TIME - Fifty Worst Cars Ever

I know. Not the usual subject of this blog. But I like cars and car history and when I get done you'll see how this actually relates to this blog.

It's the fiftieth anniversary of the introduction of the Ford Edsel, possibly the biggest disappointment to ever come out of Detroit. Despite it's colossal failure in the marketplace, it is one of the best known cars ever. It's the butt of jokes, ridicule and the object of collectors desires and the theme of car fan clubs.

In honor, or dishonor, of this epic failure, TIME has selected the fifty worst automobiles of all time. Not surprisingly, cars like the Renault Dauphine, Yugo, Trabant, AMC Pacer and Gremlin, Corvair and Chevy Chevette made the list. Even one model year of Corvette made the list. I was personally surprised the Chevy Vega wasn't on the list while the Ford Pinto was. Admittedly, Pinto made it for it's infamous exploding gas tank fiasco, but Vega had those crappy little aluminum engines.

For this special feature TIME teamed with Dan Neil, Pulitzer Prize-winning automotive critic and syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times. I have never heard of this guy, probably because he currently writes for the LA Times. Reading the piece in TIME it seems he is a car aficionado, even commenting about cars on the list his family and he have owned or driven.

But, this is TIME and he's a journalist, so, even in something seemingly as innocuous as a fifty worst cars list, some liberal bias has to be evident. As I read the feature, four cars were on the list that sort of surprised me. The Ford Model T, Ford Explorer, Ford Excursion and Hummer H2. Were they included because they were flops? Because of poor design or styling, excessive recalls, safety reasons, shoddy workmanship or mechanical problems? No, none of those reasons.

The first surprise, almost right out of the blocks, was the 1909 Ford Model T. Yeah, that Model T. The one that set America in motorized motion, that made automotive mobility available to the average American. The first mass produced vehicle, in all it's monochromatic black glory. Neil notes all those things. He knows including the Model T on the list is going to give him trouble.

Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. Let's stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation's economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined on the day the first black-only Tin Lizzy bucked and trembled off the assembly line.
What could he find wrong with the Model T?

[c]onferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers' boots.
Yep. It made Americans think they should be able to drive. Which obviously led to us driving, causing pollution and driving our need for oil, in turn causing us to have to be in Iraq.

Want to take bets that this guy is an anti-war, Bush hating liberal? Plus, how utterly bourgeois. Didn't those early adopters of the automobile know they would be much more noble if they availed themselves of mass transit people movers? How dastardly of Henry Ford, laying the ground work for disrupting the socialist dream.

Finally, Neil shoe horns in a legitimate reason, in his eyes, for inclusion of the Model T on his dishonors list.

And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.
You mean, in 1909, in the infancy of the automobile, the first mass produced car wasn't a marvel of technology and fine workmanship? Who'da thunk? Wonder how it stacked up against the common horse drawn wagon, buckboard or carriage of that time? After all, that's what it was replacing.

Next up for Neil's particular brand of car critique, the 1995 Ford Explorer. Yes, one of the heirs to the Soccer Mom Van.

[I]n its very success, the Ford Explorer is responsible for setting this country on the spiral of vehicular obesity that we are still contending with today. [...] Even though more fuel-efficient minivans do the kid- and cargo-hauling duties better, people came to prefer the outdoorsy, go-anywhere image of SUVs. In other words, people became addicted to the pose. And, as vehicles got bigger and heavier, buyers sought out even bigger vehicles to make themselves feel safe. Helloooo Hummer. All of that we can lay at the overachieving feet of the Explorer.
Get it? Explorer's success and popularity caused us to want bigger vehicles. You should not be allowed to want that because you don't need it and there are other, more sensible and practical, options. Thus it's sin and inclusion on the list.

After the Explorer, Neil's ire was shifted to another large automobile, the 2000 Ford Excursion. It's transgression is that it's not ecologically friendly and the reasons Ford gave for producing it are dubious. As if Ford needs a justification other than thinking they can sell a bunch of them and make a nice profit. Also, Ford needed a competitor for the Chevy Suburban.

[D]ubbed the Ford "Valdez" by the Sierra Club, the Excursion was a passenger vehicle of gob-smacking proportions. It weighed 7,000 lbs, measured almost 19 ft. long and stood 6.5 ft. tall. At the time, Ford argued that many of its customers — ranchers, farmers, um, tugboat enthusiasts — needed a vehicle this big with over 10,000-lb. towing capacity. Maybe that was true, but that didn't keep Suzy Homemakers from driving them to the mall.
Need I say anything? You don't really need that big vehicle. Mom's, why are you driving these things to the mall? There's just no legitimate reason for that.

Finally, the piece de resistance. The 2003 Hummer H2 comes under some especially scathing criticism. It's an indication of our national attitude. And it's not good.

One struggles to think of a worse vehicle at a worse time. Introduced shortly after 9/11 — an event whose causes were tangled in America's unquenchable thirst for oil — the Hummer H2 sent all the wrong signals.

I guess GM should have cancelled the introduction of the H2. Even after they'd probably spent three to four years in design and testing and tens of millions of dollars getting it to market. GM should have just lost tons of money all because it was bad timing and sent the wrong message.

It was/is arrogantly huge, overtly militaristic, openly scornful of the common good. As a vehicle choice, the H2 was a spiteful reactionary riposte to notions that, you know, maybe we all shouldn't be driving tanks that get 10 miles per gallon.
Sounds like Neil thinks the H2 is indicative of how he looks at America. Arrogant and militaristic. Did you catch that part about being openly scornful of the common good? How very socialist of him. When did he become arbiter of what is the common good?

Not surprisingly, the green-niks struck back. A Hummer dealership was torched in Southern California.
Neil sounds approving of the green-niks actions. I guess the Hummer dealer brought it upon himself and deserved to have his property destroyed. Wonder if Neil's a donor to eco-terrorists or ELF. One of the eco-terrorists in the Hummer dealership vandalism and arson has been convicted.

The H2 was also a PR catastrophe for GM, who happened to be repossessing and crushing the few EV1 electric cars at the time. It all contributed to GM's emerging image as the Dick Cheney of car companies.

I don't recall hearing about the PR disaster. How hard did he have to work to get a disparaging Dick Cheney comparison in the piece? With a little more effort, I'm sure he could have fit in a disparaging George Bush comparison.

Finally, the 1997 GM EV1. Neil liked this car, so why inclusion on the list? I'm not really sure. Maybe because it didn't work out like Neil fantasized.

The EV1 was a marvel of engineering, absolutely the best electric vehicle anyone had ever seen. Built by GM to comply with California's zero-emissions-vehicle mandate, the EV1 was quick, fun, and reliable. It held out the promise that soon electric cars — charged from the grid with all sorts of groovy power sources, like wind and solar — could replace the smelly old internal-combustion vehicle
That's what LA needed last week during the heat wave. One million Los Angelenos plugging in their cars while the California power demand was setting new records.

It's drawback at the time was battery technology. The batteries of that time just weren't up to the task.
And therein lies the problem: the promise. In fact, battery technology at the time was nowhere near ready to replace the piston-powered engine. The early car's lead-acid bats, and even the later nickel-metal hydride batteries, couldn't supply the range or durability required by the mass market.
Oh, and that pesky little problem of practicality and meeting consumer expectations.

The car itself was a tiny, super-light two-seater, not exactly what American consumers were looking for.
And last, it was too expensive to build so GM scrapped the program.

And the EV1 was horrifically expensive to build, which was why GM's execs terminated the program — handing detractors yet another stick to beat them with. GM, the company that had done more to advance EV technology than any other, became the company that "killed the electric car."
Neil must think that GM should have just poured money into an economically unfeasible product - because he thinks it would be for the common good, I suppose. Would Neil be one of GM's detractors? Because they killed the electric car?

All these years I've thought GM was sucking because they made undesirable and sloppily made cars. And that they misread the market and aren't nimble enough to shift product lines to adapt to rapidly changing consumer demands. To think, it's really because they killed the electric car.

Even in a feature article on the fifty worst cars ever, you can encounter liberal dogma. Can you see now why I decided to post a blog entry on a car article?

What media bias?

Hat tip: Autoblog