Hooniverse Asks: What Country Has Most Lost its Auto-making Mojo?

America once was the preeminent force to be reckoned with in the automotive world. Then it was Japan, and then it was… well, I don’t know. The thing of it is, it seems like every auto producing nation has once had its day in the sun only to eventually be snuffed out like a loose-lipped mobster. What we want to know today is which one has fallen the farthest.
Consider if you will Great Britain’s auto industry. Remember when it had one of those? The U.S. may not be a major international player in the global automotive market, but Great Britain doesn’t even know which Big Five aisle they need to shop to get back in the game.
Many countries have fallen from favor, their products going from great to ghastly, but which one do you think has the longest climb back? Which one, in your opinion has most lost it’s auto-making mojo?
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57 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: What Country Has Most Lost its Auto-making Mojo?”

  1. P161911 Avatar

    Germany. For years they were know for making simple, reliable and long lasting cars. The VW Type 1, BMW 2002, E21, E30, E28, anything Mercedes until the early 1990s. Then they decided to get all fancy with V-12s, iDrive, Quattro, and a bunch of other crap. Any German car made in the last 15 years that is out of warranty is a scary proposition. Sure the AMGs, M Cars, and Audi S cars are great cars, but who could afford to keep one of these beasts on the road nowadays. It seems all the high end German cars are made for the 2-3 year status lease and pity the fool that buys one after that without an extended warranty. The simple and reliable is long gone from anything German.

    1. Kiefmo Avatar

      I look at my W126, then at the W22#, then back at my W126, then back at the W22#, and think to myself, “Nope. Never. Maybe a W140, but that’s it.”
      Similar with BMW. The E34, E39, and E38 were serious high water marks whose mojo have never been recaptured.

      1. Krautwursten Avatar

        As far as I know the W124 and W140, not sure about the W202, are the last sedans where they engineered their cars to a certain quality and then adjusted the price instead of engineering them to a certain price and then adjusting the quality.
        For some reason despite the cost cutting introduced in the mid ’90s they kept up the quality engineering in some of their engines throughout the Schrempp era though, for example in the OM628/629 turbodiesel V8 (that’s how good it was, they didn’t even have to replace it later on, just change some details to raise power output and switch a digit).
        Unlike the M113 petrol V8 however which did away with half the camshafts and a quarter of the valves from the M119 for cheaper production costs with no power or fuel economy benefit (other than some slightly improved low end torque) and which took a new M273 generation just to bring back to the proven four valve DOHC standard. Benz V8s are still trailing behind BMW V8s today because of how much of a step backwards the M113 was.

      2. wunno sev Avatar
        wunno sev

        i see your point, but i don’t think anyone’s looking at an E34, E39, or E38 and thinking the words “simple, reliable, and long-lasting”.

    2.  Avatar

      Has anyone noticed that this occurred at the same time East Germany and West Germany were re-united? There were economic repercussions accompanying that process also… hmmmm…?

  2. njhoon Avatar

    I 2nd Germany for the same reasons. Status symbols that become too costly to maintain once the warranty expires. I also can’t think of a single car from Germany outside of Porsche that I would buy if I had lottery winnings type money. MB ought to hang their design team for making ugly Buicks. My neighbor has a new MB and god is it ugly. Another just dumped his S8 for a Lexus LS F. I don’t know if it is as good of a performer but it certainly stands out more and has that ‘dam, that’s nice’ factor. Time will only tell if VW fixed their issues.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      Porsche went downhill with the water cooled front engined cars and then the 996 intermediate shaft bearing failures.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        Probably Porsche specific mojo (I don’t know myself, I was born mid-70s, after the 924 was introduced), but the 944 I have is an embassador of German virtues: slightly over-engineered, well assembled, fair electrics, and depending on maintenance like a junkie.

    2. Krautwursten Avatar

      If you mention Lexus while talking about another manufacturer’s ugly cars one more time you will rip a hole into the space-time continuum. Their modern models are devestating eyesores with their Predator grilles. The sole thing they have going for them is uniting comfort and reliability.

    3. Lokki Avatar

      I also agree that the Germans have lost the trail. I wonder if this has been culturally predictable though -first on complexity of design, I seem to recall reading that a WWII German field gun had something like 46 moving parts where the American equivalent had 17 or so. The German gun, in perfect condition was far superior to the American gun. However, miss a couple of scheduleded maintence appointments and you were SOL, while that Detroit POS was still slamming out the rounds – maybe not very accurately- but getting the job done.
      Then there is the German need to conquer the world. Mercedes took over Chrysler, and was lucky to get out with their reputation mostly in tact. VW after taking over Spain, er, SEAT and the rest of the soft underbelly of European car makers tried to conquer luxury land. Every one knows about the Battle of Rolls Royce where they won everything but the name, and the Phaeton – a car that did everything but sell. Tourag? Remember them? Sure you do. BMW has set its sights on market domination with a model for every mensch. There is a 1,3,4,5,6,7 and 8 model, not counting the X line up and something I’ve forgotten, and the Mini. The Mini will be their last car without the BMW label though – dare I say, they’ll go no more a-Rovering? But, BMW has stopped making BMWs in their attempt to become the German General of Motors, I think they have gotten the GM syndrome.

  3. LEROOOY Avatar

    I’m going to go out on a surprising limb here and say…Germany. I’d love some seat time in the classic austere-but-well-screwed-together Mercs and Volkswagens of yore, but nothing like that currently exists. My wife’s MINI (yes, it’s German, you can tell) is nightmarishly complicated for an ‘entry-level’ car.
    And while they certainly look nice, I don’t understand why anybody selects an Audi for a machine they have to depend on. Oh sure, you can get a warranty…but warranties only go so far before you have to factor in the costs of sitting in a waiting room at the dealership.

  4. Sjalabais Avatar

    Looks like my answer is taken, so I’ll just leave this here:
    Also: Have you seen a rusty Mercedes today? I do that every day. Disgraceful.

    1. quattrovalvole Avatar

      I have, actually. Rusted out W202, W203, and W210 are pretty commonplace here

  5. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

    As Japan tries to build the best American sedans and the Germans try to rival Japanese-built American sedans, and then the Americans try to rival the Japanese-inspired German-built American sedans, can we all agree that Sweden has really lost their way?

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        Sweden was the answer I came for. No matter how good your sole remaining manufacturer is, the need to use the term “sole remaining manufacturer” is pretty damning in and of itself.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          There is some truth to it, but – just to play devil’s advocate – there are two “um”‘s to it:
          I’m not so sure if financial ownership is the deciding factor. Chrysler didn’t become German in a merger of equals that clearly wasn’t equal; despite churning out some fresh designs on old MB platforms. Volvo leadership prides itself of the fact that almost all the engineering work is done at Volvo in Sweden. As a matter of fact, that was much of the motivation for Geely to buy the shop in the first place: Employ that knowledge to their own cars. Ford did much the same, explicitly stating that Volvo’s safety center in Gothenburh was crucial to their purchase of the brand in ’99 – which didn’t make it American, btw. According to what I’ve read, a lot of elephant Ford’s safety development was done at the moskito Volvo hq in Sweden.
          Taken for granted that financial ownership is the main reason for localisation, I’d say that England is hit harder: They do have a living auto manufacturing sector, but how much of it is in English hands? This was once a proud auto nation, with a lot of brands covering all sorts of automotive needs. One brand dead and one sold in Sweden sort of looks like a footnote in comparison.

    1. irishzombieman Avatar

      And all the while, Korea has been quietly taking over the world.

    2. Frank T. Cat Avatar
      Frank T. Cat


    3. Tomsk Avatar

      The decline of Saab’s and Volvo’s fortunes really began in earnest when the rest of the industry, prompted by the Swedes’ success relative to their sizes, government legislation or some combination of the two, started closing the “safety gap” to them. Yes, Volvo still devotes amounts of time, money and talent to safety research that are well above average, but as long as the likes of Subaru, Honda and Mercedes-Benz are doing the same or similar (and doing the attendant crowing about it in their marketing), ol’ Volvo’s doomed to be lost in the crowd, I’m afraid.

      1. dukeisduke Avatar

        Yes. Safety used to be their “thing”, but thanks to government safety standards, everyone else has all the safety features, taking away their advantage there.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          Not so sure about that. Witness the ancient XC90’s performance in the new IIHS test: Splendid. Other cars, both well-known safety advocates like Mercedes or luxury offers, had dismal performances.
          On the other hand, I think safety is not the #1 selling point for Volvo anymore. That’s why they’re striving so hard to be mentioned in the same sentences as BMW [sic!] – also, a strong and pretty productive focus on design, interior as well as exterior.

          1. wunno sev Avatar
            wunno sev

            they are really struggling to define themselves.
            we have a really cringeworthy Volvo ad here in which an attractive mother making faces at her kids in the back of her XC60 is juxtaposed against a preening, apparently childless woman in her counterpart MBZ, with the use of the mirrors being the point of contrast.
            i fucking hate that ad. “Volvo: It’s Okay, We’re Not German.”

  6. Kiefmo Avatar

    Since the best answer has been taken, and taken, taken again, then tooked some more, I’m going to throw in a vote for Japan. PotbellyJoe touched on this a bit with a subtle nod to the fact that the Average American Joe or Jill would rather spend money on a Camry or Accord than a Fusion or Malibu (and let’s be honest, only Hertz and company want the 200C).
    So, while trying to take over the world with their products and be all things to all people, they’ve lost the unique character that made them appealing in the first place.

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      “trying to take over the world with their products and be all things to all people”
      I was under the impression that that, right there, is the very definition of the Japanese auto industry’s mojo.

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        Well, sure — it is now. But look at their early offerings compared to now.
        I suppose I’m reaching too far back here. If I’m honest, Japan had a mojo shift decades ago.

        1. Citric Avatar

          Japan lost its mojo when the bubble economy burst and nobody was willing to take risks anymore.

          1. mzszsm Avatar

            http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–VccsKM-u–/17klv47fywv16jpg.jpg I like these two for different reasons but there is some risk taking still, and this is just sort of Toyota with a splash or Subaru, Nissan and Mazda have some out there as well. http://www.hybridcars.com/wp-content/uploads/files/Prius-C-Chiba.jpg

        2. Tanshanomi Avatar

          Respectfully, I think you can go all the way back to the Honda Cub and the Datsun 510 and see that the mojo hasn’t changed. As an island nation rebuilding their postwar economy, Japan’s whole industrial structure was built on exploiting export prospects. “Give the world anything and everything they want.” is the mindset that led to everything from the mass-market, vanilla stuff like the Corolla and Tundra to the niche stuff like the SVX and CBX.
          They still be doin’ their bidnit.

    2. Sjalabais Avatar

      I see the point, but they are indeed trying to reinvent themselves. Just look at the massive uglification of Toyota/Lexus – trying to be nuclear strawberrries instead of vanilla. Mazda has been churning out the planet’s most beautiful family cars for a couple of years now – and they are a great, efficient drive at nice prices. Suzuki has a good base in Japan, China, India. Honda is at a watershed moment and I’m bloody confident that they’ll make it. Renault/Nissan seems to have found a formula to float along while provoking serious interest at times, producing weird icons like the Murano ‘vert.

      1.  Avatar

        Is it possible that as a group Japanese automakers are great at “copying to perfection”? But real innovation comes from ‘outside’. And they are truly successful; as Citric stated above “Japan lost its mojo when the bubble economy burst and nobody was willing to take risks anymore”. Despite this most Japanese automakers are still making serious profits. Toyota builds excellent ‘Buicks’.

  7. neight428 Avatar

    Agreed with Deutschland. I don’t blame any of the manufacturers for taking the approach that they have, after all, if people keep plunking down $50k (or much more) every 4-5 years, why bother to make them reliable beyond that? Make them fantastic for a very short time and the folks that buy them and then upgrade with the newer version as soon as it is released will never know the difference; it’s not like they care about depreciation. I occasionally like to run a used price comparisons between 12 year old S-class and 7-Series cars and various 12 year old Hondas and Toyotas.

  8. mzszsm Avatar

    Serbia, they really could have been something like Skoda today, but that whole war tear Yugoslavia apart bit happened. They are back to selling cars they make in USA again, but under a new though fitting badge, just a real shame it’s not called a Yugo anymore and that it took so long to get back to this point. https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2215/2128496018_5263dc6e8a.jpg

    1. Bozi Avatar

      Zastava had a fairly large production capacity back in the day but destruction during the wars and local corruption held it back. They are majority owned by FIAT Chrysler now so all we will see from those facilities will be the 500L for the near term

      1. P161911 Avatar

        Zastava still sells some great products in the USA. http://www.impactguns.com/pap-m92-pv-pistol-762x39mm-30-rnd-mag-hg3089-n-787450220720.aspx

  9. Alff Avatar

    The Netherlands. The industry has never really recovered from the loss of DAF.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      Nonsense! Spyker has somewhat survived their attempt to control Saab after suffering only a minor declaration of bankruptcy, which means they’re precisely as robust as GM.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        But the mojo is no more strong with them:

        1. Alff Avatar

          A Lotus Seven with half a Beetle’s roof grafted on, all rendered in CF. Ya gotta love Donkervoort.

          1. Vairship Avatar

            And then of course there is http://vencer.nl/en/
            Assuming they make it into production of course.

  10. ptschett Avatar

    I’d have to go with the UK for this one, since I’m struggling to think of anything from a UK-based mass-market brand that survived besides Mini.

    1. danleym Avatar

      Well, there’s still Land Rover, there’s enough of those around. And Jaaaaaaaaag may not sell tons and tons here (I barely ever see a new one, which is what I’m basing that off of), but I’d still consider them large market. Of course both of those have gone through foreign ownership, as has Mini. That said I’ll agree with you- the UK used to have a lot more going for it in the mainstream segment- what is still there is impassioned, mostly, but there isn’t the quantity there once was.

  11. marmer Avatar

    Just for a contrarian opinion, I think you can mention France and Italy, at least for the US market. I remember cheap economy Renaults taking on the original Beetle and big Citroens and Peugeots that had a very strong cult following. I clearly remember the Fiat Spider and X1/9, the Alfa Spider and Giuletta, the Maserati Biturbo and Quattroporte, and occasional Lancias. All of those were seen fairly frequently in Houston (not the country’s most adventurous auto market, for sure), and they all had local dealers. For all the opprobrium heaped on the malaise-era (except, of course, at Hooniverse, where it is considered a Golden Age), there were a lot of interesting things coming from non-German Europe back in the day.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Peugeot sells astonishingly well here in Northern Europe, but as a whole, PSA is said to struggle with too high costs in industry comparisons. It probably doesn’t help with government interferences every time they try to close or move a factory. That aside, the new 308 wagon has received enormous praise.

  12. Tomsk Avatar

    I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and vote France because, with the exception of a few Citroens that remain true to the brand’s heritage and maybe the new Renault Twingo, all of their mainstream offerings are unimaginative me-too-mobiles. You don’t really see brave, borderline-freak-show styling and “Why has no one thought of this before?” engineering from them anymore.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      I find myself obliged to agree.

  13. Tiberiuswise Avatar

    Canada. They haven’t done anything cool since the Buzz Wagon.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      Was the Buzz Wagon before or after the Bricklin. http://assets.blog.hemmings.com/wp-content/uploads//2013/12/White-Front.jpg

      1. Tiberiuswise Avatar

        Good point. I’ll concede that the SV-1 came 5 years after the Buzz Wagon. It doesn’t seem Canadian to me though. Unless there’s a maple syrup dispenser that I’m not aware of.

        1. P161911 Avatar

          Well, it is Nova Scotia, maybe the rest of Canada doesn’t want to claim them. I’m sure they have been referred to as “slow as molasses”.

          1. Alff Avatar

            If only Tim Horton had been given one of these instead…

  14. dr zero Avatar
    dr zero

    I’m going to go with Australia – we won’t have any manufacturers in a couple of year’s time.

  15. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    I’m going to say: Planet Earth.
    Yeah, there’s some awesome stuff out there, some of it touched by genius.
    But virtually everything reeks of Product and USP. It’s inevitable and afflicts every market, not just automotive.
    Once upon a time there were manufacturers who specifically marketed their cars on the basis of Being The Best. There was genuine inspiration and revolution in design. New ideas either flew or flopped, but at least companies took risks. There was a huge amount of shit being thrown at the walls and some of it stuck.
    That shit which stuck has evolved into the cars we’re surrounded by today.
    The economics of today’s industry sit on such a delicate tightrope that too much risk would be reckless, maybe dangerous. The safest thing you can do is follow fashions and trends and sell the world what it demonstrably wants, rather than pave new and interesting roads which might catch on.
    Consumers today aren’t necessarily interested in The Best. It’s survival of the Most Fashionable.
    Mojo itself has evolved.

  16. March_Hare Avatar

    Australia. In our heyday, we made amazing cars. We produced a local version of the RS2000 Escort, we built the SLR and A9X Toranas, we built the scariest-looking Falcons imaginable (with the possible exception of Argentine-market secret police cars), going on to develop our own models from the ground up when the Torino proved an unsatisfactory replacement, and exported luxury cars to markets as diverse as South Africa and Japan. Nissan, Toyota, and Mitsubishi not just built cars here, but also developed Australia-specific models. As of next year though, we’ll have lost all of that. We’ll be building nothing at all here except for maybe a small handful of exotics. Ford and GM, which for so long were practically ‘domestic’ manufacturers, are just running down the clock until they shutter their manufacturing operations, at which point they’ll be nothing but another importer.

  17. crank_case Avatar

    Italy. Sure they still make wonderful and totally irrelevant supercars, but look beyond that to what they used to be good at, making charming tiny cars and sports saloons. Now the likes of the Fiat Panda, while still charismatic, seems to be losing ground to more convincing alternatives like the Hyundai i10/Kia Picanto and VW Up!, even in its home market. Even the Renault Twingo out-500s the 500 by virtue of being smaller, smarter looking and putting the engine in the rear just like the original. As for sports saloons, Alfa lost its mojo three decades ago (apparently they will turn it all around soon, but how many times have we heard that) and Lancia is just a domestic nameplace stuck on various FCA cars like Wolsely in the BLs badge engineering days.