These Car Models Should Have Been Axed By Detroit's Big 3 Automakers Years Ago

By John Rosevear Markets Fool.com

It's car-show season, and automakers have been telling us all about their latest and greatest models -- and about the big sellers throughout their product lines.

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But there are always some models that the automakers don't seem to discuss much. Sometimes it's because those models should have been discontinued ages ago. The automakers know it, and they'd just as soon not discuss these senior citizens.

But that doesn't stop us from talking about them. Here are three models from the Detroit automakers that probably should have been put out to pasture before now.

This Dodge is older than Chrysler's bankruptcy

What is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE: FCAU) thinking with the Dodge Journey? This thing should have been dead and gone years ago.

The Journey is a midsize crossover that has been in production without a whole lot of changes since way back in 2008. It's based on the architecture created for the now-departed (and good riddance) Dodge Avenger sedan.

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Like the Avenger, the Journey was designed in the bad old days before the merger with Fiat rejuvenated Chrysler's product-development efforts. And like the Avenger, the Journey seemed pretty thoroughly outclassed by rivals when it was new.

Things haven't gotten any better for the Journey over the last nine (!) years. It's still outclassed by just about every other medium-to-large crossover SUV, including its much (much) nicer brand-mate, the very fine Dodge Durango. (If what you want is a family hauler, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan is a better choice in just about every way.)

The Dodge Journey looks like something you would have seen on a rental-car lot in 2008. There's a reason for that. Image source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

FCA somehow managed to sell 106,579 Journeys in the U.S. last year. I suspect a lot of those ended up on rental lots. But for the ones that didn't, I think that's more a testament to the extreme popularity of midsize crossovers than it is to the Journey's merits, which as far as I can see are mostly about its price tag.

To be at least somewhat fair to FCA, I suspect that's why the Journey survives: It's cheap. It's so old now that the manufacturing tooling has long been paid off. That means it can be sold at a deeply discounted price (like, to rental-car fleets) while still generating a modest profit.

I know that cash-strapped FCA has its hands full (and then some) with a long list of other product-development efforts. But is yet another Alfa Romeo really a higher priority than replacing a hopelessly outclassed model in the hottest segment of the market?

C'mon, FCA. You've shown us that you can do a lot better. It's way past time to replace the poor old Journey with something new and excellent.

This Ford has a cult following -- but it's an awfully small cult

Hold your fire, Flex fans. This isn't like the Journey. I'll happily admit that the Flex is a cool product that doesn't look like anything else on the road, and Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) has kept it nicely up to date.

The problem is that the business case for the Flex has become really hard to see. That makes me wonder why the Blue Oval continues to spend money to keep it up to date and in production.

If you like the styling, the Flex is a fine vehicle. But it's not really any finer than its much-bigger-selling sibling, the Explorer. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

The Flex is a three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV. If you like its unusual styling, the Flex has a lot to recommend it: It's quiet, it rides well, and like most other Fords, the Flex is available with a lot of high-tech features that are more typical of luxury models.

The problem is that all of the above is also true of the Flex's close mechanical sibling, the Explorer -- and the Explorer outsells the Flex by nearly 10 to 1. Last year, Ford sold just 22,668 Flexes in the U.S., versus 216,294 Explorers.

With its quirky styling, the Flex is a niche product in a segment that the Explorer already covers well. Rather than investing another dollar, it's probably time for Ford to put the Flex out to pasture.

It's hard to see why this Buick is still around

Like the Flex, the Buick Verano isn't a bad product. But it's dated and sales are slim. It's probably past time for General Motors (NYSE: GM) to retire the little sedan.

The Verano is a compact sedan that shares its basic design with the European Opel Astra and the Chinese-market Buick Excelle GT. All three share architecture with the Chevrolet Cruze. Or rather, the Verano shares all of those things with the old versions of those cars. That's the problem.

The Astra, Excelle GT, and Cruze have all been redesigned using a new, more advanced vehicle architecture. There's also an all-new Verano -- but only in China. Low sales meant that the U.S.-market Verano didn't get a redesign for 2016 like the others.

The Buick Verano isn't a bad little sedan. But it's hard to understand why it's a good choice here in 2017. Image source: General Motors.

It was always a little hard to see why the Verano was worth a premium over the (pretty nice) Cruze. Now, with the redesigned Cruze available, it's even harder to see, and I'm not sure why GM chose to keep it around for 2017 (or 2015 or 2016, for that matter.)

GM sold 30,277 Veranos in the U.S. last year. That's not a bad total for Buick, but it's easy to see where the market is going: The little Buick Encore crossover outsold the Verano by more than 2.5 to 1.

The Astra, Excelle GT, and (Chinese) Verano are all important products for GM. But there doesn't seem to be much point in keeping the U.S.-market Verano alive any longer. 2017 is likely its last year, but it really could have been sent packing a year or two ago.

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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.