Can they somehow get their groove back?
It's always easy to make fun of boring automakers for obvious reasons. Their vehicles typically appeal to those who don't care about cars, only buying them for basic transportation. Thing is, some of these boring brands were once, dare we say it, cool. So what happened? How did they lose their coolness? More importantly, is redemption possible? We picked out six major automakers and one iconic brand, in no particular order, that need to regain their cool factor. Some have more hope than others.
Let's start with the most obvious: Buick. It's bland. Bland! The last time Buick built a cool car was the now iconic Grand National – in the 1980s. Since then, Buicks have either been poorly rebadged Chevys and Pontiac (RIP), or wonderfully reskinned crossovers. Sure, the latest LaCrosse is a fine dentist's cars, but since when have dentists, generally speaking, ever been cool? There was some hope of a cool new Buick back in 2017 at the Detroit Auto Show when the 400-hp Avista coupe concept debuted. Built on the Camaro's RWD platform, the Avista had real promise, but Buick balked regarding a production version. Shame.
Does Chrysler still even build cars? It does, but the lineup is now limited to three models (only two if you count the Pacifica and Pacifica hybrid as one). What happened to what was once one of the most innovative automakers out there? Unfortunately, Chrysler has been stuck with the classic case of identity crisis. Is it a luxury brand? Semi-luxury? Or one that's simply been limited to rebadged FCA products (save for the Pacifica)? Sadly, FCA doesn't seem to even know. Does Chrysler have a chance of regaining the cool factor it earned with models like the 300 SRT8 and the original 300C from 1957? It's not looking good.
Cadillac makes this list? Yes, and here's why: Lack of industry game-changing product. The ATS-V sedan is dead. The coupe variant likely isn't far behind. The CTS lineup is kind of dull, as is the CT6 flagship sedan. The Escalade may continue to be blingtastic, but even that's now showing its age. The XT4 and XT5 crossovers? They're crossovers. Enough said. What Cadillac needs is something daring. Something on par with the likes of the Lexus LC. Fortunately, Cadillac seems to have gotten the memo. Recently uncovered patent images seem to show a striking coupe that might, just might, be a BMW 8 Series fighter. Here's hoping.
Of course Mitsubishi was going to make this list. The Japanese brand responsible for some of the 1990s greatest coupes and SUVs is now only selling unexciting crossovers and the lame Mirage sedan in the US. We've spoken with Mitsubishi about this issue at length and senior executives made clear they're aware of the problem, but offered few details for a remedy. We admit that building cool cars isn't always easy, but Mitsubishi has proven it's capable of doing so. It just needs the right leadership to make it happen. Fortunately, there's a new American market CEO who understands our complaints. Hopefully within the next few years or so Mitsubishi will be off this list.
Oy vey, Acura. Oy vey. Okay, so we'll give you full credit and props for the second generation NSX. Beautiful supercar. Technologically advanced. Wicked fun. Thing is, it's expensive. What happened to legendary cars like the Legend and Integra? Oh that's right, their modern day successors include the RLX and ILX. Lame. Yes, we get the fact that crossovers, specifically the RDX and MDX, are your main money makers these days, but even Lexus has found a way to make its latest ES cool (enough). We know you're capable of building fun to drive sedans, and Honda has a few platforms to work with. Combine at least one of them with your SH-AWD system, a fresh design inside and out, and you might, just might, become cool again.
Mini hasn't been cool since it was re-launched as a brand back in 2000 following BMW's takeover. It was the original reborn Mini Cooper hardtop three-door hatch that made it cool back then, followed by the first generation Clubman with its cool suicide door in 2007. In more recent years, the three-door hardtop has become larger with each generation, the new Clubman ditched the suicide door, and the Countryman is an overpriced small crossover. In short, BMW-owned Mini went too mainstream. Can this be fixed? We think so. There's been talk of making Mini an all-electric brand, and that brings huge opportunity. An all-electric hot hatch city car (or even a track version) would be seriously cool. How about an EV version of the Rocketman concept?
And then there's Lotus. Sadly, it made this list for one reason and one reason only: its failure to launch something all-new since the Evora's debut in 2009. Ten years without something minty fresh isn't good for any automaker, especially one that has to work extra hard to prove itself against the likes of Porsche. We don't want to imply Lotus doesn't build great driver's cars and track cars, but it's simply more of the same with the Elise, Exige, and Evora. On the plus side, Lotus is fully aware of this and it's now financially secure. Lack of money is what caused those vehicles to stick around for so long. But with a healthy bank account today, we're convinced Lotus will regain the level of coolness it rightly deserves. Until then…