Posts Tagged defunct car companies
I just read a very interesting article in the New York Times’ online edition about Canadian cars, which seems to affirm Canada’s status as the 51st State.
Before 1965, when Canada and the United States eliminated cross-border tariffs, American car companies would make knock-offs of their own models in Canada. This allowed Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to avoid paying import fees of up to 35 percent.
Most of the cars were made from combinations of U.S.-built models. Ford would drop a Mercury body onto a Ford chassis to create a Monarch, or add a different grille to a Falcon to create a Frontenac.
Usually, when car companies create models for different markets, they are radically different, owing to geographical considerations or buyer tastes. That’s why Ford’s European models (Capri, Sierra, Scorpion, etc.) never really caught on here, and the same goes for most of the products from General Motors’ German Opel and British Vauxhall divisions.
Since Canada is very similar to the U.S., the Canadian cars were almost identical to American ones. The main difference was a lower price point, since average Canadian income in the ‘60s was much lower than in the States.
Most of this Canadian-branding silliness ended after 1965, but the idea of a Canadian-specific model didn’t die with the opening of borders.
Honda has sold versions of its Civic as luxury Acuras in Canada since the 1990s. The sixth, seventh, and eight generation Civics were sold as the Acura 1.6 EL, 1.7 EL, and CSX, respectively.
Honda obviously thought its Canadian customers were morons, because the EL and CSX look almost identical to their non-luxury siblings.The Acuras got different front end styling and upgraded interiors, but that’s about it.
Like their Ameircan forebears, the Canadian Acuras were built on the cheap for a market that, admittedly, isn’t an automotive powerhouse.
Still, these cars offer an interesting possibility. The sport compact enthusiasts who customize Honda products love JDM, or Japanese Domestic Market, style. The point of JDM is to customize a Japanese import with parts from the home market, making a humble Civic or Nissan 240SX into en exotic, sophisticated ride.
With so few Acura ELs and CSXs around, the next step is obvious: CDM. Soon tuners could be grabbing magazine covers by turning their Civics in CSXs, importing all the necessary parts from the Great White North. They’ll swoon over factory-correct “1.7 EL” badging and headlights like they’re Holy Grails.
Car customizers love to get anal about their vehicles; CDM just seems like the next logical step. Maybe it’s time Canada got some respect.
For the first post of the new year, why not begin with an ending? Kim Jon Il was not the only newsworthy death to occur in the last couple of weeks of 2011, because the automotive world lost one of its most enigmatic names: Saab.
In reality, the death of Saab wasn’t really news: Sweden’s other volume carmaker had always had a troubled existence. It started out as the automotive division of an established aircraft manufacturer, designing small cars powered by two stroke engines (the type found in dirt bikes). These early cars, including the 92 and Sonnett series, were beautifully designed, but not very practical. Kurt Vonnegut opened a Saab dealer on Cape Cod and later wrote angrily about the company’s products.
Saab finally achieved success in the 1980s with the 900. This was a small, pseudo-luxury hatchback with front wheel drive and a turbocharged engine. Everything about it, from the styling, to the turbo, to the floor-mounted ignition, was quirky. As with its earlier cars, Saab let engineering take precedence over convention, but this time it actually worked.
Sadly, it would not last. Saab was bought by General Motors in 1989, and GM decided that Saab should not design its own cars. From the Opel Vectra-based second-gen 900 to the 9-7x SUV, every Saab since the GM takeover has been a rebadged version of someone else’s car. In 2009, GM unloaded Saab onto Dutch boutique carmaker Spyker and the company struggled through various financial crises until it went bankrupt in December.
Reading it all back, it doesn’t seem like Saab was a very good car company. It was badly managed and made few genuinely good cars. Saab’s last two cars were a large sedan, the 9-5, and a rebadged Cadillac SRX, the 9-4; the world isn’t being deprived of anything amazing. Yet car fanatics everywhere, myself included, had to stand up and take notice when Saab went bankrupt.
Why? Everybody loves a good story. Saab was an underdog, an independent car company breaking away from the corporate establishment. It tried to be different and, at the very least, kept people entertained with the possibility of quirky Swedish cars that did away with convention.
That promise didn’t always come to fruition, but it was fun to dream. By objective standards, Saab probably deserved to die. But the automotive landscape will be a lot less interesting without it.