Top 10 American Cars Not Sold in America

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It comes as little surprise that there are certain foreign-made cars that aren’t sold in the United States. From the Nissan Skyline to certain special editions of the BMW M3, there are plenty of high performance machines that the Germans and the Japanese don’t market to Americans. But what’s not as well known are the countless American-name cars only sold abroad. Whether repackaged versions of cars sold stateside, new incarnations of 1960s classics, or completely original designs, there are plenty of cars put out by Chevy, Ford, and their foreign subsidiaries that are only marketed and sold overseas. Here are ten of the most notable examples:

10. Chevy Montana/Tornado

Sold in: South America, Mexico, South Africa (as the Opel Corsa)

Coupe-utility cars like the infamous Chevy El Camino fell out of fashion in the U.S. in the late 80s, but they continue to be successful in the world market, especially in the more rugged terrain of places like Australia and Mexico. The Chevy Montana, a truck-car hybrid sold in Latin America, is one of the most notable examples. Production was started in 2003 in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil, and since then it’s been one of the better-selling vehicles in its class. The Montana (which is sold as the Tornado in the Mexican market) is based on a design previously used by Opel, a German subsidiary of General Motors, for a car called the Corsa, and it’s still marketed under that name in some places. The car is meant to serve as a family-friendly alternative to a more heavy-duty truck (the Montana only sports front wheel drive and a 1.8 liter engine at best), but still be sporty enough to handle reasonably rough terrain.

9. Chevy/Buick Sail

Sold in: China, Argentina (as the Chevy Corsa)

The Chevy Sail is a General Motors car that is marketed primarily in China. Like the Montana, it’s also based on the Corsa, a car manufactured by Opel that’s prevalent nearly everywhere in the world except the U.S. and Canada. The Sail is both sold and assembled in China by Shanghai GM, where it is available as both a sedan and a station wagon. It’s also exported to Argentina, where it’s marketed as the Chevy Corsa. Previously, the Chinese Sail was marketed as a Buick, but in 2005 it was rebadged with the Chevy name, and it has since enjoyed moderate success, mainly thanks to an ever-increasing demand for small, economical vehicles in urban markets. The Sail is advertised as a practical option for families, and it’s gained a decent reputation in China as a result of its safety ratings, fuel-efficient 1.2-liter engine, and ultra-cheap $8,400 price tag. The 2010 version, known as the New Sail, is the first GM car completely designed and manufactured in China. It’s expected to be a big success, but there are still no plans for an American version.

8. Pontiac Matiz/Chevy Spark

Sold in: China (as Chevy Spark), Europe (as Daewoo Matiz), Mexico (as Pontiac Matiz)

The Chevy Spark/Pontiac Matiz is a small 5-door hatchback sold throughout the world. It was originally designed and built by Daewoo, a subsidiary of GM based in South Korea, and it began being sold there and in Europe (as the M100) in 1998. Although it’s technically a Korean product, GM markets the car as the Chevy Spark in China, where American cars tend to sell well, and as the Pontiac Matiz in Mexico. The car proved especially popular in the Asian market, where it was at the center of a particularly heated legal dispute: in 2005, GM sued the Chinese manufacturer Chery, alleging that they had pirated the design of the Spark for use in a remarkably similar car called the QQ. All controversy aside, the Spark remains one of the first Chevy-branded minicars to be released, and rumor has it that it might finally make its way to the American market in 2011.

7. Ford Everest/Ford Ranger

Sold in: Latin America, Asia, India, and the Caribbean

Not all of these American-branded international cars are small, eco-friendly hatchbacks. In fact, there are quite a few heavy-duty trucks and SUVs that are only sold abroad. One notable example is Ford’s Everest, which is built in Thailand and mainly marketed in Latin America and Asia. The Everest is a large 4-wheel-drive sport utility that resembles the American Ford Expedition in appearance (Ford briefly considered appropriating the “Everest” name for a special addition of that car) and features a Mazda power plant. Unlike most American SUVs, though, the Everest comes with the option of a diesel engine, and there are three rows of passenger seating instead of the usual two. The Everest is a close cousin of the international edition of the Ford Ranger, a heavy-duty truck that is larger than the American vehicle of the same name. Unlike the Ford Ranger found in the U.S., the international Ford Ranger was made as part of a partnership between Ford and Mazda, and is sold mainly in Europe.

6. Cadillac SLS

Sold in: China

American car manufacturers aren’t just exporting subcompacts and mini-cars—they’re sending luxury sedans abroad, too. Such is the case with the Cadillac SLS, an oversize luxury car sold in China. Based on the American Cadillac STS, the SLS was first released by Shanghai GM in 2006, and is mostly marketed toward business people. With its cutting edge technology and plush interior, the car is representative of a Chinese market where luxury cars are in increased demand. The 2009 version, which features a soundproof cockpit, ergonomically designed seats, and an interior crafted from a wood that’s usually only used for building violins, was hailed as one of the nicest cars ever developed for the Chinese market. Shanghai GM even negotiated a deal with the China Film Group Corporation, which will see the SLS featured prominently in a number of upcoming movies.

5. Ford Falcon

Sold in: Australia and New Zealand

The Ford Falcon was originally sold in the U.S., and during the 1960s it was one of the bestselling compact cars on the market. But an inability to meet safety standards and increased competition from Chevy led to a decline in sales, and the car was phased out of Ford’s U.S. fleet in 1970. In Australia, however, the Falcon name is still alive and well. The car was introduced there in 1960 with the goal of competing with Holden, an Australia-based carmaker that was then dominating the market. Ford Australia released the Falcon XK to near-immediate success, and since then it’s been one of the most steady-selling sedans down under, with over 3 million units produced. The cars were originally imported from the States, but there were complaints about reliability, and in 1964 they were redesigned to cope with the harsher driving conditions of the outback. Since then, there have been seven different generations of the car, a number of spin-offs (including the Landau and the Futura), and even a sport utility version.  Because of its economy and V8 option, the Falcon has even become a popular fleet vehicle for both taxi services and police departments.

4. Ford Ka

Sold in: Europe, Latin America

Ford’s Ka, a sub-compact hatchback marketed primarily in Europe, might be one of the most famous Ford vehicles that Americans have never heard of. It’s one of the bestselling models in a class that has come to be known as “city cars”—small, lightweight, fuel-efficient vehicles made for the traffic and tight parking spaces of urban areas. These kinds of nimble, low-power vehicles have never quite caught on in the States, where power is often prized above all else, but they’ve been popular in Europe for years. The Ka is certainly of the most successful examples. Since its debut in 1996, it’s become one of the best-selling “supermini” cars in England, where it makes up over 20 percent of the city car market. At nearly 45 miles to the gallon, the Ka gets phenomenal gas mileage, but its sharp handling has also seen it used as a rally car in the past. An increased demand for small, fuel-efficient cars in the U.S. has stirred rumors that the Ka would be released stateside, but it was recently confirmed that the similar, slightly larger Ford Fiesta would be issued instead. According to Ford CEO Alan Mulally, for the time being cars like the Ka are simply too small to compete in the American market.

3. Buick Excelle/Chevy Optra

Sold in: China, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and India

While it’s widely known that the same cars are often given different names depending on the market in which they’re sold (this is true of nearly every car sold in multiple countries), it might come as a surprise that sometimes the manufacturer’s name changes as well. This is certainly the case with China’s Buick Excelle. Depending on where you are in the world, the car might also be known as the Daewoo Lacetti (Korea), the Chevy Optra (Canada), or the Holden Viva (Australia and New Zealand). This identity crisis is thanks to the multinational nature of modern car companies. GM, which has long used Buick as its luxury car branch, also owns the Korean company Daewoo (which first manufactured the car) and the Australian brand called Holden, and it re-brands cars according to their location in order to help boost sales. These days, the Lacetti/Optra/Excelle/Viva is sold throughout the world and is marketed to families as an economically priced compact sedan (the British automotive show Top Gear even used an incarnation of it for its “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” segment). The newest incarnation is based on the Chevy Cruze, another GM world car, and rumor has it that it might finally be making its way to the U.S. sometime soon. Who knew car brands could be used so creatively.

2. Ford Transit

Sold in: Europe

If you’ve ever been to Europe, then you’re no doubt familiar with the Ford Transit, which has become so well known there that in some places its name has come to be just another word for “van.” Like the Econoline series in the U.S., the Transit is an oversized, front wheel drive van that it is often appropriated as a work vehicle. It’s one of the most ubiquitous vehicles on the roads of countries like England and Germany, and since 1965 as many as 5 million have been manufactured at the Ford plant in Southampton, UK. There have now been as many as seven different generations of the vans, which have been outfitted for use as everything from taxis to ice cream trucks and motor homes. The Transit is now available with a manual transmission and a diesel engine, and it’s gained a reputation among enthusiasts for having an uncannily “car-like” feel for such a big vehicle. The hosts of Top Gear put this claim to the test in 2005, when they let German racer Sabine Schmitz take one around the notorious Nurburgring road course. Amazingly, Schmitz was able to complete the circuit in a Transit in nearly the same time it took one of the hosts to finish in a Jaguar sports car.

1. Ford Focus

Sold in: Worldwide (excluding North and South America)

The Ford Focus, as you might be thinking, is sold in the United States. But the two and four-door versions of the car sold in America are actually quite different from the international version of the Focus, which is sold nearly everywhere else in the world outside of America. The international Focus shares similar parts and components with the Mazda 3 and a few different Volvo cars, and comes in several different styles, including two and four-door versions and hatchbacks. Like most European cars, it also features an optional diesel engine. The sportier versions of the international Focus have gained a great deal of praise in Europe for their impressive performance. According to Motor Trend magazine, the car’s multi-link rear suspension results in surprisingly nimble handling, and it even managed to negotiate a slalom test course faster than cars made by Jaguar and Bentley. It’s this kind of performance that earned the Focus the 1999 European Car of the Year Award. It’s consistently been Ford’s biggest seller in Europe, where as many as 400,000 are sold every year, and worldwide over 9.2 million have been sold since its release in 1998. The American version of the car has also been a success, but it’s expected to be discontinued in 2011, when the third generation of the international model will be released worldwide.

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30 Comments

  1. During our last trip to Scotland the wife saw one of those Ka's and immediately wanted one. Too bad more "city cars" aren't available in the states. Funny enough the rental was a Ford Focus. At first we were pissed that it was a car we could have gotten in the states, instead of Citroen or Peugeot. We found out we were wrong and it most definitely wasn't the American version of the car. Nice list.

  2. The Falcon will always be my favourite American-but non-American car. It is just so freaking badass. Better than the new charger, gto, or any other new classic cars because it isn't trying to relive the past of the name, only the spirit. Good list though. The ka really is sweet, as well as the euro focus. The focus is so much better than ours. Great list.

  3. Great list. Love the Falcon, I would have made that the top, but only because I think it looks so sweet. The focus is more popular abroad for sure.

  4. Cars designed and built in Europe/Aus etc having the same name as the US original doesn't make it a US car.

  5. Just because Ford originated in the US doesn't mean that other Ford models sold around the world are designed and built by the US. The Transit has been going for decades and there's no US involvement in it whatsoever.

  6. The Aussie Ford Falcon has nothing to do with the American cars of the same name. It can trace it’s lineage back to the Falcon muscle cars of the 60’s and 70’s designed and built in Australia. Not the same car that provided the chassis for the Mustang.

    Mad Max is associated with the vehicle for driving A Ford Falcon XB in the first two films.

  7. American Cars? Not even Close… Americans reaally must lose this concept of owning everything… majority of these cars are made in thailand. Ford Falcon is an Aussie designed car, and the ford ranger is actually made by mazda (check parts numbers).

    Lame Lists…

    • I think the writer included cars on the list that are identified as American despite where they are made. The Ford Falcon is a classic American car – production was discontinued in 1970 so I think many people would be surprised to find out that it has lived on (and its design has continued to be updated) in Australia.

      Similarly, I think most people would consider the Ford Ranger an American car no matter where it is manufactured, just like people continue to consider Volvos Swedish cars even if they are owned by another car company (at one time Ford, now Geeling in China?).

      While I’m here typing I’ll add that I think your sweeping statements about Americans and the lists on this site are uncalled for. All Americans don’t think they own everything, just as all Europeans don’t think they know everything, so let’s be respectful of each other, okay?

    • Dear Disappointed (You spelled your name wrong, by the way), Americans don’t have a ‘concept of owning everything’. Let me guess, you aren’t American are you? First off, Ford, Cadillac, Pontiac and Chevy are the brands of the cars. So they will be categorized as “American cars” because those brands started and are based in, BIG SURPRISE- America. That’s the sole reason they are classified as such. They probably sell so well in other countries because they think they are getting a ‘foreign’ car. And before you decide to disrespect Americans, why don’t you take a moment and remember that we originated from other countries. Don’t hate on us because our ancestors came here to be free.

  8. I looked at that list and none of those cars is an american made car. I’ve lived in the USA all my life (40+ years) and the only car in that list I’ve ever seen is the focus and you *KNOW* that’s not american made…

  9. II’m not here to Argue, I’m an aussie, I own Two Falcon’s. One, a 1989 XF Ford Falcon Ute, and the other a 1995 EF Fairmont (the second from top of the range luxury Falcon). These cars represent unbelievable value for money, and for my money, unbeatable reliability. The ute, with little to no maintenaince in nearly three years gets up and goes every morning, with over 250000 kilometres on the clock, and the EF has just clicked over 337000 kilometres and does the same, ive owned it for 5 years and ive replaced a water pump ($130) and two radiator hoses ($36). These cars i believe are up there with the best in the world.

    Just a quick note, The new Ford Ranger, to be released this year or next, im not sure, Is completely designed in Australia, Its good to see that people all over the world will get a chance to see what ford australia is all about. Lets just hope it doesnt turn out to be another EA fail!! (that was a joke for all the aussies out there)

    Up the Falcons!!!

  10. i will give several hundred dollars for one car since they can not sell it and it is better than nothing and they are ahead of the game.

  11. I don’t mind importing cars from other countries, but I prefer to see more American built American cars sold here in the USA. That means both the USA *and* Canada. That being said, if we *have* to import from anywhere, I’d rather see a car built in Australia than China. If we have to spend a little more, so be it, but I’d rather buy good quality than cheap quality. And besides, I want to support Australian workers.

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