Jeep ComancheGONE SINCE: 1993
WHY IT'S TIME: America needs a reasonably sized pickup truck again. We've watched the Toyota Tacoma morph from a smallish truck to something almost as big as a half-ton. Meanwhile, Ford, a brand synonymous with pickups, recently abandoned the segment completely. Jeep is the only brand that can get away with a back-to-basics pickup in its portfolio, and basing the pickup on the next-generation Wrangler makes a ton of sense. The Comanche was affordable, had very respectable payload ratings, and never succumbed to the size creep that essentially killed the small-pickup segment. For a modern interpretation, a turbo four-cylinder from Fiat would give the Comanche enough power to haul cargo without swilling too much gasoline. Keep the options list limited to functional upgrades, and make sure it's offered straight from the assembly line instead of through a complicated Mopar kit, a la JK-8.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The only way to curb America's appetite for oversize trucks is to offer a credible small truck that actually uses less fuel than a full-size.
Alfa Romeo SpiderGONE SINCE:
WHY IT'S TIME: If America is ever to take Alfa Romeo seriously again, it isn't going to be from some front-wheel-drive hatchbacks with pretty styling. It's not going to be from ultraexpensive exotics or from BMW-wannabe sport sedans. And crossovers? Get real. For Americans, the Spider is Alfa Romeo, and any attempt to bring back Alfa that does not feature a two-seat, rear-wheel-drive, rev-happy roadster is doomed to fail. Positioned just above the Mazda Miata but below pricey European roadsters like the BMW Z4 and the Mercedes-Benz SLK, the Spider would reestablish Alfa's credentials as a maker of characterful, fun-to-drive, sporting machines (or simply establish them, for the whole generation of car buyers who never experienced the original Spider). A proper Spider is the basis around which Alfa can expand into higher-volume categories. It's a car we want, but it's also one that Alfa needs.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Message for Sergio Marchionne regarding Alfa Romeo in the United States: It's the Spider, stupid.
Toyota SupraGONE SINCE: 2003 (1999 in the U.S.)
WHY IT'S TIME: Akio Toyoda's vision to redeem his family name is fairly straightforward: build sports cars, reignite passion for the brand, wash away the banality. It all made sense to us -- until the company's four-year collaboration with Subaru to produce a minimalist, 200-hp, rear-wheel-drive coupe ended up as a Scion.With the low end covered by the FR-S, a slightly larger, more powerful, and pricier car -- a Supra -- is Toyota's ticket out from passenger-car monotony. A $35,000, six-cylinder Supra hits the sweet spot of the sports car market, rekindling the Z-Car rivalry with Nissan and competing against Hyundai's Genesis coupe and the Detroit pony car trio. The obligatory turbo model faces off with the V-8 competition and serves as fodder for the inevitable 1500-hp tuner specials. One important detail: a Camry engine won't cut it. If Toyota's commitment to the enthusiast is legitimate, it'll line up all six cylinders in a single row.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There's plenty of room between a $25,000 Scion and a $375,000 Lexus for a Toyota sports car.
Chevrolet El CaminoGONE SINCE: 1988
WHY IT'S TIME: Forget for a moment the mighty 1970 El Camino 454 SS. Forget its 450 hp, 11.25:1 compression ratio, and four-speed manual transmission. Remember instead the far more common six-cylinder, 155-hp El Camino. In an era before $4-a-gallon gas, global-warming worries, and CAFE regulations, this humble El Camino offered carlike efficiency in a cheap, hard-working truck. Now consider the Ute, marketed by GM subsidiary Holden in Australia. With its 3.0-liter V-6, it tows 3500 pounds and achieves the equivalent of about 24 mpg. Those figures would, we suspect, impress many individuals and small businesses. How can Chevrolet, as it tries to meet tougher fuel standards, afford not to sell such a vehicle? Of course, as long as we're saving the planet, we might as well have some fun. Again, our friends Down Under provide inspiration in the form of the 362-hp Ute SS. That's more power than a vehicle with barely any weight over its rear tires ever needs, but we'll assume Chevrolet would do better than that by installing the Camaro ZL1's 580-hp, 6.2-liter V-8.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Carlike fuel economy, trucklike utility, Camaro-like burnouts. What's not to like?
Buick RivieraGONE SINCE: 1974
WHY it's time: Buick currently fields its most competent lineup in decades. Reclaiming its place as a luxury contender, though, will take more than front-wheel-drive sedans and crossovers. Buick needs style, glamour, and performance. In other words, it needs a Riviera. Not, mind you, the generic models of the late 1970s and '80s or the overwrought, front-wheel-drive concept the brand rolled out at the 2007 Shanghai auto show. We're talking about a dashing, understated coupe in the spirit of the 1963 original -- stylish and sophisticated enough to be parked next to European coupes and yet accessible to the upper-middle-class buyer. Buick could come close to the original's price -- roughly $35,000 in today's money -- by using the rear-wheel-drive architecture that underpins the Chevrolet Camaro. Those bones would guarantee a capable performer, but the "Riv" need not be a sports car. Wearing a modern interpretation of Bill Mitchell's clean styling, which, by the way, did without faux portholes or an oversize waterfall grille, the Riviera would offer buyers a comfortable, distinctly American alternative to the likes of the BMW 6-series and the Mercedes-Benz E-class coupe.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Never mind German sport sedans and premium small cars; Buick needs an all-American Riviera.