A silver 2022 Chevy Bolt EUV is shown parked in a driveway near a modern home.

2021 Review: Big Brands Struggled with Big Releases

For anyone who watches the auto industry, 2020 seemed like a strange and difficult year (it was for pretty much everyone) – but then 2021 said, “Hold my beer,” and went completely off the deep end. There was so much going on this year that it was hard to keep up – the auto industry was simultaneously booming and struggling, with dealerships having huge numbers of customers and very few cars to actually sell them. In the midst of this, we also got to see some of the worst model releases in recent history.

While there are plenty of straight-up bad cars, trucks, and SUVs available for sale this year, what’s even more memorable are the ways that major releases for the auto industry flopped with all of the grace and elegance of a sumo wrestler rolling off a high dive. What’s truly remarkable is that a year ago, these were all being majorly hyped as models to watch this year, and they were poised to set the industry aflame. Instead, they hit like a wet noodle – or literally set people’s homes and vehicles aflame!

A family is shown charging a grey 2021 Chevy Bolt EV in a garage.

Chevy Bolt Causes More Fires Than Actual Lightning Bolts

This was supposed to be a banner year for the Chevy Bolt: not only did Chevy update the baseline Bolt EV, but they also released a new Bolt EUV model built on the same platform, but with a larger SUV design. Twelve months ago, everyone was talking about how this dual release was going to put Chevy into a great position to be a major player in the growing EV market. Even earlier this year, the buzz was incredibly strong for this release. So what happened?

Fires, that’s what happened. To be specific, Chevy Bolt EV models from previous years started catching on fire – but that didn’t actually start this year. The first Bolt EV fire was about two years ago, toward the end of 2019, with a number of additional fires reported in the spring and summer of 2020. But Chevy quickly deflected these issues by having drivers set some limits to their vehicles and then saying the problem was solved with a software update.

But the problem wasn’t solved – even vehicles that had received the update started catching on fire this year, and things quickly fell apart for Chevy. Eventually, after trying every other option, Chevy finally did the right thing and issued a recall on all Chevy Bolt models, including the latest EV and EUV models just released this year. It’s not a great look for Chevy that ultimately makes it seem like they care more about passing the buck rather than helping their customers ensure their vehicles and homes won’t burst into flames.

It’s especially stupefying because they’re really not at fault – the company that made the batteries seems to be pretty clearly to blame here. They’ve had issues with batteries and fires with other vehicles too, so it’s not just on Chevy. The difference is that in that other instance, the car company was quick to immediately issue a recall and replace the batteries, whereas Chevy tried to use a software fix that was clearly never going to work. So instead of Chevy ending the year as the champions of EV development, they’re now the poster child for what not to do when someone else’s product causes your car to catch fire.

A red, an orange, and a blue 2021 Ford Bronco are shown parked in a desert area.

Ford Bronco Stays in Its Stable

Oh, Ford; in what seems to be a race with Chevy to see who can mess up a slam dunk more spectacularly, Ford really botched the release of the all-new Bronco. When it was first announced, the Ford Bronco seemed ready to take the world by storm. Ford fans had been hoping to see the Bronco badge make a comeback for decades, and when they first teased it, they definitely had all of the momentum. Then they started to fumble things at every turn.

First, there was the date they set for the reveal of the Bronco and all of the info about it: OJ Simpson’s birthday! If you’re older than 20, then the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “Ford Bronco” is probably the OJ Simpson murder trial and the infamous low-speed chase on the freeway. The one thing I assume Ford wanted with the rebirth of the Bronco was to get all of the attention on it and leave Simpson in the past – then they did the complete opposite and ensured every news story about the Bronco also mentioned OJ.

Once they got past that initial debacle, then everything seemed good. The reveal went well, people were excited, and it looked like the Bronco would be the new king of the off-road market. And then the delays hit. At this point, I’ve pretty much lost count of the delays on the Ford Bronco – especially since we’re still in one, even though they have started hitting the road for some lucky customers.

There were production issues at every turn – including the chip shortage, of course – as well as problems getting the hardtop for the Bronco manufactured. So even after all of the delays, people who ordered the nicest version of the Bronco, with the most expensive top, were left waiting throughout another delay. The cherry on this sundae of disappointment was that several hundred Broncos have already been recalled due to issues with the airbags, which need to be replaced. Keep up the great work, Ford!

A red 2021 Subaru Forester is shown from the side driving on a road in a woodsy area.

Subaru Can’t See the Forester for the Trees

Honestly, compared to the struggles of Chevy and Ford, Subaru isn’t in the worst shape, but I couldn’t avoid mentioning them because that subject line is just too good. The Subaru Forester has a fair number of people pretty excited and looking to get one this year, which would be great for Subaru if they could actually meet demand and deliver their vehicles. Thanks to the great microchip shortage of 2021, however, that’s easier said than done – Subaru has had to shut down its factories several times due to a lack of chips.

This has resulted in what should’ve been an easy win for Subaru, turning into a pretty big disappointment for a lot of their customers. While the chip shortage is hitting the entire industry, it’s particularly rough for Subaru since they were in great shape to make the Forester a major success this year. I’ll admit that it’s certainly not as bad as numerous car fires or endless delays like Ford had – but it’s still been a less-than-ideal year for Subaru.

2021 Bottom Line: All Dip, No Chips

In general, just about every new vehicle release this year has been affected and overshadowed by the microchip shortage hitting the auto industry. Of course, this isn’t just a problem for car manufacturers – pretty much every manufacturer of electronics is feeling the sting from the chip shortage. But car manufacturers were particularly bad about downplaying how serious this problem was and pretending everything would be just fine.

At the beginning of the year, executives at The Big Three were pretty loudly talking about how the whole thing would be over halfway through 2021 and wouldn’t result in major problems. Just a few months later, of course, they were shutting down factories for weeks at a time due to lack of microchips, delaying vehicle releases and deliveries, and building vehicles that don’t function because they’re sitting around waiting for chips. There was even talk about sending these models to dealerships and then sending the chips to them once the manufacturers got them so the dealer could install them.

Meanwhile, people who actually know what they’re talking about have gone on record saying this chip shortage will last well into next year and perhaps even into the start of 2023. They were saying this six months ago when the auto industry was trying to convince us this wasn’t a big deal. In other words: car releases in 2022 could be equally entertaining and problematic, so grab some popcorn (because there aren’t enough chips) and get ready for the show!