The Automotive Winners and Losers of 2008

December 27, 2008

It’s been a crazy year. For every high watermark set in measures of performance – be it horsepower, handling, track times, or fuel economy – there’s been equally trying levels of adversity. We’ve gone from horsepower wars to hypermiling, from the Nürburgring to Capitol Hill, from gold-plated Porsches to the Tata Nano. If nothing else, it’s been an interesting ride.

By Brad Iger

The following article does not represent the opinions of Spike TV or its affiliates.

The Winners


5. Mini Cooper


When gas skyrocketed over the summer, a lot of people started to reevaluate what sort of vehicle they really needed. And when the housing market imploded, people simply stopped buying cars – not only because they didn’t have money, but because nobody could get credit.

Every single automotive manufacture had dramatic sales drops from the previous year – except one. That’d be Mini Cooper who’s sales were up 43% over last year. Really drives home our need for an compact-yet-upscale, fuel efficient vehicle made here in the U.S.

4. Nissan


The western world had been waiting literally decades to get our own Skyline, and we finally did, the R35 Nissan GT-R. And it was worth the wait. With twin turbo V6 making a notoriously underrated 480hp and some of the most advanced technologies available in the automotive market today, the GT-R showed up the Porsche 911 GT-2, the reigning king of Germany’s Nürburgring, by breaking the Porsche’s lap record - for half the price. And with the brand new 2009 370Z already receiving accolades from motoring press around the world, Nissan’s performance division is really hitting their stride right now.

3. Hybrids


Despite better alternatives, this year, hybrids really came into the popular conciousness as the go-to vehicle for the “go green” trend. Unfortunately, the people who follow such trends rarely read the fine print, which includes facts like a Toyota Prius has a larger carbon footprint than a Hummer H2.

Regardless, when gas prices skyrocketed over the summer, people scrambled for solutions, and the Prius was waiting with open arms. Ford was quick to jump on board and has had some success with vehicles like the Escape Hybrid (Obama’s ride of choice!), and next year’s Fusion Hybrid is already turning out better mileage numbers than the Prius in a much better platform, both performance-wise and aesthetically. So it looks they’re here to stay – at least for another five years or so.

2. GM Performance Group


Okay, we might all be freaking out about the economy, gas prices and global warming right now, but earlier this year GM’s Performance division was just taking names left and right. First, GM set its sights on BMW and the untouchable M5, considered by many people to be the perfect sedan. Up until this year, the current-gen M5 was the sedan lap record holder at the Nürburgring. GM took them to task, on their own turf, and shattered the M5’s record in the new, 570hp Cadillac CTS-V. That’s right, it’s a Caddy that makes almost 600hp, straight from the factory. In fact, the CTS-V smoked the competition in every category of performance when pitting against the BMW M5 and Mercedes Benz C63 AMG.

Then, while the Nissan GT-R was doing its self-congratulatory victory lap for besting the Porsche at the ‘Ring via superior technology, GM brings their new 640HP Corvette ZR1 and just smashes the GT-R’s record, using comparatively archaic push-rod engine design. No arguments this time – the Vette killed them. Dodge later brought a Viper ACR there and ran a better time, but honestly the Viper isn’t really recognized because it’s basically a street legal race car, whereas the ZR1 can drive you to work, then the track, and then home, without ever breaking a sweat.  Hat tip to GM for being the fastest guys in town.

1. VW Jetta TDI  


The western world is slowly starting to figure out that the slow, smoke-belching diesels of decades ago are a thing of the past, and that diesel technology has come a long, long way. It’s really no secret – Europeans have been enjoying clean diesel technology for years.

While the less-than-green hybrid manufacturing practices slowly gets more press and people realize the environmental damage done when building a hybrid vehicle (due largely to the nickel mining for hybrid batteries) actually nullifies the benefits of the vehicle's low emissions, clean diesels have suddenly the greenest rides in town. Which is why the VW Jetta TDI was named the 2008 Green Car of the Year.

The Losers


5.  Chrysler Gas Card Holders


Back in July of this year, gas in Los Angeles went over $4.50 for regular, and over $5 a gallon for premium. This was a problem. A big one. Chrysler, who'd made a large portion of their sales on cars using their extremely solid, but very thirsty, HEMI engines, needed something to get people back in the showrooms, despite the fact that many of their cars stood in direct opposition to the tidal wave of cries for fuel economy from consumers and press.

Their solution was a new option that would take the place of factory rebates - a Chrysler gas card which guaranteed $2.99 gas for three years. This deal sounded really awesome in the summer. Stock market pundits were predicting $200/barrel oil prices by year's end.

Wow, August seems like a long time ago now, doesn't it? Four months later, you can get a gallon of gas here in LA for about $1.75.

Moral of the story? Always take the cash.

4.  Pontiac


In the wake of the housing market collapse, which in turn became an automotive market collapse (because, if you have to choose between your house or your SUV, the house is probably going to win), GM is looking in every direction to make cuts.

Just when Pontiac as finally started to make cars people want to buy - largely because they're borrowing car designs from GM's Aussie performance brand, Holden - GM head honcho Bob Lutz suggests that Pontiac should be reduced to a "niche brand." The G8 platform, heralded by the automotive press for performance, low cost, and even comparatively great gas mileage, is already seeing the possibility of getting some limbs chopped off. Some guys just can't win.

3. Porsche


It's been a rough year in Stuttgart. First, they tried to take Nissan to task by stating that their GT-R's Nürburgring time was doctored, and that Porsche's own race drivers could only achieve 7:54 with the Japanese supercar - about twenty seconds slower than both a 911 Turbo and a 911 GT2. Nissan responded by suggesting that Porsche just put down the GT-R before they hurt themselves, and take some driving lessons:

We are aware that several automakers have purchased the GT-R for their own testing and evaluation. We would welcome the opportunity to help any auto manufacturer with understanding the full capabilities of the GT-R.

Then Nissan went back to the 'Ring and ran the same lap a second time. Sorry Porsche, it's true. The GT-R is faster. Deal with it. You just look like jackasses now.

As if that was enough to put Porsche in the doghouse this year, there's this "thing" they've just revealed, called the Panamera. It makes the Porsche Cayenne look like an Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.

This answer to the question nobody asked is apparently supposed to compete with Aston Martin's forthcoming Rapide four door and the Lamborghini Estoque, but honestly, who is going to buy this Uggosaurs? And if the looks don't kill it, the price tag will. Get your act together Porsche, you're slippin'.

2. Full Sized Trucks and SUVs


When the nation went into full scale panic mode over the gas prices this summer, some big names were bound to fall. The Ford F150, the best selling vehicle in any class for the last seventeen years was dethroned by the onslaught of small cars - namely the Toyota Corolla, the Camry, and the Honda Civic.

As gas prices have been on a steady decline since the summer, truck and truck-based SUV sales have rebounded slightly, but the gears have already been set in motion. People are still reeling from five-dollar-a-gallon gas, and activists, politicians, and pundits have jumped on the chance to appear hip with their newfound concern for the environment and fuel efficiency. This time last year, the an Escalade was still a sought-after vehicle. Now people are pining for the Chevrolet Volt instead.

It isn't that electric cars are bad, but I have to wonder why cars like the hydrogen fuel cell cars like the Honda Clarity, whose only emission is water, and is on the road right now, isn't the hot ticket. Who would've ever thought superficial environmental consciousness, perched on the inherently flawed technology that hybrids use, would've become so trendy? People crack me up.

1. The Big 3, and the Industry At Large


Obviously, things in Detroit really, really bad right now. While the Big 3 go to government asking for handouts, we sit back and wonder why American car companies are in such bad shape. Why can't America make good cars? Well, the answer is they do.

People need to realize that nobody is buying cars right now, and the reason why these companies are the ones asking for U.S. government assistance is because the other companies are asking their governments for help - we're just not hearing about it because it's fashionable to point fingers at easy targets.

People aren't buying American cars right now because people aren't buying ANY cars right now. When the mortgage crisis basically destroyed the credit markets, it prevented people from getting credit (i.e. loans) for things they wanted (like, say cars). So we can try to blame companies like GM, Chrysler and Ford that couldn't have possibly been prepared for this paradigm shift, but the bottom line is that the blame for this situation rests on the shoulders of a moral-less credit industry - you know, the one we just handed a $700 billion check to.