U.S. cars that flopped in Europe

Putting do­mes­tic badge on ill-con­ceived cars is sure way of killing sales

The Province - - DRIVING -

In March, Gen­eral Mo­tors un­loaded its Ger­many-based Opel divi­sion onto France’s PSA Peu­geot-Citroën. An­nounced ahead of the Geneva Auto Show, the deal served as a glum re­minder that Amer­i­can com­pa­nies have his­tor­i­cally had a dif­fi­cult time sell­ing cars in Europe.

Much like the orig­i­nal Mini and the Citroën 2CV were com­pletely out of tune with the needs of Amer­i­can mo­torists, Amer­i­can cars have typ­i­cally been a round peg in a square hole on Euro­pean roads. When was the last time you heard the low rum­ble of a Chevro­let Ta­hoe’s Ecotec V8 on the cob­ble­stone-paved streets of Rome, Paris, or Vi­enna?

Ford is the ex­cep­tion to the rule. The Blue Oval gave its Ger­man and Bri­tish divi­sions a tremen­dous amount of in­de­pen­dence decades ago, so it was able to of­fer Euro­pean buy­ers cars de­vel­oped for the lo­cal mar­ket. Ford ex­ec­u­tives didn’t need to par­tic­i­pate in au­to­mo­tive speed-dat­ing to find a well-ex­e­cuted city car or a fru­gal-yet-pow­er­ful tur­bod­iesel en­gine at the last minute.

Chrysler-owned brands and a ma­jor­ity of Gen­eral Mo­tors’ divi­sions strug­gled in Europe, so they turned to badge en­gi­neer­ing. We’ve sin­gled out five un­likely Amer­i­can cars that never crossed the pond to North Amer­ica when new, and most likely never will.

Cadil­lac BLS

Af­ter decades of get­ting eaten alive by the Ger­mans on its home turf, Cadil­lac de­cided to turn the tables. In 2005, Gen­eral Mo­tors’ lux­ury brand in­tro­duced a sedan named BLS de­signed specif­i­cally to spear­head an of­fen­sive on the Euro­pean mar­ket.

When viewed from ei­ther end, the BLS fell per­fectly in line with Cadil­lac’s then-cur­rent de­sign language. The mid­dle sec­tion be­trayed its true na­tion­al­ity, how­ever. Built in Troll­hät­tan, Swe­den, the BLS was es­sen­tially an Amer­i­can­ized ver­sion of the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Saab 9-3. Its pro­por­tions were hardly wor­thy of the wreath and crest em­blem; it had the dash-to-axle ra­tio of a Ci­mar­ron.

Cadil­lac re­ally was se­ri­ous about beat­ing BMW and Mercedes-Benz at their own game. The BLS choice of en­gines in­cluded a 1.9-litre tur­bod­iesel — granted, it was bor­rowed from Fiat — and the lineup even in­cluded a sta­tion wagon model. Parachuted into one of the most cut­throat seg­ments of the mar­ket, the “Caa­bil­lac” failed to win over buy­ers.

Chrysler 300C Tour­ing

The Chrysler 300C Tour­ing rep­re­sented a bold at­tempt at lur­ing 5 Se­ries and E-Class own­ers into Chrysler’s Euro­pean show­rooms.

Pre­viewed by a close-to-pro­duc­tion con­cept in­tro­duced at the 2003 Frank­furt Auto Show, the wagon was cre­ated by graft­ing a 300C front end onto the body of a Dodge Mag­num, a model never sold through of­fi­cial chan­nels on the other side of the pond. The surgery cre­ated one of the sex­i­est-look­ing and most prac­ti­cal Chrysler mod­els in re­cent mem­ory.

Buy­ers who wanted the full Amer­i­can car ex­pe­ri­ence could or­der the 300C Tour­ing with a 5.7-L Hemi V8 en­gine. For mo­torists wor­ried about fuel and reg­is­tra­tion costs, Chrysler took ad­van­tage of its tie-up with Daim­ler at the time and of­fered the wagon with a 2.7-L tur­bod­iesel V6 en­gine sourced from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin.

The 300C Tour­ing was built along­side the Euro-spec Jeep Grand Chero­kee (WJ) in Graz, Aus­tria, by Magna-Steyr. It was a strong ef­fort on Chrysler’s part, but it fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions and died with­out a suc­ces­sor.

Chrysler Yp­silon

Af­ter Chrysler’s mar­riage to Daim­ler failed, a ro­mance with Italy-based Fiat opened up new op­por­tu­ni­ties to sell cars in Europe. Big­ger mod­els like the 300 and the Town & Coun­try were fit­ted with a Lan­cia em­blem and launched in Europe, though we’re not sure if any­one no­ticed.

The story was dif­fer­ent in the United King­dom and Ire­land. Lan­cia’s rep­u­ta­tion was so bad when it called it quits in those mar­kets that ex­ec­u­tives de­cided they couldn’t re­launch the brand. In­stead, right-hand drive vari­ants of the Delta and the Yp­silon wore a Chrysler em­blem. The brand’s pres­ence on the Bri­tish mar­ket goes back to the Rootes days, and its rep­u­ta­tion is much bet­ter than Lan­cia’s — which is ad­mit­tedly not say­ing a lot.

The plot failed be­cause no one warmed up to the Yp­silon; it was too ex­pen­sive, not as pre­mium as Lan­cia claimed it was, and wholly unin­spir­ing to drive. Chrysler pulled out of the United King­dom and Ire­land, and Lan­cia is spend­ing the last few years of its life in FCA’s pal­lia­tive-care unit.

Chevro­let Ma­tiz

Chevro­let’s ties with South Korea-based Dae­woo make it the worst of­fender when it comes to badge-en­gi­neer­ing cars in Europe. Im­age be damned, in the mid-2000s, com­pany ex­ec­u­tives were will­ing to put a bowtie em­blem on any­thing that re­motely re­sem­bled a car.

Launched in 1998, the orig­i­nal Ma­tiz was a small, chintzy econobox that even the thrifty, city car-crazy Euro­peans weren’t will­ing to buy. It was a com­pletely neutered form of trans­porta­tion with­out a gram of ap­peal. De­sign­ers merely set­tled for cre­at­ing a car peo­ple wouldn’t dis­like.

In emerg­ing na­tions, the nu­mer­ous vari­a­tions of the Ma­tiz were pop­u­lar be­cause, to its credit, it was more com­fort­able than a mo­tor­cy­cle and it could seat four.

In Europe, the bowtie’s en­try-level model was a flop. It dis­in­te­grated like as­pirin in a glass of wa­ter, so the eye is rarely of­fended by a Ma­tiz to­day.

Chevro­let Tacuma/Rezzo

Be­lieve it or not, the Chevro­let Tacuma was de­signed by Pin­in­fa­rina. Sold as the Rezzo in cer­tain mar­kets, it started life as a Dae­woo peo­ple-mover aimed at the Re­nault Scenic and the Citroën Xsara Pi­casso. The Chevro­let-badged model was in­tro­duced af­ter the Dae­woo brand was phased out in a ma­jor­ity of ex­port mar­kets.

The only good part about the Tacuma was the bowtie em­blem made it look de­cid­edly less like a marine mam­mal than its Dae­woo-branded sib­ling. The new-look grille didn’t make up for the awk­ward pro­por­tions, the hap­haz­ard build qual­ity, or the un­der­whelm­ing pow­er­trains.

Many asked why Chevro­let failed in Europe. Af­ter tak­ing a good look at cars like the Tacuma and the Ma­tiz, the bet­ter ques­tion is how the bowtie’s Euro­pean divi­sion lasted as long as it did.

— CHEVRO­LET FILES

The Chevro­let Ma­tiz was an ugly, unin­spir­ing econobox that had no ap­peal what­so­ever — which is prob­a­bly why hardly any­one in Europe bought one.

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