The Best and Worst in Wheels of 2009

December 24, 2009

It would be a glaring understatement to say that 2009 was a tumultuous year for the automotive world. After the economic sector was brought back from the brink of collapse, the dust settled, and the casualties were counted. In its wake, the auto industry was forced to refocus their efforts, cut the dead weight, and move forward with a new sense of purpose. For many, this meant putting their best foot forward. For others, it just meant FAIL.

The Best

Ford Motor Company


Source: Ford Motor Company

The only American automaker to survive the carpocalypse without taking a handout from the American taxpayer, Ford took a bad situation and made it work for them, making their brand even stronger in the process.

Not only did they release a major refresh to the Mustang line this year to wide critical acclaim, they also managed to grab Motor Trend’s coveted Car of the Year award for the Ford Fusion, stealing quite a bit of thunder from the likes of Toyota and Honda in the most sought-after segment in the industry. Now, with a host of well-received vehicles from Ford’s European segment coming stateside in the near future, and some new cutting edge engines come down the pipeline, FoMoCo is coming out of the mire of 2009 looking spit-shined and proper.

Tesla Motors


It wasn’t too long ago that Elon Musk’s company was really on the ropes, reportedly using customer’s deposits as operating capital.

But the PayPal co-founder was able to right the ship at the zero hour, and eventually secured $465 million in loans from the United States government, which is being used to develop and produce Tesla’s second vehicle, the Model S, and to help develop their all-electric powertrain technology, which Tesla plans to sell to other automakers.

The company announced back in August of this year that they had achieved overall corporate profitability in July of 2009, selling a record 109 Roadster models that month, which is quite a feat considering the formidable obstacles in the startup’s way.



Source: Jalopnik

GM definitely suffered some major setbacks this year, but it wasn't without a few victories as well.

Not only did the new Camaro outsell the Mustang (the best-selling car in the segment for decades) for several months consecutively, but the new ZR1 Corvette was crowned the fastest production car world, besting both the Porsche 911 GT2 and Nissan's GT-R lap times around the Germany's legendary Nürburgring, the unofficial performance benchmark for all-around vehicle performance.



Source: Nissan

Not only did Nissan correct the launch control transmission failure issues that plagued last year's GT-R, they essentially made it faster in the process.

And amidst all the bloodletting in the market, they also managed to release the successor to the iconic Z car, the 370Z, which has been widely hailed as a better car than its predecessor, the 350Z, in every measurable category, raising the bar in that class in the process.

Lexus LFA


While most of the offerings this year from Toyota's luxury brand were fairly pedestrian in nature, Lexus stunned the world at the Tokyo Motor Show in October when they announced their entrance into the sports car game in a very serious way with this $375,000 supercar. Sporting a 552HP V10 which revs all the way up to an ear-splitting 9000 RPM.

Lexus says they plan to keep the hand-built beast very exclusive, with only 500 cars are planned to be built. And with a body that's 65% carbon fiber, a transmission that upshifts in 1/5th a second, and top speed of over 200 mph, there is no doubt that we now have another major player amongst the supercar rivalries.

The Worst



Source: Autoblog

Although it would be expected that the company who touts their fuel-sipping Prius hybrid as the answer to the world's current woes would fare pretty well in current climate, this year will probably go down as one the Toyota brand would like to forget. Prius sales are down more than 50% from last year, perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to the relatively low fuel prices we're currently enjoying, much the way the car's sudden popularity was a similar reaction to the unprecedented high gas prices we suffered through a little more than a year ago.

To add to Toyota's woes, the company was forced to issue a massive, four million car recall due to floor mats which could potentially get stuck under the gas pedal, locking the engine in a full throttle position. Apparently this wasn't a major concern for them, as documentation shows they'd been aware of the problem since April of 2008, initially blaming drivers for the problem, essentially stating that people were absentmindly flooring their cars instead of hitting the brakes.

That excuse stopped working in August of this year, when an off-duty San Diego police officer and three other family members died in a fiery 100MPH+ accident in a loaner vehicle, due to the floor mat getting stuck under the accelerator - a problem which had been brought to the attention of the dealership by the customer who'd previously been loaned the car. Whoops.



Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images News

2009 should have been a banner year for the company that gave us the world's first muscle car, the 1964 Pontiac GTO. With the new Pontiac G8 GXP have been hailed as the best Pontiac ever built, and a better alternative to a BMW M5, Pontiac should've been celebrating. Instead, they were busy laying off employees and selling off inventory, because GM killed off the brand entirely at the behest of Uncle Sam and the obviously well-informed car buying public.

New York City Parking Enforcement


Source: Uppercut Images/Getty Images

Anyone who's lived in a metropolitan area for a period of time knows that the law enforcement in area isn't shy about giving tickets - parking tickets especially, as they create a good chunk of revenue for any budget-challenged city. So it comes as no surprise that NYC parking enforcement was eager and willing to ticket the same car seven times in short succession for parking illegally.

What does come as a surprise is that no one noticed the dead body of John Waldo, who'd been reported missing since the day before the first ticket was issued, inside the car. Stay classy, NYPD!

Honda Insight


Source: Honda

Honda revived this hybrid nameplate again this year in order to provide a cheaper alternative to the Toyota Prius. Unfortunately, it appears that slapping a hybrid badge on the side of a compact four door is simply not enough to convince people of the vehicle's merits. Co-host Jeremy Clarkson of the popular BBC motoring program Top Gear was among the first to put the car through its paces, and Jeremy did not pull any punches in his review.

"It's terrible." said Clarkson, "Biblically terrible. Possibly the worst new car money can buy. It’s the first car I’ve ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn’t have to drive it any more."

In June, a month where gas prices are typically high and fuel economy is on people's minds, Honda sold just over 2,000 Insights, roughly one-fifth the amount of Priuses sold in that same time frame, despite the fact that Prius sales were down sharply from the previous year anyway.

The Taxpayer


Source: Tim Teebken/Photodisc/Getty Images

Around the world, this marked the year that taxpayers ended up bailing out failing industries - especially the auto industry.

Political debates continue rage about whose to blame - bad corporate business practices, lack of engineering foresight by automakers, worker's unions who wielded so much power that they essentially drove their employers bankrupt, etc.

But regardless of who's to blame, ultimately, it's the taxpayer who ended up with the driveshaft in their collective rear ends.