PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- When it's a car's time to go, there's little beyond poor salesmen or barricades that can keep them on the lot.
No car model lasts forever and even car sales that rose more than 8% in the U.S. in 2013 can save dying brands. In previous years, we've said farewell to such favorites as the Ford Ranger, the Hummer line and the entire Saab brand. That last one sold just 480 vehicles in the U.S. last year before meeting its demise -- the last indignity in a long death march that began when General Motors dropped the Swedish brand in 2010.
Each year brings another deathwatch. Another Swedish automaker, Volvo, sold roughly 60,000 vehicles in the U.S. this year as total sales plummeted by roughly 9%. Its total is about a fifth of either Mercedes-Benz or BMW's U.S. business and is less than the number of F-series pickup trucks Ford typically sells in a month. Though Volvo still outsells Mini, Land Rover and Jaguar here, sales of all three are increasing as Volvo slides.
But it's still hanging on for another year, as is Mitsubishi. The Japanese automaker and former Chrysler partner also hovers around the 60,000 mark despite the loss of popular models including the Eclipse and Galant. A modest increase in sales this year, coupled with the introduction of the fuel-sipping Mirage subcompact in 2014 might keep the brand around a while, but it's worth noting that Mitsubishi's U.S. output is about 20% of its closest Japanese competitor, Mazda.
Volvo and Mitsubishi aren't doing great, but at least they're alive. While each of them is killing off models this year -- in Mitsubishi's case, the sporty "Evolution" version of its Lancer -- they're spared the fate of some of the inhabitants of the list below. You won't be seeing these five cars or, in some cases, the companies making them anytime in the near future:
The entire Suzuki brand
Suzuki sold a paltry 5,950 cars during its last year in the U.S., which isn't that much of a surprise considering it only sent 20,000 vehicles off its lots in 2012.
We're witnessing the great unraveling of Japanese automakers' rise to dominance in the late '70s and much of the '80s. The downfall began when former GM holding Isuzu pulled out of the U.S. market in 2009, abandoning the Trooper and Rodeo models that got Americans interested in the small SUV and undoing one of the last links to GM's multi-automaker Geo brand.
Suzuki had a similar history here, but with somewhat more disastrous results. Back in 1988, Consumer Reports accused the popular but top-heavy Suzuki Samurai of being rollover prone. During the 1990s, the Suzuki Sidekick and its improved center of gravity won hearts as GM's Geo and Chevrolet Tracker and helped usher in the small SUV market that would eventually give us the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
Unfortunately, Suzuki's U.S. branch was $346 million in debt at the end of 2012. Half of that is owed solely to its Japanese parent company. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and vowed to pull Suzuki automobiles out of the U.S. market and sell only motorcycles, ATVs and outboard boat engines.
The shame is that Suzukis weren't bad little cars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2013 Suzuki Kizashi its highest rating on a tough new crash test that measures a vehicle's reaction to being hit at 40 miles per hour on the outside of its front bumper. The Toyota Camry outright failed that test, but sold 29,000 vehicles in the U.S. in November 2012. Only 500 Kizashis were sold here during that same span. So long, Suzuki.
It's tough to blame Jeep for not grasping the concept of a crossover when its parent company was having a tough time figuring out how to be an automaker.
The Liberty first came into the world as a replacement for the popular Cherokee and a small SUV version of Jeep's iconic Wrangler. The Liberty and Wrangler basically shared the same face for much of the 2000s, when the Liberty's popularity was at its peak.
After 2004, when the Liberty had sold a record 167,400 vehicles in the U.S., the bottom dropped out. As competitors such as the RAV-4 and CR-V got more fuel efficient and SUVs came down off their trucks and hooked themselves to car platforms, the slow-changing Liberty saw sales slide from 166,900 in 2005 to just 92,000 as the recession took hold in 2007.
Chrysler would get around to making the Liberty a true crossover in 2008, when it put the vehicle on a Dodge Nitro platform, but just about nobody enjoyed that little tweak just a year after Jeep introduced the smaller, more efficient Compass. With Chrysler bankrupt, bailed out and about to be bought by Fiat, the Liberty's sales bottomed out at 43,503 in 2009.
When Fiat took over in 2011, the Dodge Nitro model that gave the Liberty its backbone was among the first vehicles cut from Chrysler's roster. With Jeep also trimming models under Fiat's watch, the Liberty's days were numbered. The 2013 Liberty was the last and was replaced by the 2014 Jeep Cherokee -- which is basically a Dodge Dart with more cargo capacity. The Liberty didn't have the ground clearance to be a real off-road SUV and didn't have the fuel economy to fit in with all the new fuel-efficient grocery getters.
As the Cherokee, it's a slightly less awkward midsized crossover that now fits nicely into the brand lineup. As the Liberty, it was just never going to work.
We can't even begin to explain how big a mess Chrysler was before Fiat came into the picture.
In 2009, it had just finished a disastrous partnership with Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler and was well on its way to bankruptcy. What better time to sneak in an ill-advised partnership with yet another German automaker just to bring some fresh misery down on everyone's heads?
If you bought a Routan within the past four years, you bought a Dodge Caravan or Chrysler Town & Country with an accent. That's just fine when you're looking for a durable soccer shuttle, but VW owners aren't paying a premium price just to have their seat backs covered in crayon doodles. In its first year, the Routan sold a disappointing 14,000 vehicles in the U.S.
By contrast, Jeep sells more Grand Cherokee models than that in a month. The Routan was slated to be produced for the U.S. market until 2014, but the average carbuyer hasn't been able to get their hands on one since 2012. They're only being sold as corporate vehicles, and only to get rid of the remnants of that Chrysler deal.
Volkswagen has made big strides in recent years, but its partnership with Chrysler wasn't among them. The Routan is just the leftover stuff accumulated from a bad breakup. It's time to toss it and move on.
Technically, it's a Corolla hatchback, but it's really yet another remnant of a pre-bailout partnership gone awry.
Back in 2002, GM and Toyota teamed up to make a hatchback that would replace the automakers' Geo Prism and create a precursor to the small crossover vehicles of today. The Matrix and GM's Pontiac Vibe were supposed to bring the station wagon into the new age by making it taller, slimmer and more fuel efficient.
It was a grand idea until about 2010, when GM's bankruptcy and bailout forced it to shed brands and models. When GM killed off Pontiac, the Vibe went with it. Meanwhile, Toyota's Matrix found its sales eaten away by Toyota's own RAV-4, its Camry-based crossover Venza, a revamped Yaris compact and a new wagon version of the Prius hybrid. The Matrix hadn't been redesigned since 2009 and its name traces back to a movie franchise that hasn't produced a new installment since 2003.
For what was supposed to be an innovative concept, the Matrix sure got dated in a hurry.
Have we mentioned that Volvo is losing what little grip it had on the U.S. market?
The brand was known for three things: Safety, utility and luxury. That first element has been mandated into just about every other vehicle on the road. The second is being done better by cheaper crossover vehicles. The third? Well, even brands including Mercedes and BMW got around to hitting all of Volvo's finer points just after Lexus, Infiniti and others did the same.
The C30 is the sporty little three-door that nobody wanted from this company. It's a zippy little thing, but its price was a bit high for what it was offering and its curb appeal just didn't fit the brand's U.S. image at all. The C70, meanwhile, is just the type of car Volvo wanted to put up against its German counterparts, but not the vehicle anyone really wanted from this brand. It's a gorgeous compact convertible and should have put up more of a fight, but it was -- again -- completely out of character for Volvo. Even though it stayed in the lineup for 15 years, the C70 may still be more of an example of what Volvo's done wrong in recent years than what it's done correctly.
This is a company that needs reinforcements desperately to arrive. Its new V60 wagon is just what it needs to slip back into its Subaru-style niche, but it doesn't arrive until 2015. Can Volvo hold out in the U.S. for that long?
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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