Here are five cars that tarnished GM's reputation.
Chevrolet Corvair 1960-1969
Built as a response to the Volkswagen Beetle and other small European imports, the Corvair had its engine in the rear and featured a suspension system that was prone to oversteering when pushed to the limit. Because most drivers at the time were used to understeering, Corvairs gained a reputation for spinning out easily. That led Ralph Nader to pen the book Unsafe at Any Speed, which accused GM executives of trading safety for low cost. The book's success ultimately led to the first federal automobile safety regulations, which all automakers work under to this day.
Chevrolet Vega 1971-1977
Facing growing import sales, Chevrolet once again tried to advance the state of the small car with the subcompact Vega. Offered as a notchback, hatchback and two-door station wagon, the Vega was powered by an overhead-cam, four-cylinder engine that produced 90 horsepower. Chevrolet sold 274,699 in 1971. But the aluminum engine block literally came apart at the seams. Premature rust also was an issue. Many recalls ensued, tarnishing GM's reputation a little further. Like the Corvair and Cavalier, the Vega was named Motor Trend Car of the Year.
Chevrolet Citation - 1979-1985
The Arab oil embargo of the early 1970s led GM to downsize its entire fleet and convert to front-wheel-drive to meet more stringent federal fuel-economy requirements. Every GM brand except Cadillac got a new line of front-wheel-drive cars. The similar cars were sold as the Chevrolet Citation, Pontiac Phoenix, Oldsmobile Omega and Buick Skylark. The Citation was the most popular. Advertised as "the most thoroughly tested new car in Chevy history," it seemed anything but, as it was plagued with recalls for brakes, fuel system, suspension, transmission, steering, seats and vehicle structure.
Cadillac Cimarron - 1982-1988
A small Cadillac? In 1981, that seemed like an oxymoron. But Cadillac managers decided they needed to battle the increasingly popular BMW 3-Series, and the result was the Cimarron. The car was little more than a Chevrolet Cavalier with leather seats and Cadillac emblems, tail lamps and grille. The Cimarron even looked the same as its Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick siblings. Even though GM cars had shared body shells since the early 1930s, by now GM cars from different brands looked largely identical, except for their prices.
Pontiac Aztek - 2001-2005
By this time, GM's quality had improved. While cars still shared under-the-hood components - a common industry practice - styling, options and vehicle calibration helped distinguish one model from another. So when GM launched its new crossover models in 2001, placing an SUV shell atop a car platform, the Buick Rendezvous proved popular; the horrendously ugly Pontiac Aztek didn't. The victim of too many consumer clinics, it looked better with the optional rear hatch tent open. It only underscored how little GM understood the Pontiac brand.