Updated to clarify that the sales numbers are “year-to-date.”
Automobile manufacturers work diligently to ensure that every conceived product has the potential to become a competitive sales reality. Apart from electric vehicles that have limited interest, automakers design, engineer and build models they believe will make an impact on the market.
The truth is, some models are doomed from the start, failing to capture an audience significant enough to sustain the vehicle line. Although not every model will prove as popular as a Ford F-150, a Toyota Camry, or a Honda CR-V, terrible sales will lead to ruination.
Our list of five models at death’s door reveals a smattering of vehicles we believe are threatened and how each manufacturer may respond.
1. Honda CR-Z
Honda beat Toyota to the US market in 1999 with its first hybrid, the Insight. Six months later the Prius arrived and Honda hybrids soon became an afterthought.
Honda offered and pulled the Insight twice in the face of withering sales. It has also canceled the Civic Hybrid and pulled the plug-in Accord hybrid, but it still has the conventional Accord hybrid and the tiny CR-Z.
The CR-Z hybrid is a sporty coupe, a two-seat model powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine making a net 140 horsepower and paired with a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters. Its near $20,000 price hasn’t helped sales, with just 1,562 registered buyers through the first seven months of 2015.
Although these numbers are off by a third over 2014, Honda intends to keep the CR-Z around and will present a refreshed coupe for sale this November. The diminutive hybrid makes 36 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, and the new model will gain a refreshed fascia with a new lower air dam, larger brakes, and an upgraded infotainment system. The current sales tally may scream “cancel,” but Honda will stay with the CR-Z. At least for now.
2. Chevrolet SS
US Holden fans were enamored with the Pontiac G8, a full-size rear-wheel drive model imported from Australia. When Pontiac died, GM did not quickly move the model over to Chevrolet.
Well, the Chevrolet SS stepped in where the Pontiac G8 left off, moving the steering wheel to the left side and giving this Holden Commodore a proper treatment. Some say that the SS handles as well as a BMW 5 Series, but for thousands of dollars less. In any case, the SS has served as a niche big sedan as the Chevy Impala is clearly the go-to model for the brand.
Unfortunately, sales for this 415-horsepower naturally aspirated beast measured just 1,855 units year-to-date through July. But that alone won’t end this vehicle’s run — GM is shutting down its Australian manufacturing operation by 2017 and it won’t be bringing Holden tools and dyes to North America to extend this vehicle’s run.
3. Kia K900
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Kia K900, although year-to-date sales of 1,190 vehicles through July are a reason for concern. The K900 is based on the over-the-top Hyundai Equus. Both models advance European styling, but at a budget price.
That this model is a Kia may be part of the problem. That the Equus is sold in the same market doesn’t help either. With a price starting below $55,000, it is a bargain compared to the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Trouble is that beyond its palatial feel and generous amenities, it doesn’t measure up against Europe’s cream of the crop.
Despite weak sales and LeBron James’ endorsement, sales will be hard pressed to reach 200 units per month. Yet, don’t look for Kia to cancel the model as Hyundai is readying an updated Equus. As it currently stands, whatever Hyundai makes, Kia takes — the two Korean manufacturers are joined at the hip and the K900 will likely be given some additional time to catch on. After all, it has been on the market for just the past year.
4. Cadillac ELR
One of the worst selling models offered by a luxury brand is the Cadillac ELR. This model is underpinned by the same platform that powers the Chevrolet Volt, GM’s first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The body is different as this wedged 2+2 coupe is based on the jazzy Cadillac Converj design.
So, what’s the problem with the ELR? Everything, especially its price. With an initial sticker price of $75,995 in a bid to compete with the Tesla Model S, the Cadillac ELR was simply too costly. GM shaved the price to $65,000 and with the federal tax credit its final price fell to $57,500 or nearly twice the amount you would pay for the Volt.
Analysts have been calling for GM to dump the ELR, as only 659 units have sold through the first seven months of the year. However, GM has outfitted the 2016 edition with steering and suspension enhancements, and now offers more power via sport mode. Will GM kill the ELR? Not yet and maybe not as long as its stands by the Chevrolet Volt.
5. Scion iQ
Three seats are better than two, but when you have a car as small as the A-segment Scion iQ, you need to give people a compelling reason to buy one. The iQ operates in a constricted city car segment initiated by the Smart ForTwo and since joined by the Fiat 500 and the Chevrolet Spark.
The four-seat Spark has been a surprise hit for GM and is averaging more than 3,000 units sold each month. The Scion iQ, however, has only registered 449 units sold for the year through July. But the Spark is priced $3,000 lower than the iQ, has more room, and gets better gas mileage. It also offers a broader selection of amenities, including OnStar 4G LTE.
The Scion iQ is already history as Toyota announced back in January that its demise was imminent. With gas prices trending toward $2 per gallon and larger models selling for less, the little Scion was an experiment that just did not pay off.
Our fabulous five represent a portion of the slow sellers that are endangered species. Other models that are near death’s door include the all-electric Mitsubishi i-Miev, the Ram Cargo Van, and the Lincoln MKT.
Certain slow-selling niche models such as the Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan GT-R, and Audi R8 are probably safe for the simple reason that they continue to help draw people to showrooms and place a halo over the brand. Consequently, our five do not have that same distinction.