripple effects for years to come lol.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The Corvair was one chapter in Nader’s book. It’s worst features were shared with any number of European sedans. The rest of the book was about all Detroit cars. The book’s objective was promoting Ralph Nader, and it would have been written with or without the Corvair.


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