In the ever-changing automotive market, there are a few evergreen nameplates that sell massive volumes year after year. The Toyota Corolla and Honda Accord are the traditional volume winners, last year selling a combined 639,185 vehicles , to put that in perspective, there are more Corollas and Accords sold each year than there are residents in the state of Vermont.
At the other end of the spectrum are the exotics, the vehicles that only a small group of people can buy. Ultra-luxurious Maybach sold just 63 cars in all of 2010. The explanation for this difference is fairly straightforward: many car shoppers can afford a Corolla or Accord, but few can stretch to the $378,000 entry price of a Maybach 57. And measuring 18.8 feet end-to-end, the 57 is a real pain to park at the grocery store.
Yet there’s a surprising assortment of mainstream vehicles that sell in exotic-like quantities. Whether it’s due to flawed marketing, optimistic pricing, or just an aging product, plenty of models record fewer than 3000 sales annually. Here’s our look at eight of the slowest-selling cars of 2010, listed in descending number of sales.
To keep things fair, we included only mainstream vehicles that were on sale for all of calendar-year 2010. That excludes exotic and high-priced vehicles, like the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (499 sold in 2010); cars that debuted late in the year, like the Chevrolet Volt (just 326 sales last year); and cars that lingered on dealer forecourts long after being discontinued, such as the Honda S2000 (85 sales in 2010.)
Subaru Tribeca – 2472 sales
Subaru has enjoyed continually growing sales success for the past few years, but the Tribeca hasn’t been part of the action. It continues to be the brand’s slowest-selling model, and sales numbers have dropped 80 percent since 2008.
Designed as a hip crossover-cum-minivan, it bowed as the B9 Tribeca at the 2005 Detroit auto show and dropped the “B9” prefix when it was redesigned for model-year 2008. Styling of the B9 — especially the gawky headlights and flat-nosed grille — was controversial, whereas the latest version looks more like a grown-up Forester or Outback. And that’s part of the problem: Those models are the Tribeca’s stiffest competition. Faithful Subaru buyers have been loyal to those nameplates for years, meaning they give the Tribeca little attention.
Originally available configured with either five or seven seats, three rows of seating have been the only choice since 2010. The Tribeca’s sole powertrain option is a 3.6-liter flat-six engine with a five-speed automatic transmission, and Subaru’s signature all-wheel drive. With stickers ranging from $31,220 to $36,520, the Tribeca is the priciest Subaru save for the high-performance WRX STI.
Porsche Boxster – 2177 sales / Porsche Cayman – 1322 sales
Leaving aside the V-6-powered Cayenne SUV, the Porsche Boxster and Cayman are the cheapest ways to get behind the wheel of a brand-new Porsche. And yet the coupe and roadster continue to languish at the bottom of Porsche’s sales charts year after year.
For Porschephiles, neither car offers the same historic pedigree as the long-lived 911. The Boxster entered production as recently as 1996, and its hardtop Cayman sibling didn’t bow until the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show. They’re also sometimes seen as soft, dumbed-down Porsches as opposed to the more sporting 911 range. Porsche intentionally keeps the cars’ outputs down so they don’t upstage the iconic 911.
Pity, because both the Cayman and Boxster reward with an engaging driving experience limited only by the lack of horsepower. The Boxster starts at $48,100 with a 2.9-liter flat-six making 255 horsepower, which the $58,600 Boxster S upgrades to a 3.4-liter unit with 310 horses. The pricier Cayman demands $51,900 for its 265-horsepower iteration and $62,100 to unlock the 320-horsepower Cayman S. Even more performance can be had from the sporting Boxster Spyder and upcoming Cayman R. Yet even the least-powerful 911, the Carrera, trounces these outputs with a substantial 345 hp.
Furthermore, there are just three flavors of Boxster and two versions of the Cayman, whereas Porsche has spawned an incredible 25 different varieties of the current 911, proving just how much attention the company lavishes on its historic model. The 911 accounted for 5737 Porsche sales in 2010, almost double that of the Boxster and Cayman combined.
Porsche recently launched a new ad campaign touting the everyday usability of its cars, which aims to convince potential buyers that Porsches can be more than just a retirement goal or a weekend-only toy. Check back next year to see whether the promotion elevated Cayman and Boxster sales figures above their meager 2010 levels of 2177 and 1322 cars, respectively.
Jaguar XK – 2137 sales
Jaguar euphemistically characterizes 2010 as a “stable” year for the XK coupe and convertible, even though sales dropped six percent versus 2009. The current version of the XK was introduced for model-year 2007, replacing the older XK8 and XKR. The base XK is powered by a 385-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine, whereas the hot XKR packs a supercharged 510-horsepower punch.
Raw power aside, the XK and XKR are genuinely attractive cars, with just a hint of Aston Martin influence in the wide haunches and curvaceous front end. They were styled by Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum, whose pen was also responsible for the XF and XJ sedans. The inside is similarly upscale, with sumptuous leather seats, an assortment of wood veneers, and an array of electronic gadgets.
None of that appears to have swayed American buyers, who took home just 2137 units of the XK — that figure includes coupes, convertibles, and the hot XKR — in 2010. Although Jaguar sold just 13,340 vehicles in the U.S. overall, the XK still struggles to attract checkbooks.
Among the possible explanations is the fact that Jaguar is still plagued by a reputation for glitchy electronics and dubious reliability, which certainly doesn’t encourage buyers — even though recent J.D. Power surveys say quality has been improving. The brand also has a large following in states subject to snow in winter, where high-powered sports coupes and convertibles are impractical choices. Finally, the XK’s rear seats are unusable for anyone with legs, whereas both the sporty XF and luxurious XJ can comfortably transport five adults.
Acura RL – 2037 sales
Acura has tried again and again to renew interest in its large luxury sedan — a complete redesign for 2005, a refresh in 2009, and some modest tweaks for 2011 — but it still hasn’t caught on with buyers. Part of the issue may be the large overlap between the RL and the much cheaper TL. They’re both about the same size, and the TL can be optioned with the same 3.7-liter V-6 that comes standard in the RL, but for significantly less money. It could also be explained by the RL’s anonymous styling and convoluted center stack design.
The few buyers who do select the RL enjoy all-wheel drive, the aforementioned 300-horsepower V-6, a 10-speaker Bose sound system, plus leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel as standard. Price tags start at $48,060 and climb to $56,010 with the Advance package.
Toyota Land Cruiser – 1807 sales
Several Toyota products routinely grace America’s list of top-selling cars: the Corolla, Camry, and RAV4 attract hundreds of thousands of buyers ever year. The Land Cruiser, however, got the attention of just 1807 car shoppers last year — costly Italian brand Maserati sold more cars here in the same period.
Take a look at Toyota’s new-car lineup, and it’s easy to see why the Land Cruiser falls by the wayside: It’s one of four three-row SUVs offered by Toyota. The other three — the Highlander, 4Runner, and Sequoia — are all significantly cheaper than the Land Cruiser’s $69,730 sticker price and offer similar specifications and options. Further hurting the Land Cruiser are lowly fuel economy ratings of 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway, due to the combination of a thirsty 5.7-liter V-8 and a 5700-pound curb weight.
Anyone whose heart is set on a Land Cruiser would be well advised to consider the Lexus LX570. It’s essentially the same vehicle, but with nicer interior fittings and more optional technology. The “L” badge and all those luxury bits, however, mean the LX570 is nearly $11,000 costlier than the Land Cruiser. In spite of the price differential, the LX570 sold more than twice as many copies as the Land Cruiser last year, at 3983 units.
Audi TT – 1531 sales
Audi’s sporty TT, available as either a coupe or convertible, was first launched in 1998 and received a full-on redesign for model-year 2008, before a litany of mild styling updates for the 2011 model year. In spite of the changes, sales have dropped off from 4486 in 2008, to 1935 sales in 2009, and to just 1531 last year.
The name stands for “Technology and Tradition,” and the car has certainly packed a variety of the former: engines choices have ranged from a 1.8-liter turbo to a 3.2-liter V-6, with power sent either to the front or all four wheels. Quattro all-wheel drive is now standard on all models, as is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four producing 211 horsepower, or 265 horsepower in the high-performance TTS. An even faster model will debut here later this year, the 335-horsepower TT RS. It will be offered only in coupe form with a six-speed manual, and is said to hit 62 mph in just 4.6 seconds.
Downsides? Neither the rear seats nor the trunk offer much usable space, making the TT mildly impractical for everyday use, and some enthusiasts may be turned off by the lack of a shift-it-yourself option, as Audi’s six-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission is the only choice until the TT RS arrives. As for performance, the choice of 211 or 265 horsepower makes for adequate forward thrust, but the TT has never been quite as engaging as its German or Japanese competitors. Add to that a relatively high starting price of $39,175, and the TT has a hard time finding buyers.
Mazda RX-8 – 1134 sales
Don’t tell Felix Wankel: The only new vehicle in which his rotary engine design is found has failed to win over the American public. Just 1134 Mazda RX-8s found homes with buyers last year.
There’s plenty to enjoy in the RX-8: a smooth rotary engine with 232 horsepower and a sky-high 9000-rpm redline; sharp handling; and a unique design, which includes two rear half-doors.
Yet the RX-8’s 1.3-liter engine is low on torque, high on fuel (and oil) consumption, and has a somewhat variable reputation for reliability. When it launched in 2003, the car also stacked up poorly against its competition, the Nissan 350Z. The Nissan is more powerful — especially after it was replaced by the 332-horsepower 370Z in 2009 — and appears to have stolen the sports-coupe spotlight from Mazda. Proof positive: Nissan sold nearly 11,000 copies of the 370Z last year.
Mazda is expected to discontinue the RX-8 soon. Rumors of a replacement — possibly resurrecting the RX-7 moniker from early rotary sports cars — have abounded for years, but so far there are no firm signs of a new car on the horizon.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class – 919 sales
If you’ve seen a Mercedes-Benz G-Class on the road, count yourself lucky — with fewer than 1000 copies leaving dealerships last year, this is a rare beast indeed. And beast it is, as the Gelaendewagen is Benz’s most hard-charging off-road machine. Originally developed for military use over four decades ago, the SUV is now hand-built in Austria. It’s sold in two flavors, the G550 and G55 AMG. The former is propelled by a 382-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8, while the AMG version uses a supercharger to augment that figure to 500 horsepower.
Even though it’s decked out with enough leather and equipment to qualify as a luxury SUV, the G-Class suffers from poor name recognition in the U.S., coupled with a lofty price tag and dismal fuel mileage. The G550 starts at $106,625 and is rated at just 11 mpg city, 15 mpg highway. It’s a niche vehicle: not many people need three locking differentials and leather seats and a wood steering wheel.
As for the true exotic manufacturers, none of them broke 2000 sales — for the entire brand, never mind a single model. (Those analysts keep telling us we suffered a recession, after all.) Maserati led the charge with 1897 vehicles sold here last year, closely followed by sibling brand Ferrari’s delivery of 1440 new prancing horses. Bentley moved 1430 vehicles and Aston Martin sold 1104.
Lamborghini, Lotus, and Rolls-Royce can all be lumped into the three-digit club, selling 324, 660, and 312 cars in the U.S. last year, respectively. And rounding out the very bottom of the country’s sales charts, Maybach sold just 63 of its ultra-super-luxury sedans.
The bottom line, of course, is that low sales volumes don’t automatically make or break a car company. Despite these miniscule figures, none of the aforementioned manufacturers seems on the verge of bankruptcy — in part because a new Aston Martin commands much more cash than mainstream rides like the Toyota Corolla.