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Five Defunct Car Brands and Why They Failed

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Five Defunct Car Brands and Why They Failed

Raelene Martin | June 20, 2010


Five historic auto brands can be counted among the many casualties of the recession

Now-defunct brands include Pontiac, Mercury, Hummer, Saturn, and Oldsmobile

The dead brands represent everything from out-of-touch marketing to poor planning

Since the introduction of the Model T in 1908, automakers have relentless worked creating, building, marketing, and selling various auto models with the hope that each one would enjoy a long and successful stay in the marketplace. The auto brands attached to the industry juggernauts have recently experienced slumping sales, and in certain cases have folded altogether. The announcement Ford made on June 2 to kill the Mercury brand was only the latest in a string of brand discontinuations. Whether prompted by the intention to pare down product lines or stay afloat financially, here are five car brands that have slipped into oblivion.

1. Mercury

Ford’s Mercury has existed for more than 70 years, but the automaker gave the brand the ax in June of this year. Originally, Ford established Mercury to provide Ford buyers with a premium brand. However, the strong sales and popularity of the Ford brand weakened the Mercury brand, with even the most loyal of its base driving Ford vehicles now.

To put it in perspective, Ford owns a 16 percent share of the U.S. market, and Mercury contributes just 0.8 percent to that figure. Ford killed the brand in order to focus on its eponymous brand and the Lincoln luxury brand.

2. Hummer

General Motors reported in February of this year that it would wind down the Hummer brand after a failed sale of the brand to a Chinese automaker. Inspired by the Humvees of the armed forces, Hummer hit a rough patch in recent years as drivers became more eco-friendly and fuel-conscious. Hummers go down in history as quintessential gas guzzlers, often maligned by environmentalists for their profligate use of fuel. Hummer is one of multiple GM brands to be phased out recently.

3. Pontiac

Pontiac made a name for itself with sleek muscle cars in the sixties and seventies that packed powerful V8s with a distinctive roar. Owned by GM, Pontiac produced cars and performance vehicles that defined a generation with iconic models like the Trans Am and the GTO. Although Pontiac once had some of the largest sales in the U.S., its executives could not come up with a plan to perpetuate the brand. After building cars since 1926, Pontiac finally folded in April of 2009.

4. Saturn

GM pulled the plug on Saturn in October of 2009 after a failed attempt to sell the brand to the Penske Automotive Group. Begun in 1985, Saturn offered a line of models dominated by small- to mid-size vehicles. From its inception, Saturn never turned a profit for GM. When General Motors declared bankruptcy in 2009, it was forced to streamline its vehicle brands to emphasize those that were most profitable.

5. Oldsmobile

Also a GM brand, Oldsmobile started in 1897 as the Olds Motor Vehicle Company. Supposedly the first brand to produce vehicles on a mass scale, Oldsmobile became part of the GM family in 1908. In 1976, Oldsmobile creates the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.—the Cutlass series. GM gave Oldsmobile the ax in 2004, claiming “Oldsmobile production has remained unprofitable” and thus it would cease production.



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