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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
      juan354
      • 4 Years Ago
      My best car was the 1966 Volvo P1800S too bad it started getting rusty after a good 160,000 miles on it. I used that car more than the 1971 Dodge R/T Challenger. Though I got beter use of that 4 Cyl. B18 engine compare to the 8Cyl. 383 in the Dodge. My 1972 Fiat 128S sport was a piece of garbage
      fredyacht1
      • 4 Years Ago
      I could put two in my F250 while I am running over a Mini
      jsimcheck6
      • 4 Years Ago
      I rented a Fiat 500 last year in Europe and loved the car. I don't think the author has driven one. I would consider buying one when the come to the U.S. I would compare this car to the SmartCar and hands down I would take the Fiat.
      piner123
      • 4 Months Ago
      How old is this article? Check the date! Why are we reading this again?
      larry
      • 4 Months Ago
      These are great cars, If you have more money than sense.
      proffjimbob
      • 4 Months Ago
      You think the Fiat is cute? Holy smokes, it looks like a tin can. About as stunning as a 60's Renault.
        Larry Berglof
        • 4 Months Ago
        @proffjimbob
        At least you recognized a Renault when you saw one. With most of today's cars if you've seen one, you've seen them all.
      Blue Dog
      • 4 Months Ago
      The FIAT 500, this year's automotive joke!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      mcherron2
      • 4 Years Ago
      Excuse me.., that would be Gary Numan, not Newman. And his band released 43 albums. Yes, 'Cars' was their biggest hit, but not the only. He has more talent than the author of this bogus report (that can't get his name spelled correctly).
      Also, I believe the Fiat 500 has more fun factor than this article gives it credit. The Abarth, high performance and sporty styling, will be hard to keep on the showroom floors. Even the classic microcar Fiat Abarth could give a Mini a run for its money with about 1/2 the displacement.
      I can only assume the author of this report drives a Lexus SUV, or maybe that real one-hit wonder, the Hummer!!!! Today's generation might be ready for something else!
      BMW was brilliant to resurrect their Goggomobil T400, which they first purchased in 1964 (after 10 years of losing market share to Hans Glas), but had to give their retro car a British name to make it popular world wide. Fiat can survive on its own heritage in Italy, in Germany, or in the United States. Check out Youtube videos on Fiat Abarth 500 (new and old) and tell me again how this car is just like a PT Cruiser (built on a Neon). Detroit had better pay close attention...
      welcome butch
      • 4 Years Ago
      WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD BUY ONE
      Nancy
      • 4 Months Ago
      Gee, what about the Henry J? Talk about a car ahead of its time . . . a compact gas-saver in 1950-51.
      Lyle Schmidtchen
      • 4 Years Ago
      It should not be a mexican made car.
      If it was made in the USA it will have a better chance.
      We have to stop buying cheap and inferior products from Mexico.
      I would take it out back and shoot it if it was perked in my driveway.
      • 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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