I know for a fact that the Model T, Baker Electric, Crosley Station Wagon, VW Beetle, Chevrolet Corvair, Honda Civic, and VW Rabbit were all very hot items and the manufacturers could hardly keep up with demand.
We all know why the Model T was a hit at first. It was the only thing affordable around when it came out.
The Baker Electric was popular and sold very well until the debut of the Model T. Baker couldn't yet produce in the volume needed to compete with the Model T in cost and its sales slowed until Baker decided to sell only commercial vehicles. Eventually, those commercial vehicles couldn't compete with higher volume gasoline versions in the late 20s and it eventully evolved into the Baker Materials Company, which went out of business in the 1980s.
Crosley sold a lot of cars during the gas rationing of WWII(before america entered the war). He also sold very many of them post WWII but could not produce in enough volume to compete with the big automakers, and thus his product lost its competitive edge. For the same price, one could get a bigger, more powerful car with a lot more features. Had he been able to reduce his per unit cost with higher volume, he probably would have stayed in business.
The Beetle sold very well in the U.S. pretty much through its entire entry into the U.S. market. But once the more expensive Golf and Rabbit models came onto the scene, VW no longer saw a reason to offer it when they could sell higher margin products. Besides, its aerodynamics were so crappy that the newer Golfs and Rabbits got similar or better fuel economy using more powerful engines.
I'm pretty sure you know about the Corvair and how GM killed it after its PR disaster, blaming Nader when it was the misdeeds of its own accountants that aided the car's demise in the eyes of the American public. A $4 rear sway bar was all that was needed to correct its handling problems, and the engineers even admitted that they wanted to include it but the accountants wouldn't let them.
The Chevrolet Vega was highly unreliable and foreign competitors had it beat in performance, reliability, and fuel economy. Americans rejected it a few years after introduction for those reasons.
I don't think I need to mention the Honda Civic. Every model that has been sold here has been in extremely high demand and has had extremely high value on the 2nd hand market because not near enough are built to meet demand for them.
The VW Rabbit also sold very well up until the 80s. It sales eventually shifted towards the Jetta since the Jetta was larger, had roughly the same fuel economy the Rabbit was known for, and more horsepower.
There's only so many economy cars to go around. When they're all bought up or there are waiting lists in months, buyers will take their money elsewhere. Further, the consumer bracket that economy cars appeal to often can't afford new cars while those who can afford new cars usually have lots of money and could care less about operating costs. Consumers also don't like to sacrifice, and if aerodynamics and stray losses are addressed, they don't have to in order to get good fuel economy or reliability for cheap. It's just that the automakers are often relunctant to give them what they want for cheap when these same automakers would rather sell higher margin products. Do a little research on 'price discrimination' to understand the workings of market manipulation as a means to limit consumer choice.
My dad knows that one. All I ever hear him talk about is those old Dauphines. I remember us having quite a few in the early 70's. No one would touch them so he picked them up "off the back lot" dirt cheap ($50) at the dealership he worked at to give out to carless family members.
On another note. I rode with (behind) a Model A the other day and he said he got 18MPG. My same vintage Chevrolet got 12 MPG and I was drafting him (mine is modified to get worse mileage ). Another buddy had a Model T but he trailered it.
One for the 70's that got good mileage was the Dodge Colt. My mother got a new 75' wagon during the gas crunch- green with woodgrain siding and manual transmission. 17 years before my dad would allow her to get another "foreign" car and that was only after I gave him my 88' 200SX when I moved away in 90'. He's been hooked since and is even further on since I loaded him my Geo for a month. Apparently he's gotten 4 tanks with a consistant 46 MPG.
I've secretly been looking for a Crosley. Still considering letting my Insight go for an early model collector car. Crosleys can be had in near mint condition for a price of this world.
Originally Posted by Mike T
The Renault Dauphine outsold the Beetle in the USA in 1959, but how many remember that?