Here’s how Breaking Bad helped ‘ugliest car ever’ go from flop to icon

  • The Pontiac Aztek was launched in 2001 
  • It was a commercial flop and branded one of the ‘ugliest’ cars ever made 
  • The Aztek had a huge surge in popularity more than a decade after it appeared in Breaking Bad

Published on Jun 26, 2024 at 7:50 AM (UTC+4)
by Claire Reid

Last updated on Jun 26, 2024 at 3:48 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

Breaking Bad helped turn a major motoring flop – the Pontiac Aztek – into an iconic and popular car. 

Launched back in 2001, the Aztek SUV was a pretty divisive car right from the get-go. 

If we were being kind, we could say the Pontiac designers opted for a controversial look for the car. 

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The Pontiac Aztek was not a popular choice 

If we were being less kind, we could point out that it hit the top spot in a 2008 poll of the 100 Ugliest Cars of all time.

And it was named one of the 50 worst cars of all time by automotive journalist Dan Neil. 

Neil didn’t hold back when it came to explaining why the car found itself on the list. 

He claimed that people like cars that ‘look like us’ and pointed out that the Aztek ‘violated’ this rule. 

“With its multiple eyes and supernumerary nostrils, the Aztek looks deformed and scary, something that dogs bark at and cathedrals employ to ring bells,” he said. 

As well as upsetting Neil, the car was a commercial flop. 

Initial sales forecasts suggested as many as 75,000 of the cars would sell each year. This turned out to be extremely optimistic. In 2002 – the Aztek’s strongest year of sales – it managed to sell just 27,793. 

In August 2005, General Motors pulled the plug on the Aztek and it was replaced by the Pontiac Torrent. 

Things turned around when the car featured in Breaking Bad 

And it was all but forgotten about until 2008 when a new crime drama – Breaking Bad – burst onto our screens. 

The wildly popular show starred Bryan Cranston as Walter White – a high-school chemistry teacher turned meth manufacturer.

Fans may remember that family man Walter used to run around in a Pontiac Aztek. 

I mean, the Aztek does look exactly like the sort of car a high-school chemistry teacher would drive, doesn’t it?

In fact, the car-casting was so spot on, it even earned itself a spot on Jalopnik’s list of ‘best car casting in movies and TV’. 

“An unloved, early SUV from a dead brand is a perfect fit,” the article explained. 

Not only was it a good fit, but it also helped the car gain a bit of popularity. 

More than a decade after it was blasted by Pulitzer prize-winner Neil, the Aztek had a resurgence. 

In 2015, the Aztek was ranked sixth among U.S. used car buyers aged 18 to 34, with car shopping site Edmunds, crediting the ‘Breaking Bad Effect’ for making the car cool for the first time. 

And it was all thanks to Walter White.

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Claire Reid

Claire Reid is a journalist who hails from the UK but is now living in New Zealand. She began her career after graduating with a degree in Journalism from Liverpool John Moore’s University and has more than a decade of experience, writing for both local newspapers and national news sites. Across her career she's covered a wide variety of topics, including celebrity, cryptocurrency, politics, true crime and just about everything in between.