You’d think that with more than a century’s worth of experience, ultra-sophisticated market research and multi-storey car parks’ worth of failures to look back on, the motor industry would be good at building cars that the public actually wants. But no.
Over the past decade thousands of misguided buyers and disappointed car firm shareholders have been left to survey the wreckage of broken dreams. The first 10 years of this century have turned out an impressive array of machines that have missed all kinds of targets.
Here, we list the worst of them:
Renault Vel Satis
On sale: 2002-2005Price: £21,195-£31,325 Sales target: 3500 annuallySales achieved: 595 peak in 2002, 1404 totalTaking on BMW, Mercedes and Audi is ambitious, taking them on in their heartland is bolder still and doing it with your weaponry compromised is downright reckless. But compromised (to say the least) was the Vel Satis, most obviously by over-sized headlamps and angled, egg-crate grilles that made it look narked, as well it might with its fat rump and back-flipping C-pillars. And this in an era when Renault’s styling was on good form.Verdict: Lumpy looks and a lumpy ride, for both the occupants and its maker.
On sale: 2005-2008Price: £15,745-£19,345Sales target: 5000-6000 annuallySales achieved: 827 peak in 2006, 1386 totalThe best crossovers combine a canny blend of features from various breeds and gift wrap them with a flourish; think Nissan Qashqai or Skoda Yeti. But for an example of how not to do it, remember the 2005 Fiat Croma, a tall estate whose arrival stood out like a raindrop in a thunderstorm. Verdict: Roomy enough to ring with the echo of wailing Fiat execs, but…
On sale: 2005-2008Price: £10,850-£12,600Sales target: 17,000 annuallySales achieved: 3493 peak in 2006, 8036 totalLazy electric rear sliding doors, excess heft, weak engines, cramped rear quarters and a tiny boot punched holes in Peugeot’s hopes for this novel city car, which departed British showrooms after only three years.Verdict: Novel, but tripped up by sensible-shoes styling and a troubled door policy.
On sale: 2003-presentPrice: £263,137-£345,687Sales target: Not revealedSales achieved: 23 peak in 2004, 89 to dateUber-saloon looks like a cross between an S-class and a stretched Rover 75, but without the elegance.Verdict: What happens when beating your rival gets out of hand.
Alfa Romeo Spider
On sale: 2003-presentPrice: £26,895-£32,395Sales target: Not revealed Sales achieved: 746 peak in 2007, 1616 to dateOverweight and underpowered, with a somewhat flexible chassis.Verdict: Sold moderately for two seasons before fading like a firework.
On sale: 2005-2009Price: £13,350-£18,100Sales target: At least 2500 annuallySales achieved: 1853 peak in 2005, 3264 totalThe bustle-booted Toledo was essentially the same car as the Seat Altea, but with a distended rear end whose presence was easy to spot but hard to fathom.Verdict: Painful proof that bigger really isn’t better.
On sale: 2003-2008Price: £17,995-£28,750Sales target: 8000 annuallySales achieved: 5501 peak in 2004, 17,367 total Even Vauxhall struggled to explain what the Signum was for.Verdict: Cars with foggy reasons to exist tend to find few buyers.
On sale: 2007-2009Price: £16,500-£18,400Sales target: Not revealedSales achieved: 732 peak in 2008, 1138 totalThese days there are few truly dire cars out there, but this was one.Verdict: Launched 2007, deleted 2009 - enough already of this abomination.
On sale: 2001-2009Price: £21,558-£32,080Sales target: Not revealedSales achieved: 20,889 peak in 2004, 120,930 totalHampered by a limited range, unconvincing retro styling and the fact that too many people knew it was based on a Ford Mondeo.Verdict: A good idea misguidedly executed on inappropriate hardware. Died in 2009.
On sale: 2002-2007Price: £10,064-£16,995Sales target: Not revealed Sales achieved: 15,166 peak in ’02, 44,507 totalFiat tried to build a Latin Golf with the five-door Stilo, but ended up with an updated Austin Maestro.Verdict: Semi-decent early sales, vanishing like a sandcastle at high tide in 2004
On sale: 2006-presentPrice: £38,780-£42,910Sales target: 1800 annuallySales achieved: 1154 peak in 2006, 3052 to dateToo hulking to appeal to anyone not blessed with a six-lane highway outside their front gate.Verdict: A great big cross-pollination of an idea that failed to germinate.
On sale: 2006-2008Price: £28,595-£33,490Sales target: 1000 annuallySales achieved: 277 peak in 2007, 746 totalA nightmare grille was just one of the B9 Tribeca’s troubles; mediocrity in too many other departments was another. Verdict: That astounding grille couldn’t have helped. Way off target.
On sale: 2002-2006Price: £12,795-£21,850Sales target: 24,000 annuallySales achieved: 13,511 peak in 2002, 47,093 totalInstead of hiding an excellent chassis and powertrain beneath dull, Euro-Nippon styling, Nissan eased back on dynamics and went for a radical look.Verdict: Odd styling helped to kill Nissan’s aspirations in this class
Peugeot 407 Coupe
On sale 2005-currentPrice £18,045-£27,490Sales target: 2500 in 2006Sales achieved: 1250 peak in 2007, 3173 to dateThe 406 Coupé was much admired - the bigger, pricier, edging-towards-ugly 407 Coupé has proved a resounding miss.Verdict: Too big, expensive and not pretty enough to sell like its predecessor.
On sale: 2002-2003Price: £24,050-£28,450Sales target: 1500 annuallySales achieved: 300 peak in 2002, 448 totalRenault truly lived up to its occasional reputation for weird cars with this: a rebodied, two-door Espace with no rear leg room.Verdict: Great, but too bold for its own good. In effect, it was a limited edition.
Smart Roadster/smart Coupe
On sale: 2003-2006Price: £10,030-£17,905Sales target: 7000 combined annuallySales achieved: 3383 peak in 2004, 7449 totalA desperately frustrating automated manual gearbox, a chassis that was set up for understeer and a strangely styled nose doomed an intriguing sportster.Verdict: Snared by high prices and a clunky transmission. Not so smart, then…