After bottoming out in 2009, auto industry sales are slowly recovering. The U.S. will sell about 11.5 million cars and light trucks this year, up from 10.4 million in 2009. And the news only gets better: IHS Automotive forecasts sales of 12.8 million vehicles in 2011, and 17.1 million by 2015.
Total light vehicle sales are up 11.1% through November, with many brands beating the trend and gaining market share: Buick is up 53.5%, Cadillac is up 38%, Infiniti is up 26% and Ford, Hyundai and Jeep are each up 23%.
But while most carmakers are enjoying gains from last year's dismal sales levels, the bounce is not universal. Some models are just languishing on dealer lots, victims of outdated designs, lack of marketing support and intense competition.
Forbes studied industry sales figures through November to cull a list of the year's worst-selling vehicles. We tossed out brands like Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer that are being killed, and didn't count vehicles that are being discontinued like the Chrysler PT Cruiser or Kia Rondo. We also excluded cars that we know are in the midst of a model life cycle change because sales typically fall as automakers are trying to clear out the old design before ramping up production of the new one.
We found that practically the entire Suzuki lineup is in the doldrums, lost amid tougher competition. Sales are down 42% for the year overall, with vehicles like the compact SX4, Grand Vitara SUV and Equator pickup dying on the vine for lack of resources. But there's reason to hope: The new Kazashi mid-sized sedan has been well-received, and Suzuki plans to launch a new advertising campaign on Christmas. It's working to refresh its lineup, too. After ending its long-term relationship with General Motors, the Japanese carmaker is now in talks with Volkswagen about co-developing new vehicles.
Other poor performers include the fuel-sipping Smart ForTwo, which was all the rage in 2008, when gas was $4 a gallon, but has endured a two-year sales collapse. The quirky two-seater from Germany's Daimler AG is down 60% this year, on top of a 41% decline in 2009. Penske Automotive Group, which distributes the vehicle in the U.S., is now testing Car2Go, a car-sharing concept for Smart, and plans to market an electric Smart soon.