Promises, Promises: Ten Cars We Keep Waiting (and Waiting) For

Taste is a fickle thing. What’s cool today is lame tomorrow. Few things vex automakers more than this aspect of human nature, because new and even updated cars can take years to reach showrooms while the instant gratification generation loses interest. The following are perfect examples of the trouble automakers find themselves in.

These vehicles are as much rumor as they are fact. They’ve been rumored, alluded to, teased, promised, and delayed more times than we can recall, and have achieved a nearly mythical status that often evokes guffaws and cries of “I’ll believe it when I see it” from our staff. Whether the pet project of an executive, the demand of a vocal group of hardcore fans, or a technology that just isn’t viable yet, all of these vehicles have managed to hang around in limbo for years, feeding fans’ hopes and driving everyone else nuts. In no particular order, we present 10 of the longest-running broken promises in the automotive industry today.

Tesla Model S

After a string of high-profile growing pains, things have gone quiet over at Tesla. The company is working furiously to get its Model S electric sedan (pictured above) to showrooms by 2012. This might not seem like an unrealistic goal, until you consider the fact that Tesla doesn’t even have a factory to build the car in yet. The company is rumored to be deciding between three empty factories in the Los Angeles area that it would have to retrofit before ever beginning production, a process that’s estimated to require nearly two years working around the clock. Add to that the fact that the company hasn’t yet revealed a production-intent model of the car, and it’s not hard to believe that the Model S will miss its big dance number.

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Mahindra & Mahindra Pickup

Though known globally for its rugged, inexpensive small trucks and SUVs, India’s Mahindra & Mahindra is completely unknown in the U.S. and looks to stay that way for a while. The company has been promising to bring its diesel pickup here since 2007 with tentative launch dates in 2009 continually pushed back. We hear now that the company is hoping to get trucks in dealers by December, but we’re not holding our breath, since we heard the same thing this time last year. We can only hope for the best for the shuttered Chrysler dealers who signed on as Mahindra dealers and are still awaiting product.

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Global Ford Ranger

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the current Ford Ranger. It’s just ancient. The current model has been on the road more than a decade with only minor updates, and is long overdue for a replacement. When we’ll get one, though, is anybody’s guess. Global markets have had updated Rangers for years and we’ve spotted the latest redesign out testing more times than we can count. While it’s obvious that Ford is working on a new Ranger, we have no idea when it will actually see our showrooms, if ever. Of course, if the F-100 project rises from the dead, we may never see the next Ranger, but at this point we’re not sure which of those scenarios is less likely.

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Tata Nano

The world’s cheapest car costs the rough equivalent of $2000, and if Indian manufacturing powerhouse Tata has its way, you’ll see one in the U.S. Of course, for that to happen, Tata will need to catch up with Indian market demand first. Delays, cost overruns, and the relocation of the primary factory all put the Nano behind schedule, but it’s finally on the streets of India, glued-on rear hatch and all. And it’s catching fire. Tata’s got a recall out for some faulty wiring that’s led to several car fires, and even without that issue there’s serious concern that the little bean-shaped car wouldn’t meet U.S. crash standards anyway.

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Re-Badged Ram Pickup

First it was Nissan that wanted in on the Ram pickup’s act. Building the Titan in-house wasn’t especially cost-effective for Nissan considering its low volume, so Nissan made a deal with Chrysler to build a new Titan that would essentially be a re-skinned and re-badged Ram. The project was on and off for some time until Chrysler entered bankruptcy and put the kibosh on the whole affair. With Nissan out of the way, word has it that Hyundai is sniffing around Auburn Hills looking for a Ram with a shiny Hyundai badge on it. Chrysler reportedly said no to that request, but it doesn’t matter since Hyundai’s issued an official press release denying any pickup plans for the “foreseeable future.” Nissan, meanwhile, has decided to press on with the Titan on its own.

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GM RWD Large Car

We can probably thank former VP of Awesome Bob Lutz for this one, along with his replacement Mark Reuss. Both are big proponents of Holden and the work they’ve been doing down under, particularly on the Zeta large passenger car platform. After the Aussie-based Pontiac GTO flopped, they tried again with the Zeta-based Pontiac G8 only to see the brand put out to pasture. Still, they did get the Chevrolet Camaro built on the Zeta platform, but it’s said to be migrating to another platform with its first redesign. With the G8 gone, rumors continue to fly around GM fan sites of RWD Impalas, Buicks, and other large GM cars. Lutz fanned the flames before his departure, but now that he’s left the building, we’re not holding our breath.

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Porsche/Volkswagen Small Roadster

A few years back, Volkswagen unveiled the surprisingly cool Concept BlueSport Roadster, a diesel-powered, mid-engine, two-seat sports car that promised a happy compromise between fuel efficiency and sportiness. Most everyone loved the idea, but it didn’t get enough love from VW brass to hit the streets. Then the whole Porsche/Volkswagen takeover debacle occurred, and suddenly there were rumors of a joint project between the companies, a la the old Porsche/Volkswagen 914. Word has it Porsche is looking for a new entry-level car below the Boxster, and sharing it with Volkswagen would seriously curtail the bill. The car’s been stuck in rumor phase ever since, and we don’t see it coming out any time soon.

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A Viable Hydrogen-Powered Car

Sure, GM and Honda have built small fleets of hydrogen fuel-cell cars, and Mazda’s tricked a couple of its cars into burning the stuff straight up, but none of them has much of a prayer of mass production. Hydrogen remains expensive to harvest, volatile to store and use, and lacks anything even resembling a refueling infrastructure that could be used by more than a handful of enthusiastic early adopters in Southern California. Though the technology is impressive, it’s likely to be forgotten as battery-powered and range-extended cars like the Chevrolet Volt take to the market, what with their ability to take advantage of the massive electrical infrastructure in the U.S.

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Any Car from a Chinese Automaker

China has dozens upon dozens of automakers in its home market, but only a few have a shot at becoming real powerhouses like their international brethren. The frontrunners, in a bid to expand their reach into what is now the second-largest car market in the world, have all declared they’ll bring their cars to the U.S., and soon. Geely, Chery, and BYD have all made and broken this promise more times than we care to recall, and they show no signs of slowing down. BYD even shows up in Detroit every year promising to bring its cars to our shores in the near future. While we don’t doubt that a Chinese car will someday be offered in the U.S. market, we aren’t planning any comparison tests yet.

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The Entire Alfa Romeo Lineup

After an embarrassing withdrawal from the U.S. market in 1995, Alfa fans have pined over the possibility of a reintroduction. The legendary Italian automaker teased us with a small number of 8C Competizione supercars a few years back, but ever since the promise of Alfa’s triumphant return has been a string of broken promises. Things looked bleak until last year when Fiat, Alfa’s parent company, took control of bankrupt Chrysler. Alfa’s back! Or is it? The brand’s return has continued to fluctuate ever since the merger and its status has changed twice already in 2010 alone. For now, the plan is to have Alfas in U.S. showrooms in 2012, but we expect that story to change a few more times before then.

Honorable Mentions:

Toyota/Subaru FT-86, Carbon E7, Dodge Viper replacement, Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, Fisker Karma, Hummer H4, Dodge Hornet/subcompact car and nearly every electric car start-up and cottage supercar-maker out there.

By Scott Evans