Wrong time, wrong place cars

Good ideas don’t always work in the car industry. Here are five innovative models that just didn’t take off in the way expected. - By Graham Hope

24w ago

Car companies spend inordinate amounts of time researching and developing new models in the hope they can create a winner. But despite this, they don’t always get things right. The industry is littered with hard-luck stories of cars that seemed like they had that magical X-factor, but for whatever reason didn’t make the impact anticipated.

Some boasted technology that was ahead of its time. Others were good ideas, badly executed. And there are those that are only now getting the recognition they deserve. They are, in effect, the cars that were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. While they didn’t succeed, here are five that are worth recalling regardless.

General Motors EV1

With all the major car companies now embracing electrification wholeheartedly, it’s easy to forget that it was General Motors that was the first manufacturer to launch a purpose-built EV way back in the Nineties. The EV1, which was produced and leased between 1996 and 1999, was created after the US state of California insisted that auto companies would have to offer zero-emissions cars to continue to sell their more conventional models there. And the EV1 was well received, even though a real-world range of 70 miles looks a little short in today’s terms. But it was expensive for GM to produce and maintain, and when California’s decree was successfully challenged in court, the plug was pulled on the car. If you want to know more on the EV1, check out the fascinating documentary Who Killed The Electric Car? available on streaming platforms.

Audi A2

Sometimes innovation and bravery don’t pay off. That was certainly the case for the A2, arguably the first-ever ‘premium’ supermini and blessed with a radical design and groundbreaking construction. Built using aluminium, to keep weight down, it tipped the scales at around the 800kg mark, offering obvious benefits in fuel consumption. Inside, it was defiantly more upmarket than conventional superminis, reaffirming the desire to “create a small Audi, not a cheap one.” But this drove the cost up and it found itself massively outsold by the infinitely less appealing first-generation Mercedes A-Class. However, enthusiasts’ affection for the A2 remains strong and even now, 21 years after launch, you can still find decent examples in the small ads for around £2,000.

Infiniti FX

Love ’em or hate ’em, coupe-SUVs are here to stay and it is the first-generation BMW X6 of 2008 which is widely credited – or blamed, depending on your point of view – for creating the sector. But some would argue that the true pioneer was launched six years earlier, in the shape of the Infiniti FX. At the time, there was nothing else that even attempted to blend both the design and characteristics of an SUV and a sports car, and even today it is a more plausible looking model than some of the current crop of coupé-SUVs. Somehow, though, Infiniti failed to capitalise on its unique styling and in 2016, then executive design director Alfonso Albaisa lamented: “After the FX, we didn’t really build on the energy of it and there didn’t seem to be a consistency.” The brand quit Western Europe earlier this year.

Pontiac Aztek

Bear with us on this one. Yes, it’s a wildcard in this company. And yes, the styling at best could be described as ‘unconventional’. Upon its unveiling at the 2000 Detroit Motor Show, the design caused one respected journalist of the era to proclaim: “It could not have been more instantly hated if it had a swastika on its forehead.” But there was some method in the US brand’s madness, because, in hindsight, the formula of a compact car with polarising SUV looks targeting younger drivers is actually a pretty sound one, as Nissan has discovered with the Juke. It wasn’t to be for the Aztek, though, and it fell by the wayside in 2005.

Honda Insight

There’s an argument that the Insight doesn’t deserve to be on this list because in theory it’s been in exactly the right place at the right time to capitalise on the world’s growing demand for greener hybrid vehicles over the past 20 years. For much of that time, though, it was a two-way fight for supremacy, and standing tall in the opposite corner was the Toyota Prius, delivering knockout blow after knockout blow in the sales charts. So it was the wrong place, wrong time, after all for the Insight. While the second-generation model wasn’t a bad car when viewed in isolation, it trailed the Toyota in a number of key areas – in particular fuel economy – ensuring as ‘Prius’ became a byword for hybrid, the Insight remained little more than an afterthought.

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Comments (7)

  • The A2 is actually pretty cool. I’d never want one but it’s cool they exist.

      5 months ago
    • I used to own one and I must say it was not nice to own, but it was amazing that it still looked modern.

        5 months ago
  • You could also add the Matra Simca Rancho to this list as it was technically a early version of a non 4wd SUV which is something that is common today with the small SUV cars

      5 months ago
    • The whole faux-SUV thing is a weird one. Exactly when did it take off? Rover released the Streetwise in the early 2000s, similar in concept to the Matra and people didn't get it then. It was very much a case of why get that when you can get a...

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        5 months ago
  • I had to drive an insight from the car dealer I worked at to a different one to swap it for a golf we wanted, 100 miles or so and it was my first experience of a hybrid, apart from the annoying transmission I thought it was pretty pleasant, nice light interior, decent comfort and great economy for the time. I would have had one over the contemporary Prius.

      5 months ago
  • I like Honda Insight. It looks better more compact than Prius.

      5 months ago
  • Hardly a case of “Wrong time, wrong place” for the EVs, oil cartels with their overt fuel subsidies and unscrupulous profiteering led us to where we are today. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      5 months ago