Even cars suffer from marriage problems

Jaguar X-Type

(MCT) -- Wall Street loves a merger.

When two companies getting together, economies of scale can yield greater profits and eliminate a competition, and the costs that come with it. But just as half of all marriages end in divorce, the uniting of car companies, whether temporary or not, can lead to disastrous consequences.

The results can be seen in these five unhappy offspring of cooperative automaker ventures.

1987-91 STERLING

It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. Take the wood-paneled, leather lined interior ambience that the British are known for and lay it atop a reliable Honda platform. Sounds great, right? Here's the problem. The same apathetic British workforce that thoroughly ruined the rest of the British motor industry assembled the resulting sedan, known as the Sterling in the United States. By the time quality concerns were addressed, the brand and its parent company, Rover, were doomed.


Lee Iacocca had long been a master at dressing up Ford's entrails into something that could be passed off as something pricier. At Chrysler, the formula finally failed. Poorly built in Milan by Maserati, the TC closely resembled the cheaper Chrysler LeBaron, except for the Maserati badge, grille and steering wheel. No wonder: the TC used Chrysler's K-Car platform and turbocharged four-cylinder engine, although topped with Maserati cylinder heads. Later TCs even used a Mitsubishi V6. Sacrilege!


Having started life in 1974 as a European sports car, by 1991, the Capri name was used on this marriage of Italian styling atop a Mazda 323 front-wheel-drive platform. Well, it seemed like a good idea, but the devil is in the details. Assembled in Australia, the Capri suffered from indifferent build quality and styling that was never as fetching as the rear-wheel-drive Mazda Miata, which used the same engine, many of the same parts and debuted around the same time.


While Ford Motor Co. did much to improve Jaguar's quality, company bean counters couldn't resist competing with the rear-wheel-drive BMW 3-Series on the cheap. So Ford used the mundane front-wheel-drive Contour platform, masked it with retro styling and expensive trim, and slapped a leaping Jaguar on the hood. Nevertheless, consumers could sense that the X-Type wasn't a real Jaguar, and its poor reliability helped reinforced a decades-old reputation Jaguar was beginning to overcome.


This oddly styled art deco coupe was one of the initial offspring of DaimlerChrysler's "merger of equals." Intended to add luster to Chrysler, the spendy Crossfire ended up a misfire. It was built in Germany using the old 1997-2004 Mercedes-Benz SLK's hardware and, as a result, shared the SLK's cramped cabin and unremarkable handling. Given that these were dark days for Mercedes-Benz, and both models suffered from numerous quality gremlins, the Crossfire's failure is understandable.



Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at larry.printz@pilotonline.com


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