General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy even after borrowing billions from the government to keep the lights on.Then the same government paid consumers up to $4,500 to swap their clunker for a new car.
And all the while, Chrysler employees had to trade their German lessons for Italian when Fiat took control.
Most analysts expect 2010 to show modest recovery, moving from sales of 10 million vehicles plus change to 11 million plus change in 2011. But that's still off the 16 million to 17 million annual sales that kept things humming only a few years ago.
The best cure for the sales blahs is hardware, and there's plenty for the new year: MKT, Lincoln's version of the Ford Flex; Kia Forte and Soul; Nissan Cube; Hyundai Genesis coupe; Porsche Panamera; Volvo XC60; Toyota 4Runner; BMW Z4; Audi S4 and Q5; Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe; and Suzuki Kizashi to name a few.
Even with that, here are the ones to watch:
1. Buick LaCrosse: After a total remake, it will serve as flagship of the Buick lineup (Lucerne is gone in 2011). First in a series of midsize and compact sedans and crossovers coming to attract younger buyers and boost sales by more than 100,000 units.
2. Chevrolet Equinox: Redesigned compact crossover with a choice of frontor all-wheel drive and a 4-cylinder (32 mpg highway) or V-6 is aimed squarely at the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
3. Ford Taurus: A major redesign with curvy sheet metal similar to its hit styling in the '80s and '90s. Remember when it was the topselling car? Add an Eco- Boost 3.5-liter, 365-hp V-6 with the muscle of a V-8, but only in the high-performance AWD SHO for now.
4. Ford Mustang: First design upgrade for the coupe and convertible since the 2005 model year retro remake. The goal: to cool off the red-hot Chevrolet Camaro.
5. Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan hybrids: The midsize five-passenger sedans hold the family as well as their luggage, and hold their own with the Toyota Camry and Chevy Malibu gas/electrics.
6. Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon: Low-volume but vital for conquests: General Motors says each one sold takes one away from Mercedes, BMW or Volvo wagons -- on their home turf too.
7. Honda Crosstour/Acura ZDX: Expect the Accord-based Crosstour to offer AWD to reel in those leaving SUVs for the better ride and mileage of a crossover. Ditto the sportier ZDK, derived from MDX, with its 3.7-liter, 300-hp V-6.
8. Jeep Grand Cherokee: Until the Fiat cavalry arrives, this remake of the big 4WD Jeep that combines off-road toughness with luxury appointments, due out next summer as a 2011 model, will have to hold down the fort.
9. Lexus HS250h/RX450h: Two hybrids: One, a sedan packing Lexus' first 4-cylinder engine. The other, the gas/electric version of the luxury automaker's standard-bearer. Both top 30 mpg.
10. Lexus IS250C: Hardtop convertible with 2.5-liter, 204-hp 4 or a 3.5-liter, 306- hp V-6 that, like domestics, recognizes some people are more concerned with mph than mpg.