Fear not, owners of orphan cars


Do you own an orphan?

Plenty of us do, and even more of us will. "Orphan" is the term used in the auto industry for vehicles that are no longer supported by an active dealer network. We've seen orphans before — Oldsmobile and Plymouth, for instance — and we will soon see more.

If you own an orphan, are you going to have problems finding parts? Will resale values plummet? Should you buy a "new" orphan, figuring you can get it at a fire-sale price?

The first official victim of the ongoing turmoil in the automotive industry is Pontiac, which will cease being a General Motors brand at the end of 2010. Pontiac might not be the last victim. At GM, the futures of Saturn, Hummer and Saab are unclear. At Ford, Mercury has long been rumored to be in trouble.

And at Chrysler, who knows? If the alliance with Fiat doesn't work, the entire company could be parceled out to the highest bidders.

Even with Pontiac, this is not cause for immediate, or even long-term, alarm. Parts will be available, service will be available and warranties will be honored. All 10 Central Florida Pontiac dealers carry other brands, so they are not entirely dependent on Pontiac to stay in business.

And even if dealerships close — and many will, as GM is planning to shutter 2,600 of its 6,200 dealers, and Ford and Chrysler are expected to pare their outlets, too — surviving dealers will welcome your business, and your warranty claims.

And as we saw with Oldsmobile and Plymouth, there are great deals to be had on closeout vehicles. And, perhaps surprisingly, resale value of those brands remains stronger than you would expect. According to KelleyBlue Book, the value of a 2000 Plymouth Voyager minivan is within a few dollars of an identical 2000 Dodge Caravan.

None of this is unprecedented. Automotive history is filled with literally hundreds of brands that no longer exist — Studebaker, Hudson, Nash, DeSoto and Edsel, and there are plenty of other brands that either retreated from the U.S. consumer market, such as International, or from America in general, such as Peugeot, Renault, Alfa-Romeo and Fiat.

What about in the past 15 years? Oldsmobile and Plymouth are likely the templates for what we will see happen to Pontiac and any other brand from General Motors, Chrysler or Ford that doesn't make the cut. In both cases, the manufacturer announced the demise of the brand well in advance — just as GM has done with Pontiac — giving dealers time to sell down the inventory and invariably slash prices.

Daihatsu had a brief fling with the U.S. market in the early 1990s, with two products — the Rocky, a small SUV, and the Charade, a Toyota Corolla-like car.

Sterling, a British company, jumped into the U.S. market briefly in the early 1990s, using the chassis and engine from the Acura Legend. Isuzu, once a successful, innovative company, has left the U.S. market with a whimper, not a bang.

Toward the end it became completely dependent on GM products, and GM starved it to death. Daewoo tried to follow Hyundai and Kia into the U.S. market, but the Korean manufacturer never got it right. The original plan was to bypass the traditional dealership route and have Daewoos sold by college students and serviced at Kmart, and even after that idea went away, it was hard to take Daewoo seriously.

Yugo, the $3,995 Yugoslavian car, was a copy of a Fiat, imported by Orlando native Malcolm Bricklin in the late 1980s. Eagle was a late-1980s, early-1990s Chrysler offshoot that marketed rebadged products such as the Renault-designed Premier until it was decided that the brand was costing more to market than it made.

Bottom line: If parts of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler survive, you likely shouldn't worry much about buying or owning a vehicle that could be orphaned.

And keep this in mind: The average price of the used Edsels listed in a recent issue of Hemmings Motor News is $23,625.

Even orphans like Oliver Twist could appreciate that.

Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at, at 407-420-5699, or through his blog at

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