Among car companies, Alfa Romeo reminds me of an aging movie actress. It has seen better days, but thanks to a memorable name and an illustrious past, it still gets plenty of attention. The Italian maker of sporting cars reported sales of less than 100,000 worldwide last year, but Alfa's every move -- such as its oft-delayed return to the U.S. market -- gets reported with feverish enthusiasm. In the latest Alfa drama, the automaker is reported to be talking intensively about a linkup with Audi. Despite denials from both sides, a deal makes some sense. Audi parent company Volkswagen is a compulsive acquirer of famous automotive names, and Fiat, Alfa's owner, needs the cash. Asked at the Geneva auto show in March whether VW was still interested in Alfa Romeo, boss Martin Winterkorn simply replied: "Alfa Romeo is a great brand."
The 21st century has been tough on auto brands, both young and old. Toyota's Scion brand, launched in 2002, seems to be undergoing an identity crisis. Reuters reports executives are weighing repositioning it as a line of premium small cars. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz, which dates its history to the 19th century, finds its self-styled "the best or nothing" brand under assault from up-and-coming Audi.
Maintaining a strong brand requires constant investment. That's particularly important in autos, where the opportunities to economize are ever-present -- and often fatal. For evidence, here are 10 once-familiar automotive brands that have become casualties since the turn of this century:
Some of these new cars are already scheduled for earlier-than-usual facelifts. The rest of them are already overdue.