Saturday, December 8, 2012

Worst car flops in 2012

The 10 worst car flops of 2012

Last week in Los Angeles Jeremy Scott hosted a party celebrating his work on the Smart Fortwo coupe. Amid Hollywood guests and a performance by MIA, the American fashion designer showed off a pair of upswept wings he had added to the tiny car.

It was only the latest object to bear his trademark look (see: Kanye West sneakers).

“For me, wings mean freedom, a sense of weightlessness,” Scott says. “I definitely wanted to have them for the Smart electric drive in order to convey the way it frees the environment of noxious emissions and symbolizes the new lightness of mobility.”

It’s a clever idea. The $24,000 limited edition car, named “Smart Forjeremy,” has a bright white dashboard with an interior that looks like the cockpit of an airplane. Its rear wings trimmed in red light up as the brakes. A 75-horsepower electric engine hits 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, with a top speed of 77 miles per hour. Urban driving range is roughly 90 mph on one charge.

Daimler‘s hope with the compilation is that Scott and his cool-kid friends–the Misshapes also played–will improve the car’s image and bolster sales, which start in the U.S. and abroad next April.

It might already be working: Last month the Fortwo sold 704 units, a 70-percent spike from the 404 it sold during the same period last year. That’s not a lot of cars, but it’s remarkably better than the Acura ZDX, which sold 37 units nationwide last month, or the Dodge Nitro, which sold exactly zero. These are the vehicles on our list of the Worst Car Flops Of The Year.

Behind The Story

To develop this list of cars, we consulted several expert analysts: Jake Fisher, the exacting senior automotive engineer for Consumer Reports; Matt Hardigree, the famously contrarian head of the car blog Jalopnik; and, for some input on design, Vanity Fair’s discerningly astute Brett Berk. Each discussed what they think are the most over-hyped, worst-looking or poorest drivers on the market today, all things considered. We allowed nominations for any 2012 model-year vehicles.

Fisker Karma

The high-end hybrid sports sedan has had a difficult year, what with the unexplained fires and contrastingly stellar success of eco-competitor the Tesla Model S. Owners remain loyal, but the company is faltering under the weight of the critically panned and consumer-ignored cars. “The Fisker Karma was hyped as the Next Big Thing in luxury sporty eco-friendly sedans for years, but what we got wasn't as luxurious or as sporty or even as eco-friendly as promised,” Hardigree says. “And then they started catching on fire....”

Mitsubishi iMiEV

MiEV is an acronym for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle—it’s a five-door hatchback electric car that sold just 42 units in the U.S. in November. The nearly $30,000 price tag could have something to do with the poor sales—at that price you’d expect better handling and considerably more space than the paltry offerings here.

Lincoln MKT

The Lincoln MKT “is an unmitigated disaster,” says John McElroy, the host Autoline Detroit TV and radio shows. Indeed, Lincoln’s $44,000 crossover suffers from stiff handling and cumbersome cornering ability, with compromised visibility for the driver and passengers. Its reliability is well below average, and costs over five years of ownership are projected to be considerably higher than average, according to Consumer Reports data.

The 10 worst car flops of 2012

Chevrolet Malibu Eco

The car is aimed at shoppers who want fuel efficiency but don’t want to pay the premium demanded for hybrid technology. It costs $25,335 but gets only 25 mpg in the city from a tiny 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine; the interior feels cheap and is gutless to drive. This Malibu is meant to be a mass-market star—but it’s a B-lister at best.

Nissan Leaf

The five-seat compact sedan is silent, smooth and basic – just what Nissan hoped for with its first foray into EV-land. But it’s extremely boring to look at and drive, and it didn’t sell. Nissan planned to make 550,000 total units of the LEAF by 2012. But it has fallen far short of that goal. “Can we all just admit the market didn't want the Nissan Leaf?” Hardigree says. “Maybe it is range anxiety. Maybe it's the pre-tax credit price of $35,000. Maybe it's because it's a Versa. Whatever the reason, it's never come close to sales expectation.”

Honda Civic

The 2012 redesign for the $15,600 car turned it from having among the best scores of any small car rated by Consumer Reports to having some of the worst scores. See, Honda decided the key to making their new Civic so successful was to make it boring and conservative, Hardigree says: “Critics panned it but the Civic continued to sell because the car has a good reputation—and Honda dramatically redesigned the car before customers noticed.”

Mini Coupe

The latest from Mini, if you ask Vanity Fair’s Brett Berk, is a design failure—just look at the roofline. Sales will likely stay strong, thanks to the strength of the Mini brand, but history will view it as a mistake in design.

Acura ZDX

While the ZDX isn’t horribly bad in any one category, it suffered from the compilation of several minor inconveniences with no real outstanding qualities: cramped quarters, polarizing looks, lackluster handling. And it didn’t sell a whit: Acura sold 37 of them in the U.S. last month. Total.

Chrysler 200 Convertible

Berk calls it the “inelegantest” of all hardtop convertibles. Declining year-over-year sales and its bland looks attest to the utter lack of enthusiasm anyone has shown for this car, the hardtop version of which must compete against the better-served Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata.

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet

John McElroy, host of the Autoline Detroit TV and radio shows, says the poor transmission in this tiny two-door has hurt it significantly. Others, like Vanity Fair’s Berk, say the design aesthetic has plenty to do with its slow sales. At any rate, rumors have circulated for years that Daimler will shutter the brand, though it continues to produce cars. Here’s hoping the cool-kid association with Jeremy Scott and the Misshapes will help bolster its image.

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