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2003 Automotive Turkey Awards
Dan Lienert

The United States will raise about 270 million turkeys this year, more of which will come from Minnesota than any other state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the biggest turkeys in America waddle out of Detroit.

They weigh thousands of pounds and come with badges that say things like "Saturn" or "GMC." And although Japan and South Korea are represented here, our list of ten automotive turkeys dishonors more cars from America--six--than from any other place. Of our foreign-built turkey award winners, the Hyundai Tiburon, Isuzu Rodeo and Kia Spectra are not manufactured under American supervision; DaimlerChrysler (nyse: DCX - news - people ) governs Mitsubishi and its tired Diamante.*

So, to carve, er, commemorate those cars in 2003 that either were deemed unsafe by the federal government, are headed for discontinuation, were recalled most, are depreciating faster than foreign competitors and/or have had disappointing or declining sales, we would like to recognize them with our first annual turkey awards. And don't just take our word for it. In order to determine which cars, even some that we actually like, earned a spot on the list, we culled the worst-performing cars from reports issued by such organizations as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Kelley Blue Book.

You would be tarred and feathered for saying this in Detroit, but the majority of these turkeys go to American cars. There seems to be some truth to the idea that Motown is building subpar cars. You will not find any German manufacturers on our list--nor, unsurprisingly, many luxury nameplates.

There are also a number of American cars we could have dubbed turkeys but did not. Like the Chevrolet Cavalier, from our list, the Chevrolet Astro, GMC Safari, Pontiac Montana, Chevrolet Venture, Dodge Dakota and Pontiac Grand Am all received "poor" frontal crash test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The reason why these potential turkeys are avoiding our axe is that, while they have scored poorly in some areas evaluated by the IIHS, they are not as generally low-scoring in multiple areas as the cars we did cite.

We were also tempted to include the half-hearted Mercury Marauder, a muscle car derivative of the boat-sized Grand Marquis, but Mercury does not single out Marauder's performance when reporting sales of the Grand Marquis. Chrysler's new Pacifica wagon also looked to be a disappointment, but sales are getting closer to Chrysler's targets as the company increases the percentage of lower-priced Pacificas in its inventory mix so we will reserve judgment for the time being.

Except in the case of Saturn, we take no delight in picking on easy targets. In fact, we even ended up choosing one or two cars that we actually enjoy, like the Hyundai Tiburon. It has a good V-6 engine and transmission, channeled through a quick, sporty shifter.

The Saturn Ion, on the other hand, is the turkey that makes us the most visibly annoyed. Making less cheap-looking or plastic-heavy interiors is not Saturn's priority, but the automaker has refined the original Ion's steering after the vehicle's first year on the market, and added a 200-horsepower Red Line derivative.

Before Saturn honed the Ion's initially unsophisticated driving dynamics, the company had to rely on fuzzy-wuzzy dealership experiences and gimmicks like personalized roof trim to move the car. On Nov. 1, Saturn dealers were carrying a gigantic, 119-day supply of Ions, up from 111 on Oct. 1. Ion's sales in 2003 through October, 98,303, fall short of what GM (nyse: GM - news - people ) hopes it can eventually sell: 150,000 to 200,000 Ions per year.

Saturn's reliance on satisfying customers at the dealership shouldn't make GM's shareholders happy either. A recent survey by Oregon-based CNW Marketing Research indicates that relying on nice dealers isn't enough. Among automakers, CNW posited that strong customer satisfaction results don't translate to profits. Building better cars does. In its study CNW lists the amount of money an automaker could expect to add to its transaction prices if the company were to improve its CNW customer satisfaction score by one point (CNW's tests for satisfaction are similar to J.D. Power's). Among automakers, Saturn's transaction prices would show the most modest gains per one-point improvement: $211.56 per vehicle, compared with $925.02 per vehicle at Porsche, the company that has the most to gain from improving satisfaction. Saturn will have a chance to put the emphasis on better products when it replaces the L-300 sedan and wagon lines, whose sales have been half of what GM expected, with a 2006 model hatchback.

This Thanksgiving, butter your biscuits, turn on the game, avoid your annoying cousin--and help us carve up some crummy cars.

*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that General Motors owns Isuzu and the Rodeo SUV. It reduced its equity share in Isuzu from 49% in 1998 to a 12%, non-controlling stake in 2002. In 2002 GM acquired majority ownership of Isuzu's diesel engine businesses and its Duramax, Circle L 1.7-liter and V-6 diesel engine technologies

 

Source: Forbes - Nov 25 3:42 AM - web site: http://www.forbes.com/execpicks/2003/11/24/cx_dl_1124feat.html

 

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Consumer Edition, January-June 2004

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Editorial Reviews on Kelley Blue Book

(Kelley Blue Book Used Car Guide. Consumer Edition, Vol 12, January-June, 2004)

An essential resource for anyone looking to buy, sell, or trade in a used car, this portable volume provides the general public with information that was originally restricted to the automotive industry: original list prices, vehicle identification numbers (VINs), and trade-in, private-party, and retail values for vehicles, according to condition. First published in 1926 to help auto dealers, financial institutions, and others in the trade, the Kelley Blue Book has been available to consumers since 1993. This edition covers model years 1989 to 2003. Also included are values for additional options and equipment, a table of acceptable mileage ranges by year, and tips on buying a used car.

Blue Book Consumer Edition January-June 2004 - For only $9.95! Includes values for used cars, trucks and vans covering model years 1988 to 2002. The Consumer Edition includes three values:

  • Retail
  • Private Party
  • Trade In

 

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