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Australia's biggest new-car fails! From the Holden ZB Commodore to the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, these are our biggest flops ever

From the ZB Commodore to the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, there have been some new-car howlers in Australia.

It’s safe to say that, generally speaking, car companies get it pretty right most of the time.

We’re talking multi-billion-dollar machines here, and at every cog there’s an army of marketing types, product planners, engineers and designers, all very much tapped into the trends of the day, and equally engaged in what’s we might all want to drive tomorrow.

See, most cars have a very long lifespan, so it's not enough to tap into a short-term trend. You need to make sure you'll be appealing for years to come.

Take Toyota, for example. Or Tesla. Both were undoubtedly ahead of the curve when it came to electrification, and both are reaping the rewards right now.

But even the best made plans come unstuck sometimes, and there’s also no doubting that the car industry has been responsible for some absolute howlers over the years, with flops and fails that ended up costing the companies big time, both in cold, hard cash and in reputation damage.

So let’s take a moment to celebrate these monumental stuff-ups, shall we? After all, a lesson not learned is one you’re destined to repeat, right?

Read on for what we think are the five biggest new-car fails in Australia. Want to add to the list? Tell us in the comments below.

Holden ZB Commodore

The ZB Commodore. But was it really a Commodore? The ZB Commodore. But was it really a Commodore?

Look, the 2018 arrival of the ZB Commodore was a tough time in Holden’s history - a brand that is, of course, now also history.

The brand was waving goodbye to the VF II - the last locally made Commodore - as well as its screaming flagship, the V8-powered, rear-drive SS-V Redline. The production lines at Holden’s South Australian plant had fallen silent in 2017, and Holden was forced to look abroad for a replacement for its Aussie icon.

What it found was the German-made Opel Insignia - a front- or all-wheel drive mid-size sedan built on a global E2 architecture and without a V8 engine or RWD in sight.

To say the backlash from the Commodore faithful was an understatement, and the Opel lasted less than two years before it was scrapped - earning it the unintended honour of being the most short-lived Commodore in the model’s history.

Soon after, GM announced that Holden itself would be shuttered in Australia.

Interestingly, though, the ZB Commodore was definitely not a bad car, and some argued - myself included - that had Holden simply called it an Insignia rather than trying to convince us it was a Commodore, its reception in Australia would have been far warmer.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class

The X-Class was the world's first premium pick-up. The X-Class was the world's first premium pick-up.

Billed as the world’s first premium pick-up, the X-Class was intended to forge new ground for the German giant in the worksite and lifestyle space.

The Nissan-based ute launched in Australia in April, 2018. By May 2020, it was gone, having been plagued by lacklustre sales and plenty of strong feedback that sticking a star on the front of a Navara does not a Mercedes-Benz ute make.

How lacklustre were those sales? Put it this way. In 2019, Mercedes-Benz sold 15,300 X-Class utes worldwide, and just 2186 in Australia. Toyota, on the other hand, sold 47,759 examples of the HiLux in Australia alone.

It was an expensive mistake for Mercedes-Benz (a brand that doesn’t make many, to be fair). While the brand has never revealed the total sum, the marketing, promotion and media activity alone would have been a very big number, and that’s before you even talk engineering and production.

Honda CR-Z Hybrid

The CR-Z was a hybrid sports car. Sort of... The CR-Z was a hybrid sports car. Sort of...

Plenty of hype accompanied the Honda CR-Z Hybrid when it touched down in Australia towards the end of 2011. Here was a funky-looking sports car that promised to match performance with efficiency, care of its hybrid powertrain and slick manual gearbox.

The problem? It didn’t actually offer much in the way of performance - with its outputs of 100kW/190Nm, and a sprint to 100km/h of 9.0 seconds.

So say sales are were slow is an understatement. After recording 370 sales in its first year on sales, CR-Z managed just 58 units in 2013, and then 86 sales in 2014.

The writing was one the wall, and the model was scraped locally at the beginning of 2015.

Renault Zoe

The Renault Zoe could have been ahead of its time. The Renault Zoe could have been ahead of its time.

You’ve got to feel for the Renault Zoe, which at least partly fell victim to being early to the electrification party in Australia.

The EV Zoe touched down in Australia around the middle of 2017, packing a driving range of around 300km and a competitive (by EV standards) sub-$50k asking price.

The model had proven popular enough overseas, with European EV sales beginning to boom at the time, and Renault clearly though the spark would catch in Australia, too.

But… it didn’t. Renault sold a total 63 units. And that’s not in a 12-month period, but in total over its three-year run.

Surprising nobody, it was then pulled from the market.

Opel Australia

Opel introduced a well-known model name in the Astra. Opel introduced a well-known model name in the Astra.

Forget a particular model, this was a brand-wide fail for here one second, gone the next Opel.

In August 2012, the GM-owned German brand arrived in Australia with mega fanfare. It had an entirely local executive line-up, a very familiar model in the Astra, huge plans for this market led by 20 Opel dealerships, and a reasonable sales target of 15,000 units.

Instead, it sold closer to 1000 units total.

A touch under 12 months later, it was gone, with local representatives blaming shifting goalposts and an unsustainable business model for it rapid departure.

That's a very expensive 12 months...