From Volkswagen’s cheating devices to the worst concept cars of the year

Needless to say, 2016 has been a great year for cars. It brought us cool sports cars such as the Acura NSX, Mercedes-AMG GT R, and McLaren 570GT, a more powerful, turbocharged Porsche Cayman, and a brand-new Chevy Camaro ZL1. We’ve also received the Ferrari 488 GTB, the Ford GT, and the Bugatti Chiron, and this list only includes the performance category. However, much like any year since the beginning of the automobile, 2016 also spawned less fortunate vehicles and events.

Having already selected the best cars of 2016 that we wanted under the Christmas tree and having covered the safest cars of the year, as well as created a list of cool things to expect from the automotive world in 2017, it’s time to have a closer look at the biggest disasters of the year.

My list includes events that have already began to reshape the auto industry, such as the "Dieselgate" scandal, unfortunate events that might slow down the development of certain technologies (think Tesla’s Autopilot-related crashes), car brands that had a terrible year, and the concept cars that disappointed us the most. Check out my choices below and let me know if I missed anything in the comments box at the end of the article.

Continue reading for the full story.

The "Dieselgate" Scandal

Granted, the "Dieselgate" scandal broke out in in September 2015, but the final conclusions of the investigation in both North America and Europe surfaced in 2016. This year also brought us soild information about which engines feature emission cheating devices as well as details about what Volkswagen is planning to do to get things right. Investigations were launched in several countries around the world, including those in the European Union, the United States, Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, and Canada. In the U.S., where about 600,000 owners are affected by the emissions scandal, Volkswagen has already launched compensation packages in the form of cash, buybacks, repairs, or replacement cars. On October 25, 2016, a final settlement was approved, with about 475,000 Volkswagen owners to choose between a buyback or a free fix and compensation, if a repair becomes available. Buybacks reportedly range in value from $12,475 to $44,176, including restitution payments, and vary based on the mileage of the car in question. People who opt for a fix approved by the EPA will receive payouts ranging from $5,100 to $9,852, depending on the book value of their car. The German company will also pay $2.7 billion for environmental mitigation and another $2 billion for clean-emissions infrastructure. Additionally, Volkswagen agreed to pay more than $10 million to settle various public and private civil actions in the country.

Volkswagen Diesel Scandal Explained
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"Dieselgate" will haunt VW for years to come, but it should teach a valuable lesson that cheating isn't an option.

In Europe, government regulatory agencies and investigators have initiated proceedings in more than ten countries and prompted the European Union to establish a federal authority to oversee car emissions. Although precise settlements have yet to be announced, the "Dieselgate" scandal will bring a new, stricter testing procedure for automobiles that will come into play in 2017. Also, several governments tested vehicles from different automakers only to discover that more than 80 percent of production cars are not compliant to current regulations, with some emitting up to 17 times more than allowed. What’s more, some European automakers believe that diesel cars will become significantly more expensive with re-engineered drivetrains and companies may no longer be able to keep them competitive compared to gasoline vehicles. On the flipside, the "Dieselgate" scandal has prompted many carmakers to speed up development of electric motors and batteries, while both electric car and hybrid sales are on the rise.

All told, the emissions scandal did a lot of damage to Volkswagen’s global image and gave rise to concern that automakers aren’t exactly ethical in their goals to reach global domination. "Dieselgate" will haunt VW for years to come, but it should teach a valuable lesson that cheating isn’t an option and the penalties for these kind of actions can be a lot more expensive than developing drivetrains that actually comply to the latest emissions regulations.

Tesla Autopilot Fatalities

Tesla has made a lot of positive headlines with its Model S and Model X electric vehicles in recent years, but 2016 wasn’t exactly fortunate for the American automaker, with the Autopilot feature being responsible for a few serious crashes. First introduced in October 2014, the Autopilot got a series of updates through 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Tesla removed some self-driving features to discourage customers from engaging in risky behavior and not paying attention to the road. Able to drive the car by itself, but still not usable in full autonomy on public roads due to current government regulations, the Autopilot system has fallen under a lot of scrutiny starting in May 2016, when a driver was killed in a crash with a 18-wheel semi truck after a self-driving Model S failed to apply the brakes.

Tesla Autopilot Could be at Fault for Fatal Crash After All
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Although it did not slow down Tesla sales or alter the company's image dramatically, more and more people are questioning the Autopilot system's ability to drive a car.

Later on, two more accidents involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot occurred in Pennsylvania and Montana. Although in both cases Tesla said that the vehicle logs show that the drivers ignored several alerts to take control of the vehicles before the crashes, Elon Musk’s company received a lot of heat for the lack of dependability of the Autopilot system. Two more crashes followed in Switzerland and China, where Tesla’s on Autopilot crashed into other vehicles on the road.

In August 2016, reports from China claimed that the first fatality in a Tesla was not the crash in Florida, but an accident in China in January 2016. The report came with a dash cam video that showed the Model S drive at full speed into a truck, killing the driver. The police found no sign that the vehicle applied the brakes before hitting the truck and news reports claimed that the Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident. However, Tesla was unable to obtain data logs from the car because of the extensive damage caused by the collision. Although these events did not slow down Tesla sales or alter the company’s image dramatically, more and more people are questioning the Autopilot system’s ability to actually drive a car at any given time.

Needless to say, 2016 was the year of semi-autonomous technology with many carmakers launching production models with new features, but things aren’t exactly smooth as far as the future of fully autonomous driving is concerned.

Worst Car Brands of the Year

Mitsubishi

It’s no secret that Mitsubishi Motors isn’t doing well, but things have taken a turn for the worse in 2016. Having ended production in Australia in 2008, in Europe in 2012, and in North America in 2015, Mitsubishi continued to sell cars on these continents, but its product lineup got smaller and smaller. With the Lancer already discontinued, Mitsubishi now has only four nameplates on offer in the United States: the Outlander and Outlander Sport crossovers, the Mirage hatchback (alongside the Mirage G4 sedan), and i-MiEV small electric car. Making matters worse, both the i-MiEV and Mirage have poor safety ratings and are among the least protective vehicles you can buy for 2017. Both made our "Worst Deathtraps of 2016 and 2017" list here.

2017 Mitsubishi Mirage
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It's no secret that Mitsubishi Motors isn't doing well, but things have taken a turn for the worse in 2016.

As if having a very small lineup to build on wasn’t enough, Mitsubishi was also involved in a big fuel mileage scandal this year. Late in April 2016, Nissan, which has its Asian-spec microcars built by Mitsubishi, revealed that the Japanese company had been boosting its official fuel economy ratings by up to 10 perfect by overinflating tires during testing. Within a week, Mitsubishi admitted it was cheating and said it has been doing so since 1991. The company’s market value dropped by around 50 percent and president Tetsuro Aikawa resigned. The scandal resulted in Nissan securing a 34-percent controlling stake in the company. The latter is arguably the best news Mitsubishi has received in the last decade.

The Entire FCA Corporation

Established in 2014 when Fiat purchased the Chrysler Group, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobile) owns most Italian automobile brands, including Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati, and Abarth, as well as American companies Dodge, Jeep, Ram Trucks, and Mopar. Although the group sold 4.6 million vehicles and posted at net profit of €2 billion (about $2.1 billion as of December 2016) in 2015, things aren’t as good as these figures suggest. Although sales numbers for 2016 aren’t yet available, you can tell that FCA isn’t doing very good based on the latest ratings coming from Consumer Reports.

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No fewer than four companies owned by the FCA have made the Consumer Report's "10 Worst Car Brands for 2016.

For example, no fewer than four companies owned by the FCA have made the outlet’s "10 Worst Car Brands for 2016" report. What’s more, all four are among the top six. Dodge is listed sixth with a worse than average predicted reliability rating and only 17 percent of its models recommended by the organization. Chrysler, the premium-oriented American brand of FCA, is the fifth worse brand of 2016 without a single model that could be recommended and a worse than average predicted reliability rating. Jeep and Fiat are in the same waters, but because of their inferior road test score, they sit higher in the list, taking second and first position, respectively. Not exactly flattering.

But wait, there’s more. Four of FCA’s vehicles have also made it on CR’s "7 Cars Owners Regret Buying." First on the list is the Jeep Compass, described as having "lackluster performance, a cramped and austere cabin, narrow front seats, and difficult rearward views. Next up is the Dodge Dart, criticized for "sluggish acceleration," "multiple mechanical problems," and for sounding like the "engine is going to die when the A/C is turned on." The Chrysler 200, which was supposed to bring the company into a new era, also made the list due to "clumsy handling, an unsettled ride, an underwhelming base four-cylinder engine," and excessive road noise inside the cabin. Finally, the once popular Dodge Grand Caravan is now a regrettable decision due to a transmission that shifts roughly, uncomfortable second-row seats, and an overall cheap-looking interior."

Concept Cars That Really Sucked

2016 brought an impressive number of concept cars into the spotlight, and while some were fantastic in terms of design and technology, others were just fancied-up versions of their production counterparts.

Mitsubishi ASX Geoseek

2016 Mitsubishi ASX Geoseek Concept
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One such example is the ASX Geoseek, which was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. Based on the production ASX, Mitsubishi’s European variant of the Outlander, the Geoseek concept is actually a stock crossover with a unique exterior livery, some interior trim, and a rack on the roof. Not much of a concept, right? Well, maybe this is why Mitsubishi is struggling to survive in just about every market around the world...

Read the full review here.

Volkswagen Passat GT

2016 Volkswagen Passat GT Concept High Resolution Exterior
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Unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Passat GT was a pathetic attempt to inject some sportiness in the old and dated U.S.-spec Passat. Although it looks a little sportier thanks to its revised fascia, red stripes across the nose, and lowered ride height, the aggressive appearance isn’t backed by a tweaked drivetrain. At that pretty much makes it a glorified standard Passat.

Read the full review here.

The awful, engraved Subaru WRX STi

This Year's SEMA Show Had Some Crazy Builds on Display
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Granted, this one wasn’t made by Subaru, but it deserves a place on this list for being the most tacky concept car I’ve seen in a very long time. I have nothing against the blue wheels wrapped in low-profile tires, the beefed up fenders, or even the chrome finish of the body, but the engraved detailing doesn’t work on a WRX STi. I could definitely see it on a vintage Rolls-Royce owned by some royalty from the Middle-East, but this Suby looks rather ridiculous.

Read the full review here.

LeEco LeSee no-show launch

2016 LeEco LeSee Concept
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No, there’s nothing wrong with the LeSee concept, which promises to give the Tesla Model S a run for its money with its powerful electric battery and autonomous drive, but the fact that LeEco didn’t bring the actual working prototype to its official unveiling in San Francisco makes it the perfect candidate for my list. Sure, the car was stuck in London filming its appearance in "Transformers V: The Last Knight" rather than laying around unfinished in a garage, but its no-show U.S. reveal was disappointing to say the least.

Read the full review here.

Mercedes-Maybach Vision 6

2016 Mercedes-Maybach Vision 6
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Introduced at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Mercedes-Maybach Vision 6 is the most spectacular Maybach concept since the Exelero and one of the best designs Mercedes has created recently. What’s it doing on this list you ask? Well, when the Vision 6 broke cover I honestly believed that Maybach will finally get its first modern-day coupe and that the concept car would serve as inspiration. A few months later and Mercedes unveiled a two-door Maybach, but instead of coming up with a wild-looking coupe that would give the most expensive Rolls-Royces and Bentleys a run for their money, it gave us a rebadged, fancied-up Mercedes S-Class Convertible. So yeah, the Vision 6 isn’t bad as a concept, but the fact that it wasn’t used as inspiration for a production car is just terrible.

Read the full review here.

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