Imagine someone regularly making a fortune on the things you throw away.
I'm not talking banana peels and recycled plastic containers out of the garbage can; more like how you might feel about the person who happily, enthusiastically marries your ex after you couldn't make the relationship work.
It might be kind of galling, right? (Unless you're pretty evolved emotionally and just want your ex to be happy. But that's a subject for a different column.) With that in mind, go wander about for a bit on a site like Autotrader or Bringatrailer.com and check out the current astronomical asking prices for yesterday's castoffs, the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Hummer H1.
Let's start with the Hummer because it's probably easier to explain.
The civilian version of the armed forces' replacement for the Jeep captured the public imagination in 1992 after the military version's starring role in the Gulf War. From the get-go, the H1 wasn't just over the top in terms of design and abilities. In fact, it laughed - Schwarzenegger-like - as it ran over other vehicles that were considered over the top in that era. It was largely unstoppable, with certain modifications, and that made it valuable to a certain kind of, shall we say, "unsubtle" customer.
The H1 was also, of course, a horrible vehicle that was never intended for widespread public use, with limited visibility, a monstrously large central tunnel and what might most generously be described as the antithesis of modern NVH. Yet it remains wildly popular in used-vehicle markets, commanding in certain instances six-figure prices. Production was limited to just over 11,800 vehicles during its 14-year civilian production run. It was made to be nearly indestructible, and it remains a cultural touchstone of that era, for good or ill.
Which brings us to the FJ Cruiser.
Conceived as a modern homage to Toyota's ultra-rugged FJ40 and shepherded by Akio Toyoda in the early part of the millennium, the FJ Cruiser debuted to rave reviews at the 2003 Detroit auto show and made it into production for the 2006 model year. "The FJ Cruiser was developed as a basic, capable and affordable off-roader aimed specifically at serious off-roaders looking to push the limits," the automaker said.
With parts and performance specs pulled from vehicles such as the Tacoma and 4Runner, the FJ made a name for itself in off-road circles over the years but maybe lacked the all-out, off-street cred of the original FJ40.
For all of its great exterior design, the FJ Cruiser's cabin was probably compromised by cost cutting. Especially as it grew long in the tooth, the FJ Cruiser's interior didn't measureup to the competition. That's probably why U.S. sales never topped the 56,225 vehicles its first year on the market, 2006, and settled in around 14,000 vehicles a year from 2010 until U.S. sales finally ended in 2014.
Killing off the FJ Cruiser made perfect sense to Toyota in 2014, especially in terms of overall corporate average fuel economy requirements. But looking at the premiums those vehicles command today on the used-vehicle market, it's hard not to wonder whether the ax may have fallen too early.