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"Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
Its the only way to live in cars ..." Singing Gary Numan lyrics from "Cars" might be the only reasonable thing to do while considering the graveyard of one-hit-wonder automobiles. After all, the Brit singer was a bit of a one-hitter himself. It's almost a perfect union.

What is a one-hit-wonder vehicle? It's a car built and sold with fewer than a handful of model years and no or limited refreshes, redesigns or updates. The pomp and circumstance upon its debut, however, was likely the stuff of legend. The next big thing! And then... Poof, nothing. Ask your friends and you'll get a smattering of vehicles that fit the bill – the reality is that automakers rarely produce hit products. In fact, car companies are more like venture capitalists: They place a lot of bets and hope that one of them turns up to be the next big thing. (Think: Ford F-150, Honda Accord and Toyota Prius. These are the closest things in the auto biz to a hit like Google, Twitter or Facebook.)

My friends were filled with suggestions. They lambasted the Chrysler Prowler, Chevy HHR, and even the PT Cruiser. I would submit that the PT had too long a life and sold too many to be a true one-hit-wonder -- but it's close.

Click to open the gallery of cars I've dubbed one-hit wonders.

Pontiac Aztek
  • Pontiac Aztek
  • Pontiac Aztek
  • Image Credit: Pontiac
  • AMC Gremlin
  • AMC Gremlin
  • Image Credit: American Motors
  • Cadillac Catera
  • Cadillac Catera
  • Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Cadillac Cimarron
  • Cadillac Cimarron
  • Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Chrysler TC by Maserati
  • Chrysler TC by Maserati
  • Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Delorean DMC-12
  • Delorean DMC-12
  • Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Dodge Magnum
  • Dodge Magnum
  • Image Credit: Dodge
  • Ford Pinto
  • Ford Pinto
  • Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Lincoln Blackwood
  • Lincoln Blackwood
  • Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Merkur XR4Ti
  • Merkur XR4Ti
  • Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


So why did these vehicles show early promise and then fail? The top 3 reasons are:

1. Design
2. Engineering/Quality
3. Wrong vehicle at the wrong time

If we look at these criteria, can we predict accurately if a new vehicle will succeed or be relegated to the one-hit heap? It's certainly possible. Take the anticipated launch of the Fiat (or is it Chrysler-Fiat?) 500. Some reviewers think it has a fighting chance. When you look at photos of the 2011 Fiat 500, (INSERT PHOTO) you can see why this article and others spend so much time comparing this car to the Mini Cooper. That comparison alone is a positive feat for Fiat given Mini's success and clear separation from the one-hit crowd. But, the 500 will have to overcome some long-held perceptions in the U.S. spawned as a result of Fiat's last attempt at winning over Americans, which went anything but well.

If we review the car on the one-hit basis, we get a pretty clear picture:

1. Design
Pros: Reminiscent of Mini, Euro styling
Cons: Too cute?

2. Engineering/Quality
Pros: Success in Europe, improved quality
Cons: A Mexican Fiat plant will eventually build the U.S.-bound 500s. It's unknown if they can produce quality like the market demands.

3. Right vehicle for the time
Pros: Recession + economy car = success
Cons: While people are cost conscious they also are tired of sacrificing space. If the fuel economy comes in as expected (up to 60 mpg for the Multijet diesel), it could be well positioned if we hit another fuel spike (and who knows when that will happen).

With horsepower somewhere around 100 and anticipated fuel economy rating of 40 mpg for the gasoline engine or up to 60 for the diesel, coupled with a stylish design and sufficient quality, I would give the Fiat 500 a "buy" rating. In fact, it's been selling well in Europe, but we have to balance that with the fact that cars there are much smaller by nature.

Fiat would be smart to begin marketing the vehicle to its target audience now to warm the skeptics up to Fiat's re-entry in the U.S. Young people will likely be a key demographic and if Fiat gets the car in front of them now, they could do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of perception and acceptance well before the car actually hits the ground.

If we look at Mini's success, BMW did much the same, finding unique places to showcase the vehicle playing off its design and small size. One of my favorites was seeing it on a merry-go-round type of contraption in a mall one day. Mini also did a great job recruiting the youth to really talk the car up for them. Personalization, stickers attached to print ads, online adaptation and games were all hallmarks of the Mini's marketing success that kept on going well after its launch. This is in large contrast to the PT Cruiser. While a novelty at the onset, the marketing quickly dried up and the vehicle was left to hang in the breeze.

If Fiat learns from these past successes and takes into account its target audience, media preferences and the idea that success is in the hands of those customers, they will start the conversation with prospective customers now. If they do that, they too can escape the one-hit heap.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 185 Comments
      shiloh1388
      • 7 Months Ago
      I would appreciate people on this cite avoid making racist comments about Italian people, cars, merchandise etc. For the record, I trace my dad's family back, generation by generation from the USA to early 1600s England. Way before that, its seems they hit England from France, with William the Conqueror. I am Episcopal and think the Catholic Church is an awful representative of Christianity, because the recent news has indeed suggested a huge cover-up of the sexual abuse of children, not to mention alcoholism, racketeering, etc. Also, please don't link Italian people to the corruption of the Vatican. It seems like quite a few also know France, way, way, way back then was a part of the Roman empire. So chug a lug, way, way,----- back there my ancestors were Italian. At least the intelligentsia like me tries to say things to raise the standards of discussions like this.
        charleybob
        • 7 Months Ago
        @shiloh1388
        My family heritage goes back to Maule France. Some came to Great Britain with William the Conqueror. Americans know very little about some of the great cars made in France and Italy.
      shiloh1388
      • 7 Months Ago
      I own a Chrysler Sebring convertible, Touring. Nice leather seats, great 2.7 double overhead cam, 24valve V-6. On the Virginia I-95, even with the usual assorted mix of anti-social rude driving behavior of other Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMWs, an occasional dark Princess in her suave Volvo, Hatch it up, big glass in the back, I recently got 30.5 mpg with the airconditioning on. It is hot in the summer in Virginia, so even though its a convertible, I used the air conditioning. Have driven the car 59 thousand miles. I am a careful driver and do suggested basic maintenance. Had it since 3 miles on it. No reliability or mechanical problems. Haven't even had to have the airconditioning maintainanced. Gotcha Honda and Toyota.
      • 7 Months Ago
      The new Fiat has won Euro car of the year back in 2008. They have built over a half million of them since 2007. It has 5 star Euro crash ratings. It gets better gas mileage than most hybrid cars! The first 500 limited edition series cars for USA sold out last week in 42 minutes! The current Fiat leadership is not going to let any crap out of the factories. I've driven these and they easily match any current Honda or Toyota. People are making bad judgments when trying to compare this car with cars from the 1970s. That would be similar to comparing a new Ford to a 1972 Pinto. People will be surprised on the size, space, and build quality when they see the new Fiat in the flesh!
      larry
      • 7 Months Ago
      These are great cars, If you have more money than sense.
      imperial66
      • 7 Months Ago
      We just returned from Toledo, Ohio and word there is that Fiat-Chrysler may build some of the 500s at the huge Jeep plant in that midwest city -- consequently, you may be able to kiss the "Mexican quality control" issue mentioned in the article a very nice "Adios!" The original 500 had a production run from 1957 to 1975 (with one model being extended to 1977) so it's a vehicle with a 28+ year hertiage -- Americans are looking for interesting cars so the fact that it was a hit in Europe initially, with little exposure here, means little these days. I saw few Mini's back in the 1960s or 1970s in America but now they are a hit.
      deweyg1967
      • 7 Months Ago
      Fiat would have been smart to introduce their vehicles to the U.S. under a renewed badge of Plymouth. Chrysler lost many sales by cutting that brand and there would be a dealer network that would absorb the new models without conflict from the models they already offer. (The old Chrysler/Plymouth) But, after the "reorganization" by Chrysler (and by GM,) a lot of those dealers are as much history as Plymouths.
      • 7 Months Ago
      Where I drew up Fiats rusted through in 1 winter and deserved the moniker Fix it again Tony and worse.
      • 7 Months Ago
      "...Americans are tired of sacrificing space"??? Is this guy for real? A vehicle is supposed to be transportation, buddy, not a symbol for how big your ego is, or how much fuel you can burn needlessly, or how much pollution you can contribute to this already suffering World...
      BAC ART PIPES
      • 4 Years Ago
      The Fiat 500 is old design from 1958 - beginning. Sold under name - Multiple, Astana Craven, - the 600 cc engine 4 cylinder delivered very impressive fuel economy - 5 L 100km, the 600 and 650 2 cal. aircooled delivered around 6 l/100 km.
      This was a small platform for Europe and personally I used Fiat for rally on Fiat 124, 125, 126, 127 (very Fast), also 128 and Fiat Seat 850 (presently in VW hands). All engine where under 1000cc, except the Fiat 134 and 125 (1200, 1300 and 1500cc). The 60 MPG on new Fiat 500 is not surprise for me. I will prefer gas over diesel, fuel economy will be close. If the price will be under $14500, I will purchase.
      I woiuld likke know if Fiat improved the suspension qulity.
      Mark
        • 7 Months Ago
        @BAC ART PIPES
        My uncle had a fiat 500 in the UK back in 1937, and I can tell you it did have a water cooed engine, the grill was kind of hart shaped and you could see the engine which was just behind the grill and the radiator was in back of the engine which allowed for the sloping grill, Back then It was ahead of it's time in body designe, His was a two door Two seat seat version, I loved it, especialy the smell of it's real leather seats.
      itsmegp46
      • 4 Years Ago
      Even if I were interested in such a small car (I'm not) I would not buy any Fiat. I remember the old days of their 1970's cars all too well. The nickname Fix It Again Tony was well deserved. We'll see after about a year or two just how well these newer cars are holding up mechanically.
        • 7 Months Ago
        @itsmegp46
        Ah yes..."Fix It Again Tony" I remeber it well. Another was ... Feeble Italian Attempt at Transportation. That POS X-19 I had. What at nightmare
        borona
        • 7 Months Ago
        @itsmegp46
        I still have a '78 124 Spider, I love, I have owned in the nieghborhood of 9 Fiats, my first being an 1100D Rally. Most people drove the poor things into the ground, and when they took the car, well beyond the limits of most cars of the day, they tried to blame poor engineering. Fiat's Racing History and the accolades from the early 1900's for most of the design innovations, of modern automotive race proven technology, was pioneered by Fiat. The First Constant Velocity Joint on a front wheel drive vehicle was an early 128 design that is still a standard of the industry to this day. I am glad to see Fiat back on U.S soil.
      dvipervenom650
      • 4 Years Ago
      Screw that. Gimme a Scion IQ when it debuts in 2011!
      • 4 Years Ago
      It seems like your piece has a lot of opinion and few facts, not to mention sometype of redneckish agenda....which is not bad except for the fact that it is very provincial and limited in view.

      So limited in fact that you may want to consider adding the Porsche 911 to your list of one-hit wonders, at least based on the rudimental criteria that you list. Oddly enough though, the 911 story in my mind is rather a successful one so I'm not so sure about your criteria.


      Thanks for listing your name as the author though, so next time I see an article from you, I'll know to skip it since most likely it will be full of......you know what.
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