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Automotive graveyard, 2006

January 03, 2007 11:07 IST

Everything ends. And 2006 brought with it the demise of a slew of auto models, cars, and trucks that won't be back on dealers' lots in 2007. This year's cast is broad, featuring everything from superlative, limited-run supercars to dowdy, mass-market sedans.

But the outgoing class of 2006 is particularly notable. It's composed of many vehicles associated with some of the auto year's biggest trends: the decline of SUVs, the rise of hybrids, the ongoing struggles of domestic brands, and of course big ideas-some good, some bad.

Retiring a Former Favorite

One of the highest-profile retirements was the Ford Taurus. While there was a 2007 model year version of Ford's once mighty sedan, it was available for sale only to fleets-a sign of what the vehicle had become as consumers lost interest: an unexciting, plain, four-door lacking the original's flare.

The Taurus' launch in 1986 caused a stir, its sleek styling revolutionary for an American company. For many years, it was the most popular sedan in the country, selling nearly 25 million units over the course of the model's lifetime. But foreign competitors set their sights on the model, and it lost best-seller status to Toyota's Camry in 1997.

Hybrids and Hummers

Both the smallest and most fuel-efficient vehicles and the largest and thirstiest sport-utility vehicles are represented in this year's departures. The first U.S. hybrid, the Honda Insight, and the military-derived Hummer H1-a popular target of environmentalists' ire-are going away this year.

The Insight pre-dates Toyota's popular Prius. The innovative, gadget-packed Insight was introduced in 1999 as the most fuel-efficient car on the road. It would remain so until its demise this year, earning up to 66 miles per gallon. But as hybrid technology continues to go mainstream, the cramped, diminutive two-door was dropped in favor of more practical, larger models including Honda's own Civic Hybrid.

At the other end of the spectrum is the mammoth Hummer H1. That model, a civilian version of the M998 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle more commonly known as the Humvee, was the biggest and baddest of off-road vehicles during the rise of heavy SUVs in the 1990s. This year, General Motors decided to pull the largest Hummer as sales tanked, focusing instead on its newest midsize success, the much smaller H3.

Failed Experiments

Some big ideas didn't pan out, leading to at least two embarrassing reversals-one from General Motor's Saab and the other from Volkswagen.

The idea behind the luxurious Phaeton was simple: Make a technologically dazzling car for all the baby boomers that had grown up with Volkswagens but who, with age, had accrued disposable income. It didn't quite work. American customers balked at shelling out nearly $70,000 for a VW-even if it had built-in dehumidifiers. A mere 820 models were sold in 2005, so VW axed the model this year.

In search of an attractive entry-level vehicle, GM cooked up one of the less successful badge-engineering schemes of the last few years. The Saab 9-2X was in fact a Subaru Impreza assembled in Japan with a modified body, suspension, and interior.

But the similarities between the two models didn't escape many. It soon earned the derogatory nickname, Saabaru, and sold rather poorly. Despite the criticism and the model eventually being discontinued, it retained Subaru's excellent safety and reliability records, earning awards for both.

Supercar Slumps

Two drool-worthy supercars also bade dealers farewell this year. One, Porsche's effort, was ended because its sales failed to meet expectations, and the other, from Ford, ceased production to maintain its exclusivity.

The Carrera GT was intended to encapsulate Porsche's racing efforts in a production car available to consumers. But that didn't mean it was inexpensive-it cost nearly half a million dollars. That sum brought with it outrageous performance: 605 horses, zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, and top speeds of 205 mph.

Many, meanwhile, consider the Ford GT the greatest supercar ever made outside of Europe. Reception of the concept version of the vehicle at the 2002 Paris Auto Show convinced Ford to produce the car on a limited basis. To keep it a classic, though, the company ended production this year.

Matt Vella, BusinessWeek