As 2011 runs out, so does the life of these 14 cars and trucks, victims of changing tastes, corporate indifference. While a few never had much of a following, several were popular in their peak, and a couple were movie stars and mainstays of American freeways for decades. But with more than 300 models of new vehicles available to American car buyers, not even the favorite of the fast and furious crowd can just coast. Here's the roll call:
From its launch in 2006, the Lucerne harkened to the days when droves of buyers sought out that freeway-cushioning ride of a stately General Motors sedan driven by a Buick V-6 with its roots in the 1960s. The Lucerne was a successful bridge from the old Buick to the somewhat less old Buick of today. Still, it retires long after most of its owners.
Ford Crown Victoria
The last of a American archetype, the final Crown Victoria rolled off a Canadian assembly line in August, bound for Saudi Arabia. The favorite vehicle of police departments and taxi cabs for years, the Crown Vic was still selling well, but Ford would have needed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to update the decades-old Panther platform. With the Crown Vic gone, Ford does not have a V8-powered sedan for sale in the United States for the first time since 1932.
Cadillac DTS/Cadillac STS
The DTS is long due for a departure; its mostly seen as a limo/hearse alternative to the Lincoln Town Car. Both it and the STS will give way to a new top-of-the-line Cadillac XTS, due early next year, with GM expected to produce an even more expensive uber-Caddy soon after to tackle the Audi A8, BMW 750Li and Lexus LS460L rather than hauling high schoolers to the prom.
Once upon a time Chrysler took a boring small car (the Neon), grafted a body that recalled 1930s-era roadsters on top of it and created the PT Cruiser. Seeing Chrysler's initial success, GM copied Chrysler's play step by step — hiring the PT Cruiser's designer to draw a body meant to evoke the 1930s-era Suburbans and using the chassis of the compact Cobalt sedan. Imitation may be flattery at its most sincere, but GM didn't copy Chrysler's sales; the HHR was big and cheap but thirsty, and like the PT never received enough updates to stay current — although the supercharged SS version ranks as one of the best modern sleepers available.
Dodge Dakota & Ford Ranger
With stripped full-size pickups regularly priced below $20,000 after incentives, the market for compact pickups has shrunk rapidly. The Dodge Dakota, which Chrysler once marketed as a "midsize" pickup with an optional V-8, suffered the most; why buy four-fifths of a Ram pickup when the real deal was the same price, or even cheaper slightly used? The Ranger may be the most popular vehicle shutting down this year; it outsold Ford's Taurus, Mustang and Fiesta in September, and is on track to rack up 60,000 buyers this year. Ford has a brand-new Ranger it's launching around the world — except in the United States. The ancient U.S. Ranger would need a brace of expensive updates to stay in production, but the hole left by its departure is large enough to convince GM to update its line of compact pickups next year.
Another quirky experiment that boomed at first and then faded, the Element drew a loyal following with its rubberized interior and fold-away seats, but many buyers were given pause by quality issues and styling that suggested a body by Lego. After moving nearly 70,000 copies in 2003, Honda sold just 16,000 Elements last year despite a freshening.