Despite all the promising year-end headlines about the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and other new models, 2010 will be remembered as the year Detroit killed off four car brands and sold off several others.
It was the end of the road for Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn, killed off by General Motors as it trimmed its losses to recover from bankruptcy.
GM also sold off Saab, and Ford sold off Volvo and killed off Mercury. Yes, 2010 was a very interesting year.
Let’s go through these obituaries alphabetically —
Hummer became the symbol of everything that was wrong with the automotive industry — a huge, expensive gas guzzler in a time of rising fuel prices, when consumers were showing a preference for smaller, fuel efficient models, including luxury hybrids.
The Hummer was the civilian version of the military HumVee, which continues to see service in places like Afghanistan. GM bought Hummer from AMC in 1998, and slammed the coffin on Hummer in 2010 when it couldn’t find a buyer.
Mercury was launched in 1939 as an alternative brand in between Ford and Lincoln, much as Oldsmobile and Buick fit in between Chevrolet and Cadillac.
Although Mercury models were consistently popular for decades, in recent years it became little more than a re-badged Ford that cost more than a Ford. The last Mercury models were produced in November.
Pontiac was wildly popular in the 50s and 60s, when the GTO and Bonneville were the performance muscle cars of many dreams. The beginning of the end for Pontiac was the Aztek SUV, which was so widely ridiculed that the brand never recovered, despite respectable sales for the convertible Pontiac Solstice and G sedans.
The last Pontiac was produced in October, only hardly anybody noticed. Sad ending for a brand that had been around since 1926.
Saturn was supposed to revolutionize the auto industry, and for a while, it did.
Saturn introduced some revolutionary models — including the EV1, the first commercial plug-in electric car, which I test drove in the 90s in California, before GM recalled them to kill them.
Saturn also changed the buying experience from confrontational haggling into something more pleasant. Saturn models sold well from 1990, when the company was created, until GM began bleeding money and stopped paying attention to the new kid on the corporate team. Saturn almost was saved by auto mogul and racing icon Roger Penske, but he bailed after not being able to reach an agreement with union workers.
The last Saturn was produced in March.
The Saab story was another life or death saga. Several buyers fell through at the last minute, until the boutique Dutch automaker Spyker stepped to the plate. Under its new owners, Saab already has announced its first all-electric car, the Saab 9-3 ePower, shown at the 2010 Paris Auto Show and the recent Los Angeles Auto Show, and is partnering with BMW on parts and technology to reduce costs.
By comparison, Ford sold Volvo to the Chinese automaker Geely with little drama, for $1.3 billion in cash.
Yes, 2010 was an interesting year in the automotive world.
- Read more of my automotive articles on the High Gear Media website Car and Travel Guide