R.I.P. to 14 cars and trucks for 2012


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:

Buick Lucerne

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.
Chevrolet HHR       

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.     

Honda Element

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.

Lotus Elise

The historic British automaker has grand plans for 2015, but it doesn't include the current and aged version of the Elise, the bones underpinning the Tesla Roadster, Hennessey Venom and several other exotic roadsters. Citing a lack of Toyota engines and toughening emissions rules, Lotus says U.S. buyers will have to wait a few years for an all-new Elise with Lotus-bred power. Lotus' move is the driving reason for the end of Tesla Roadster production as well, and why Tesla is pushing to get its new Model S sedan on the road next year.

Mazda RX-8

The last rotary-engined car for sale in America, Mazda has vowed to revive Mr. Wankel's invention in the near future — despite its growing disadvantage in fuel efficiency and pollution with typical gasoline engines. The free-revving advantages of the RX-8 only lured 664 buyers this year through September, and Mazda only sold 1,134 last year.

Mitsubishi Eclipse, Endeavour

While the Endeavour was a moderately popular SUV at its peak, the death of the Eclipse might deserve a clip in the Oscars' "In Memoriam" segment. The Eclipse has been a mainstay of street racers across America thanks to its starring roles in "The Fast and the Furious" movies. Almost radical in its day, the Eclipse fell victim to Mitsubishi's financial woes and shift to more environmentally friendly models. The Illinois plant assembled its last Eclipse in August.

Volvo S40, Volvo V50

Ever since Volvo first arrived on American shores offering Swedish engineering, the company has sold some kind of station wagon, and the name "Volvo" still conjures for many the sight of a cream-colored 240DL with 130,000 miles trundling around Vermont with parking tags from several liberal-arts colleges. Sold by Ford to Chinese auto company Geely, Volvo has a bit of an identity crisis, with some of its leaders vowing to chase the world's best global automakers rather than hewing to its Nordic stoicism. With the S40 and V50 suffering slow sales, Volvo says it wants to focus on its SUV range, including the XC70, which is just the V70 wagon raised and given all-wheel-drive to qualify as a "truck" under U.S. fuel economy rules. When two roads diverge in a wood, automakers always take the one more traveled.

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