8 Hot Cars: Class of 2000

  1. Class Leader: Ford Taurus
    2000 sales: 382,035
    2009 sales: 38,361*

By 2000, the Taurus’s days as America’s top-selling car were behind it. You’d have to go back the mid-’90s for that. But it was still a close third behind the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

The slide of the once-mighty Taurus would continue through the decade, its sales figures heavily padded with deliveries to rental companies and other industrial fleet buyers. By 2005, with the new Ford Five Hundred sedan on the market, it was purely a fleet product.

Today, the Ford Fusion, the Ford car closest to old Taurus in size, ranks fifth among cars, according to J.D. Power and Associates. It ranks behind the Camry, Accord, Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.

2. Class Leader: Ford Explorer

2000 sales:
2009 sales: 34,713

It sounds surprising now but just a decade ago, the Ford Explorer SUV was the biggest-selling passenger vehicle in America.

It was around this time that problems with the Explorer’s factory-installed Firestone 500 tires made big news. The tires’ tendency to come apart after being driven on hot roads combined with Explorer’s high ride height made for a deadly combination.

Even that wasn’t enough to dent Explorer sales, though, which peaked two years later.

Ultimately, the advent of car-based crossover SUVs — 2000 was also the year that Ford’s first crossover, the Escape, hit the market — has proven even more damaging to SUV sales.

An improved version of the Explorer remains on the market today and the name will continue on the 2011 Explorer, which will be another car-based crossover.

3. New Kid: Pontac Aztek

2001 sales: 5,304
2009 sales: N/A

When General Motors unveiled the Pontiac Aztek concept car in 1999, it looked like a fun, sporty ultra-modern beach car.

Then something terrible happened on the way to production. Attempts to maintain the concept car’s general appearance while making the vehicle roomier and more practical resulted in a vehicle that was, indeed, practical, but looked all wrong.

“Apparently, nobody stood back and took a look at it before taking to market,” said Edmunds.com’s Smith.

A sales dud, the Aztek ended production after the 2005 model year. The legendary Pontiac brand, sadly, fared little better. Facing bankruptcy, GM killed it this year.

4. New Kid: Chrysler PT Cruiser
2001 sales:

2009 sales: 17,205

Introduced in 2000, the Chrysler PT Cruiser was an instant hit. During its first couple of years on the market, sales were hot and PT Cruisers were hard to find on dealer lots. The Cruiser promised great things for Chrysler, a carmaker that seemed to have its pulse on what Americans wanted.

Even better, it was built on engineering borrowed, inexpensively, from already existing Chrysler products. So it was cheap and profitable

Unfortunately, Chrysler couldn’t maintain that special flair through its merger with Daimler, which turned out disastrously. Chrysler now is recovering from bankruptcy as it finds its way back with the help of Italy’s Fiat.

The talent that brought us the PT Cruiser is sorely needed now, said Edmunds.com’s Smith.

5. Class Leader: Ford Ranger

2000 sales: 330,125
2009 sales: 51,097

Compact trucks like the Ford Ranger are barely a blip in the car market today but in 2000, the Ranger was the eighth best-selling vehicle in America, just behind the Ford Taurus and Ram truck.

With high gas prices pushing consumers toward generally smaller vehicles, you’d think small trucks would still be hot today. Vicious competition among big trucks, though, did them in. Cash incentives for full-sized pick-ups made them almost as cheap to buy as the little trucks.

“It was a perfect substitution,” said Jeff Schuster, a market analyst with J.D. Power and Associates. “There really wasn’t a reason to buy a small pick-up.”

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