In the motoring galaxy, hundreds of brands have emerged as shooting stars, shining for a time, only to disappear under the weight of bad choices and stiff competition. Well-known companies that are still operating today with huge success and millions of annual sales may have had their luck.
However, they were saved at the last moment from bankruptcy, obscurity or a takeover by a rival, because they had the inspiration – or luck – to launch an iconic model, thanks to which they got back on their… wheels and came back strongly to the fore. Sometimes, in fact, the universe conspired to make this happen, as you can see in some of the ten typical examples that we list in alphabetical order.
Audi 100 (1968-1976)
In 1964, the VW group acquired the then-Auto Union, with the intention of using its facilities in Ingolstadt, Germany, to increase its production. Audi was destined for a complementary role with little prospect, as all new models of the German group would be designed and developed by Volkswagen in Wolfsburg. However, its technical director, Ludwig Krauss, did not comply with the… instructions and ordered the first Audi 100 to be developed in top secrecy. The end result pleased the VW management, the first generation Audi 100 sold over 100,000 units in one eight years and paved the way for subsequent successful models of the brand with the four rings, such as the 80 series.
BMW 700 (1959-1965)
In 1959, all the procedures for the acquisition of BMW by Mercedes had been completed, but at the last and crucial General Meeting of the shareholders, a lawyer discovered a major accounting error in the balance sheet of the Bavarian brand. The meeting was postponed and thus the current owner company Kvant managed to take over the steering wheel of BMW. The kiss of life at BMW gave at that time the rear-engined 700 model and more than 180,000 sold between 1959 and 1965. The BMW 700 was the sporty alternative to VW’s Scarab and filled the Bavarian coffers with the necessary German brands to develop their compact model line around the BMW 1500, 1600 ti, etc.
Fiat Uno (1983-2014)
In the early 1980s, Fiat was on the brink of bankruptcy, as its models had huge reliability and quality problems, its range did not meet the needs of the buying public, and workers in the Italian brand’s factories were constantly on the fence. Salvation came in early 1983 with the small Giugiaro-designed Uno and the ultra-modern FIRE engines from 1985 onwards. The Fiat Uno was voted “Car of the Year” in 1984 and dominated pan-European sales for years, while it was manufactured until 1995 in Italy and until 2014 in Brazil as the “Mille”. A total of over 8.8 million Fiat Unos were sold, keeping the parent company afloat through an extremely difficult period.
Ford Focus (1998-2004)
The Ford Escort was still selling relatively well, mostly from acquired speed, but Ford’s future looked rather bleak in 1998. However, the company dared to present a completely different model with the radical “New Edge Design”, a new name and a delightful driving sensation. The first-generation Focus was launched worldwide with huge success, winning the title of “Car of the Year” in 1999 and being replaced in 2005 by the second-generation model, after almost five million such vehicles had previously been produced.
Nissan Qashqai (2006-2013)
In 1999, Nissan’s alliance with Renault was sealed and the Japanese brand began to show profits again from 2001. However, the big bang came in 2006 with the launch of the top-of-the-line SUV, Qashqai, which broke the box office, followed in 2008 by the equally successful Qashqai 2 version, with a 21cm longer wheelbase and the ability to carry up to seven passengers. The successful SUV dominated for years in Greece as well, while sales of the first generation model reached 2.5 million units until the curtain fell in 2013.
Peugeot 205 (1993-1998)
In the PSA group, they call the 205 ”Le sacré numero”, meaning “the sacred number”, because they owe their survival to this model. The Peugeot 205 was launched in 1983 during a difficult period for the French brand, which was trying to integrate Citroën and had lost a lot of money with the acquisition of Simca and later Talbot. The French model was developed for 9 years, it was a great success from the first moment and thanks to its timeless design it was manufactured until 1998 with total sales of almost 5.3 million units. Its successor was the Peugeot 206, which managed to surpass the 205 in sales.
Porsche Boxster (1996-2004)
In the early 1990s Porsche had its back against the wall and bankruptcy seemed only a matter of time. The brand’s new CEO, Wedelin Witteking, radically changed the range and the production process, and caught the wildcard in 1996 with the launch of the small and affordable Boxster with starting prices from 76,000 DM. The sporty coupé and roadster shared the same headlights as the 1997 Porsche 911 for cost savings, while honoring the brand’s DNA with their mid-mounted engines and dynamic driving feel. The first generation Boxster was produced until 2004, preferred by around 100,000 buyers, while today the 718 Boxster is on sale, which will hand over the baton to electrified successors.
Renault 19 (1988-1997)
In 1984, Renault registered losses of billions of French francs, so it was in danger of passing into the closet of history. A little later, Project X-53 began for the development of a new model, which would succeed the Renault 9 and 11. This happened in 1988 with the Renault 19, which developed into a hundred lira for the French and was produced until 1997, when it closed the cycle with a total of 3.2 million sales. It is typical that after the reunification of Germany, more Renault 19s than Volkswagen Golfs were sold in the former East German states.
Skoda Favorite (1987-1994)
Designed by Bertone, the Skoda Favorit was launched in 1987 and was the savior of the Czech brand, allowing it to survive the great political upheaval of 1989. The Czechs had barely had time to replace their outdated rear-engined models with the more modern Favorit and the station wagon version. The Favorit played a key role in VW’s decision to acquire Skoda in 1991 and by 1994 had recorded over one million sales before being replaced by the Felicia. Skoda then secured its future with the new 1996 Octavia, which was based on the fourth-generation VW Golf.
VW Golf (1974-1983)
The VW Golf managed to surpass the legendary Scarab in the German brand’s sales yearbook and this is a great achievement in itself. A much more significant achievement, however, was its impressive debut in 1974, thanks to which Volkswagen emerged from a years-long and dangerous crisis. The first-generation model was designed by Giugiaro, was essentially an Audi 50 with VW badges and by 1983 had recorded six million sales. Many believe that its name comes from the well-known sport or from the current of the Gulf (Gulfstream or Golfstrom, in German), but the truth is that this was the name of the horse of a Volkswagen manager.
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