With the economy showing signs of life and plenty of great car deals to be had, many people may be more eager than ever to purchase a new car. A major added incentive has even appeared in the form of the federal government's Cash for Clunkers program, which offers up to a $4,500 rebate when you trade in your old car. It's quite the deal, but if you don't qualify and are still inclined to drop some cash on a new vehicle, here's a suggestion.

Wait. It may be tempting to head to the dealer today and walk out of there with a set of keys. But in this case, patience definitely has its rewards.

The automotive industry has witnessed the perfect storm over the last two years. Drastic drops in sales, unpredictable rises in gas prices, a punch-drunk economy trying to get its legs -- all of this has culminated in auto manufacturers being forced to make major modifications. Stagnant brands have been downsized and eliminated, while automakers have moved their focus from behemoth SUVS to small, fuel-efficient cars.

However, the time it takes for a car designed from scratch to make it into production is significant. Cars that have been in the works for the last year or two will only be rolling out on dealer lots starting next year and into 2011 and 2012. What that means is, eventually, the fallout from the automotive crisis will result in a whole slate of efficient, innovative cars making it to the market in true lemonade-out-of-lemons fashion. We've put together a list of our favorites. Start putting money aside now and you won't be sorry later.

Chevrolet Volt

Projected Release Date: Late 2010

When you're discussing anticipated autos, it would be poor form not to begin with the Chevrolet Volt. One of the most talked-about cars in the industry, it will be the first Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) in mass production. The Volt is an electric car that employs a gasoline engine in order to expand its range. Price estimates place the Volt at around $40,000.

Ford Fiesta

Projected Release Date: Early 2010

Ford is taking a throwback approach to fuel efficiency with the nifty Fiesta. Instead of going with hybrid technology or a newfangled electric powertrain, the Ford Fiesta will simply be a small, lightweight car. In addition to being a lot cheaper to produce than its alternative-fuel contemporaries, it will match and surpass most of them in fuel economy. Pricing is unknown, but many expect it to be in the neighborhood of a lower-end Ford Focus.

Nissan EV-02                                                                                   

Projected Release Date: 2012

Gas-sipping cars are nice, but cars that don't use any gas at all are even better. Nissan hopes to be among the first to bring an affordable electric vehicle to production with its EV-02.  Nissan has already made an EV mule available to the press (in the form of a Nissan Cube outfitted with components of the EV technology) for testing purposes. CNET says the "drivetrain was whisper quiet" and they were "quite impressed with the linear acceleration exhibited by the EV-02, and its willingness to move " Many details are yet to be revealed, such as the exterior, price and eventual name but for green drivers on a budget, the Nissan EV is an interesting proposition.

Chevrolet Spark

Projected Release Date: 2011

The second Chevy on our list, the Spark is the domestic answer to the Smart ForTwo. Where it has a leg up on the ForTwo is that it will be for four -- as in four passengers, and four doors for easy access. With a motorcycle-style instrument panel and a painfully cute exterior, the Spark is bound to have a large fan base. Pricing has not yet been announced -- though speculation is that it will be priced along the lines of the budget Chevy Aveo.

Chrysler Town & Country EV

Projected Release Date: Late 2010

Last fall, Chrysler shocked the industry when it unveiled a lineup of electric vehicles that are in development. While the Dodge Circuit has garnered the most attention for its mind-numbing performance and flashy styling, the Town & Country EV is innovative in its practicality. Most of the electric cars that are going to hit the streets are either sports coupes or miniature econo-boxes. The idea of an electric minivan that can transport the family while producing zero emissions sets the Town & Country EV apart from everything else in the works. Pricing information has not been released.

Scion iQ

Projected Release Date: Late 2010/Early 2011

The iQ is Toyota's attempt to take on the Smart ForTwo and the aforementioned Chevrolet Spark. To be released under their "alternative" brand, Scion, the iQ will feature a 3+1 seating arrangement (two in the front, one in the back) -- just don't expect to fit a full-sized adult in the rear seat. The price of the iQ hasn't been released as of yet, but expect it to be somewhere close to the $14,650 MSRP of the Scion xD.