10 Automotive Companies That Failed

By: Jack Sackman

They say nothing lasts forever, and that is certainly true in the case of the highly competitive automotive industry. While today we have the Big Three U.S. automakers in Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, there have, in fact, been hundreds of automotive manufacturers in the U.S. over the last century. Sadly, many of the most iconic carmakers failed due to poor management, shifting consumer sentiments, badly received vehicles or failure to keep up with new technologies. But many of these automakers are worth remembering as they built some of the best and most valuable vehicles ever. Here’s a list of 10 once great car companies that failed and have been relegated to the dustbin of history.


10. Studebaker

There was a time when Studebaker was a proud American brand. The cars made by Studebaker were parked in driveways across the country in the 1940s and early 1950s. The company actually began as horse-drawn wagon builders, but switched to making electric and small gas cars in central Indiana in 1902. By 1910, Studebaker was selling larger cars and limousines that had four-cylinder engines under the hood. By 1927, Studebaker graduated to large six-cylinder engines, with two-tone paint, rumble seats and the name Dictator as a model, preceding other popular models such as Commander and President. However, after World War II, Studebaker issued a series of vehicles that were not well-received by the public. The company floundered until it came out with a smaller vehicle, the Lark, in 1958, which restored Studebaker’s cash flow position. After the Lark, Studebaker issued the Avanti hardtop, which today has many fans in car clubs around the U.S. Nevertheless, Studebaker failed for good in 1967 due to declining sales. Today, many of its cars are considered classics.

9. Stutz

Stutz was a smaller car manufacturer that had a reputation for innovation. Founded in 1902 by engineer Harry Stutz, the company built a small car early on that used a steering wheel instead of the then-more common tiller for steering. Stutz was actually a pioneer of the steering wheel. Stutz really took off as a car company in 1911, when one of the company’s cars finished 11th at the inaugural Indy 500, averaging a then-crushing speed of 70 miles per hour. In 1912, a two-seat model Stutz, called the Bearcat roadster, defined the term “sports car” in America. They were among the coolest cars of their day. Moving more into performance racing, Stutz manufactured the Black Hawk in 1927, the company’s first stock car used for racing. Stutz then built the U.S.’s fastest production car, clocked at a speed of 106 miles per hour in 1928, which was a record at the time. However, Stutz’s fortunes took a turn for the worse during the Great Depression, and the company built its last car in 1934.

8. Kaiser-Frazer

Kaiser-Frazer enjoyed a great reputation for its sleek and stylish appearance. A partnership between automobile executive Joseph Frazer and industrialist Henry Kaiser, the company enjoyed success through to the mid-1950s. However, although innovative, their vehicles were never commercially successful despite collaborations with famed designer Dutch Darrin, whose 1954 two-door roadster with a supercharged six-cylinder engine is highly prized by car collectors today. Kaiser-Frazer made jeeps during World War II, and transferred its production from Michigan to the Toledo jeep factory. Kaisers were assembled and sold in South America until the early 1960s, but the company ceased production in the U.S. in 1955.

7. Pontiac

Remember Pontiac? People should as there are still quite a few of the vehicles on roads today. Established as a brand in 1926, General Motors manufactured the Pontiac brand until 2009. Today, Pontiac remains a registered and active trademark of General Motors, although the company no longer manufacturers the brand. General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the loss of Pontiac, which GM let go during bankruptcy proceedings in 2008, was one of the worst moments in the company’s history. Indeed, with vehicles such as the snappy Solstice and the roaring G8, as well as a distinguished history of popular muscle cars such as the GTO and Trans-Am, Pontiac was a storied automotive brand. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and Pontiac is no more.


6. Oldsmobile

There was a time when people in the U.S. were said to be “Oldsmobile People.” The car brand inspired fierce loyalty among consumers. And for good reason. Oldsmobile was America’s oldest carmaker having started operations in 1897 in Lansing, Michigan. Founder Ransom Olds had been experimenting with cars as far back as the 1880s before founding his company. The Olds’ family business built some of the first gasoline powered engines in the country. Automotive historians credit the first Oldsmobile as the first mass-produced car in the U.S. In 1908, General Motors purchased Oldsmobile and continued to manufacture the brand of cars. By 1940, Oldsmobile had the first HydraMatic transmission, a four-speed unit that was reliable and popular. In 1964, Oldsmobile offered the 442 muscle-car package. In 1966 it rolled out the now-famous front drive Toronado model. The Oldsmobile brand continued to enjoy success in the 1970s, remaining the third largest nameplate seller for much of that decade. As recently as 1986, Oldsmobile sold more than a million cars. However, despite its history, sales tapered off in the 1990s and General Motors shuttered the brand in 2004.

5. Packard

Brothers James and William Packard founded the Packard Motor Car Company in 1899 from their bustling electric parts factory located in Warren, Ohio. By 1903, the Packard brothers had moved to Detroit, Michigan. By 1916, Packard had the first production 12-cylinder engine, which it refined through 1939, as well as the Liberty aircraft engine, which was the most widely used engine in airplanes during World War II. The Packard cars were known as the most expensive production vehicles in their day, and the smaller 1941 Clipper model, designed by Kaiser’s Dutch Darrin, is a much sought after collector car. Immediately after World War II, the quality of Packard cars remained topnotch, but the lack of a V8 engine and pre-war styling hurt the popularity of the cars. Failing to keep up with changing consumer tastes, Packard made its last car in 1958 and vanished shortly afterwards.

4. Pierce-Arrow

People may have a difficult time recalling Pierce-Arrow, but the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was an American automobile manufacturer based in Buffalo, New York, that was a leader in the industry from its inception in 1901 through to its demise in 1938. Although best known for building luxury cars, Pierce-Arrow also built commercial trucks, fire trucks, camp trailers, motorcycles and even bicycles. Originally a bird cage company in Buffalo, Pierce-Arrow built its first car in 1901, a tiny Motorette, then expanded to larger cars with then-advanced technology such as hydraulic lifters, power brakes and fender-mounted headlights. Big six-cylinder engines were the Pierce-Arrow hallmark, although the company made a model with a V12 engine that set speed records. Pierce-Arrow merged with Studebaker in the 1930s, but sales declined until the last car rolled off the assembly line in 1938, a victim of the Great Depression.

3. Duesenberg

Today, Duesenberg cars sell for top dollar at automotive auctions around the world. The Duesenberg Model J, which appeared in 1928, is considered the most valuable and iconic car ever made by a U.S. manufacturer. Bought by Errett Lobsban Cord in 1926, the Duesenberg Company was the leading automaker of its day in terms of innovation and luxury. No expense was spared. The technology-rich cars, which weighed more than 5,000 pounds, featured self-lubricating chassis, eight-cylinder engines and boasted a top speed of 110 miles per hour. Hollywood stars of the day such as Clark Gable and Gary Cooper paid top dollar for their Duesenberg cars, which were built by nine different coach builders. However, the Duesenberg Company proved to be short-lived. By 1937, E. L. Cord sold the company and no more vehicles were made, making them extremely rare today and driving up their considerable value.

2. Hudson

The Hudson brand of car was created in 1910 when former employees of Olds Motor Works banded together and received a loan from a department store tycoon to start a new company featuring a small, shiny brass roadster that could reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. In 1916, the Hudson set a 102 mile per hour record at Daytona, and drove from San Francisco to New York in just five days. Sales of Hudson cars soared after each new racing or distance achievement. However, the company’s Detroit plant was co-opted by the military during World War II and converted to build bomber parts. In the 1950s, the Hudson Hornet was a NASCAR champ, though the production cars were slow-selling. The company was merged with another defunct auto company, Nash, in 1953 and the Hudson brand was discontinued by 1960.


1. Vector

Vector Motors Corporation is a notorious car manufacturer that went bust before really taking off. Founded in 1978, the Vector company built cars that had amazing designs and were very eye-catching. However, people who bought Vectors complained that the cars were technically unsophisticated and suffered from inconsistent functions and poor performance. As a result, advance sales were terrible and Vector never made cars in significant numbers. They mostly made one-off models for display at auto shows around the world. Yet the image of Vector cars was used to market fast U.S.-made vehicles throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Vectors were so well-marketed that many people falsely believed that Vector made the fastest cars in the world. Defunct since the mid-1990s, Vector Motors Corporation was recently revived and a new supercar is reportedly in development with promises that it will compete with leading performance cars such as Ferrari and Lamborghini. We shall see…