Where have all the great American cars gone? It was a question we pondered at length as we were finalizing our list of vehicles to ask along to our annual All-Stars shootout, the winners of which we recently revealed.
Out of this year’s All-Stars field, where we annually invite the best and brightest brand-new models, only two of the 24 vehicles on hand—the Lincoln Navigator and the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1—were domestic-branded products. One is a leviathan of a flagship SUV that will see relatively limited sales, the other is the ultimate expression of the seventh-generation Vette. Although both proved worthy contenders, we fully expected them to be, given their respective missions.
It was roughly the same scenario in 2018. Only the Ford GT and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE made it out to the event, with the GT snaring an All-Stars award. Every car we invite already has to be special in some way, to stand out as a butt-kicking performer, a segment leader, or a boundary pusher. We simply haven’t seen enough of these types of vehicles lately from American brands.
Some of it has to do with priorities. As I walked the floor at the Detroit auto show this past January, trucks and SUVs dominated the domestic floorspace like I’ve never seen in my 20-plus years covering the industry; it’s obvious where Ford’s head is. At the same time, despite the trolling Ford has taken for its well-publicized decision to shed underperforming cars from its lineup (our Jamie Kitman unloaded on the Blue Oval in his August 2018 column), it’s hard to blame the Dearborn decision makers. When your order banks are overflowing with requests for the new Ranger, when you sell an F-series model every 29.3 seconds, when your sedan sales are tanking, and when you’re making huge bets on electrification and automation and need cash to make that happen, you must also make tough choices.
The good news: The Mustang is sticking around, and the 700-plus-hp Shelby GT500 that Ford unleashed in Detroit should be an absolute monster. Ford is also working to amp up its crossovers and rolled out a 400-hp Explorer ST (the fastest SUV you can buy for less than $60,000!) as part of a revamp of the model’s lineup, joining the Edge ST. If we have to have more crossovers—and the sales sheets indicate that’s what America wants—at least we’re getting some muscle to go along with them.
General Motors finds itself in a similar position, and late last year it announced the shedding of several of its vehicles not called crossovers, including the Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac XTS, and Chevy Cruze/Volt/Impala. At the Detroit show, there was very little to get excited about when it came to GM’s presence unless you were dying to see Chevrolet’s revamped Silverado or revived Blazer, or the Cadillac XT6 crossover (the first-ever!). Can you tell I’m excited?
The song is much the same over at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. FCA got the jump on GM and Ford by euthanizing its Chrysler 200/Dodge Dart well more than a year ago, and the Chrysler 300 might not be long for this world, either. And although we love us some Cats from Hell/Demon/Red Eye/SRT/700-horsepower-oh-my, those cars are reaching Methuselah age. So far, we’re hearing there will be a new Challenger and Charger. Here’s hoping. But Jeep and Ram are making all of the profits for FCA, and while there are some interesting enough models from Jeep, we’re not exactly penciling anything in for next year’s All-Stars evaluation.
So where does that leave us? The mid-engine Corvette lurks in the shadows, the GT500 should be tremendous, and . . . that’s about it in 2019 that has us excited on the domestic-car front. A couple of crossovers are emerging that may pique our interest, like those Ford ST models, but the proverbial cupboard continues to gather cobwebs.
For a guy who hails from Detroit and has always been somewhat of a homer for the Big Three, it’s all pretty depressing to see. But there are some faint, electrified glimmers. The all-electric Chevy Bolt was an All-Star in 2017, proving GM is capable of producing a compelling offering in the space, and an EV-powered Cadillac teaser photo it flashed briefly in Detroit should mean more good things are coming. Ford promises all manner of electrified models, but the only car we’ve gotten wind of so far is some sort of mutant Mustang.
Speaking of, it would be nice to see something not named Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, or Challenger emerge that fans of American cars (and I mean cars, not trucks or crossovers) can get excited about again. We need to see more innovation and more enthusiasm, and we’re not picky about what powers them. Because as Tesla has proven, EVs can be fast and fun—and they can also be car-shaped. We’ll be waiting, with the invitations printed and ready.