Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Five Most Influential Cars of the Past Decade

A lot can happen in a decade in the world of sports, politics, art, technology and life in general. The same can also be said about the auto industry. Aside from the Volvo XC90, every surviving model has gone through at least one complete generation and some are on their third. With that in mind let's take a look at five models over the past decade that have had the greatest impact on the industry through their design or technology. The list is in chronological order to avoid picking favorites.

2004 Toyota Prius

It wasn't the first hybrid, it wasn't even the first Prius but the second generation Prius was the one that put hybrids on the map and eventually made nearly every automaker produce their own. Even the German brands. The second generation brought about 20% better city and 10% better highway fuel economy, at the time the Prius posted an unrealistic 60 mpg city and 51 highway labels*. Even more importantly the Prius brought a unique shape to the market in a usable size. The first generation Prius had an awkward sedan shape that didn't help its cause. Toyota would commit the same exact mistake a few years later with the Lexus HS hybrid that struggled to sell as well. The second generation Prius didn't make hybrids cool but it made them mainstream relevant. The latest million dollar halo cars from Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche are all... hybrids.

2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS

The CLS was one of the rare cars that looked as great on the road as everyone told you it would. The CLS ushered a brand new term that many struggled to accept and would argue over but when something looks this good others pay attention. Audi and BMW came up with their own competitors and many other brands would incorporate the CLS roofline as best as they could into their sedans. When the Toyota Avalon imitates it's clear that you have made a far reaching impact well beyond your segment. Thanks to the CLS the Mazda 6 looks as great as it does today.

2007 Audi S6/S8

The last generation S6 and S8 were not outstanding performers in their respective classes and both models had for the most part fairly restrained sporty styling. They were however the first models to feature LED daytime running lights. Audi wasn't exactly sure of the best way to go about it at the time with the S6 having a wide strip below each headlight and the S8 had separate LEDs in the headlight. It wasn't until the A5 a year later when Audi would combine the two properly. Considered a fad at first it's nearly impossible to think of another feature not mandated by the government that is as prevalent on every model across every brand and price level. Sharks cars with laserbeams for headlights coming right up.

2012 Tesla Model S

Just as it took Toyota a generation to figure out the Prius, it took Tesla its second electric model to get it just right. Unlike the Prius, the Model S made electric vehicles desirable far beyond their economy. The Model S also proved that a new brand can successfully enter the marketplace and challenge the well established luxury brands on every aspect of their vehicles. And do all that with zero marketing spend is more impressive still.

2015 Ford F-150

Technically it's not on sale yet and probably pushes the definition of past decade but the 2015 F-150 and its aluminum construction pushes the envelope. Certainly, it's not the first to feature an all aluminum body in mass production and not the first vehicle to drop this much weight thanks to the transition. The key is the price of admission that is only a third of that of other aluminum intensive vehicles on the market. The body on frame construction and sheer sales volume might be helping Ford but for the price there isn't anyone giving you this much aluminum until the Jaguar XE goes on sale. The engine lineup likewise lacks anything along the lines of a traditional "pickup" engine and every engine is either in a Mustang or could make one better. In the end, fuel economy is probably not as important to truck buyers as everyone is making it out to be and real world improvement versus the competition might be smaller than on paper. Yet you know you are doing something right when the competition's PR has to fiercely defend their strategy over and over.

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