If you’ve been following the news this week, you know that Toyota has officially killed off their younger, hipper, and edgier brand, Scion. They’ll keep the cars and roll them into the mother brand, but for now, we mourn the loss of a fun and rather funky brand.
To be honest, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. It’s actually so common that since the downturn in 2007/2008 we have lost at least one car brand per year. In fatter times car brands try to expand (like Toyota did in 2002) to attract different buyers, only to have to kill the brand off a few years later. Look at Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Suzuki, Mercury, and Saab--all brands that have eventually ended up on the chopping block. That doesn’t mean they are bad cars—or that they are hard to maintain or find parts for—it simply means that the automaker didn’t want to support the marketing efforts for that brand any longer.
That means deals for the used car buyer. Want something that’s essentially mechanically similar to a more popular version? Look to orphan brands. Want something that’s unique and not another Camry? Dead brands are a good place to start.
Here we’ve put together a short list of some of the best bets for your next new-to-you car from dead brands.
Hummer is a brand that was originally marketed by Indiana based military vehicle maker, AM General, back in 1992. The behemoth SUVS were the ultimate gas guzzlers and grocery attack vehicles you saw plowing over pedestrians at the mall. Loud, high, strikingly boxy, and relatively indestructible—particularly the H1, which was based on the military Hummers used in Iraq and other theaters; Hummers sold pretty well until the downturn. Gas prices and the GM bankruptcy ultimately killed the brand and it the last vehicle rolled off the line in 2010. In 1998, GM bought the brand from AM General and marketed 3 new vehicles—the H1 from AM General, the H2 and H3. The “secret,” (it’s not really a secret, guys) is that the H2 and H3 were based on smaller civilian vehicles in GM’s lineup. That means that the H2 and H3 share parts with things like the Chevy Tahoe which are easy to find and get. If you do end up with an H1, there’s a passionate enthusiast base for the SUVs and you can likely find someone who will help you repair or rebuild one that is giving you trouble.
As Doug Demuro wrote for Autotrader back in August last year, you may be able to find a great deal on an Isuzu truck because of the lack of name recognition. That’s right—simple marketing (or the lack thereof) makes these things massively affordable. As he notes, you’ve probably heard of the Chevy Colorado and the GMC Canyon, right? Well the Isuzu i-Series (i-290 or i-350) is essentially a mechanical twin of the 2006-2008 Colorado and Canyon. Plus, you get bonus cool-points for not seeing yourself coming and going in yet another Toyota, Chevy, or Ford.
Saturn was another GM brand that went the way of the wind back in 2009 after more than 20 years in production. It was known as a “different kind of company,” and ran relatively independently of its mothership. The good news though, was that they didn’t operate COMPLETELY independently and many parts and underpinnings in a Saturn can be found in a GM equivalent of a similar year. Take the Saturn Outlook, for example—it shares its platform with the Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia. Need parts? Check those other brands.
Never heard of it? Not a surprise. Suzuki couldn’t get past its brand as a motorcycle maker here in the states and it left the US in 2012, but not before it built a fantastic and quick midsize sedan called the Kizashi. It has all-wheel drive and quite a few modern bits and pieces inside. The Kizashi was only offered for 4 model years, which can make it tricky to find and to find parts for, but because no one knows what it is anymore, you can find great deals on them. Bonus: Suzuki still honors warranties on their cars even though they don’t do (car) business here in the states anymore.
Like Saturn, Mercury operated relatively independently of its parent brand Ford, to the eventual detriment of the waterfall marque. It started back in 1938 to meet the middle of the road needs between Ford and Lincoln. Most of the Mercs you see today were based on Fords that were simply rebadged. The last Mercury (the Grand Marquis) rolled off the line in 2011 and almost all of them share all their parts with Fords of the same year. Want a Ford Fusion? Find a Mercury Milan—it’s the same car with a different grille.
Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.