Dead cars are com­ing back to life

The Arizona Republic - - Money - Nathan Bomey

What’s dead may never die.

You don’t need to be a “Game of Thrones” fan to be­lieve that quote – at least not if you’re pay­ing at­ten­tion to the auto in­dus­try.

As the 2019 De­troit auto show be­gins this week with me­dia pre­views, dead cars are com­ing back to life with a su­per­nat­u­ral vengeance.

The res­ur­rec­tion trend now in­cludes Chevro­let, Ford, Honda, Jeep and Toy­ota, all re­sus­ci­tat­ing models that were dis­con­tin­ued years ago.

“A lot of these name­plates are quite iconic,” said Re­becca Lind­land, an auto an­a­lyst at con­sul­tancy Por­tico An­a­lyt­ics. It “brings back a sense of nos­tal­gia but with all the mod­ern ameni­ties.”

It’s Toy­ota’s turn this week. In De­troit, the au­tomaker will re­veal the lon­gan­tic­i­pated re­turn of the Toy­ota Supra, a sports car that gained a cult fol­low­ing in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Supra fiz­zled out more than 20 years ago. But retro is cool again, so the Supra is get­ting a sec­ond shot. Toy­ota joins a crowded party:

❚ The Ranger mid­size pickup truck is mak­ing a come­back this year. Dis­con­tin­ued less than a decade ago in the U.S., it ac­tu­ally never went away in cer­tain for­eign mar­kets. Now, Ford


needs a mid­size of­fer­ing as Amer­i­cans sali­vate over pick­ups of all stripes.

Next up: The Ford Bronco SUV is head­ing to deal­er­ships as a 2020 model. Ford is seek­ing to re­cap­ture the in­tensely loyal fol­low­ing the Bronco had be­fore the O.J. Simp­son chase ba­si­cally forced the com­pany to dis­con­tinue the name­plate in the 1990s.

❚ Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles, which owns the Jeep brand, is re­viv­ing the Jeep Gla­di­a­tor pickup this year. The Gla­di­a­tor was orig­i­nally sold in the 1960s. Its rein­car­na­tion de­buted in a show-stop­ping re­veal at the Los An­ge­les Auto Show in Novem­ber. Like the Ranger, it’s aim­ing for the mid­size pickup seg­ment.

❚ The au­tomaker will be­gin sell­ing the Honda Pass­port SUV later this year. It’s a re­make of the Pass­port SUV sold in the 1990s, which was orig­i­nally a re­badged Isuzu Rodeo “with some mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions,” ac­cord­ing to Au­to­trader.

❚ Gen­eral Mo­tors weeks ago be­gan sell­ing a new SUV called the Chevy Blazer, which takes in­spi­ra­tion from sev­eral models of old, in­clud­ing the Chevy TrailBlazer, which faded out about a decade ago.

One rea­son au­tomak­ers re­vive older ve­hi­cles is be­cause it’s cheaper than mak­ing a model from scratch, since au­tomak­ers typ­i­cally re­tain trade­marks

Jeep: Honda: Chevy:

for dis­con­tin­ued models. And they may not have to spend as much on mar­ket­ing.

“They have the ben­e­fit of be­ing rec­og­nized model names that the au­tomak­ers al­ready own,” said Joe Wiesen­felder, ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of “Lo and be­hold, they had these al­ready paid for. So they can whip them out and use them.”

And, just as the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try loves fran­chises and sequels, the built-in fan base for past ve­hi­cles makes them buz­zwor­thy.

“It’s eas­ier some­times to bring back an old name­plate and build on the aware­ness and the pos­i­tive re­ac­tion,” said Stephanie Brin­ley, auto an­a­lyst at IHS Markit.

Quite sim­ply, retro is in. Older driv­ers have fond mem­o­ries of cars from days gone by. And younger con­sumers of­ten view long-gone brands as authen­tic.

Many of these ve­hi­cles “tran­scend gen­er­a­tions,” said Jonathan Klinger, vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic re­la­tions at clas­sic-car in­surer Hagerty. “It’s fun to look back at dif­fer­ent eras.”

But while nos­tal­gia sells, it’s not a guar­an­tee of suc­cess.

“When you go ahead and bring one of those name­plates back, there’s also tremen­dous pres­sure to get the prod­ucts right and make sure it matches the ex­pec­ta­tions peo­ple have from their mem­ory,” Brin­ley said. “It cer­tainly has to res­onate.”

The Pon­tiac GTO flopped after GM re­vived it in 2004, about three decades after it ended its first run.

What’s ironic about the trend is that cars typ­i­cally get dis­con­tin­ued be­cause peo­ple lose in­ter­est the first time around. GM and Ford re­cently an­nounced plans to kill sev­eral long-run­ning models, in­clud­ing the Chevy Im­pala and Ford Tau­rus, as many Amer­i­cans have lost in­ter­est in pas­sen­ger cars.

This isn’t the first time the Tau­rus has died. It was dropped in the early 2000s, then re­vived by a new regime at Ford.

So if ab­sence truly makes the heart grow fonder, per­haps the grave is only a tem­po­rary desti­na­tion.


A 1992 Toy­ota Supra.

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