Some new vehicles rightfully can be called game-changers, whether they were introduced to great acclaim at critical moments in an automaker's history, or sold strongly and kept momentum going. Sometimes, the most important cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans of the past 25 years forced automakers to change the way they did business. And in doing so, they pointed the way to the future.
TheCarConnection's editors have taken a look back at the major new vehicles of the past 25 years, and come up with ten vehicles that changed the course of history--for all autos and for their automakers. By those measures, these are the most important new American cars to be introduced since the 1987 model year:
Since the early 1980s, Chrysler's slice of the full-size pickup market was next to nothing, compared to the big chunks claimed by Ford and GM. Chrysler saw the potential for a stylish truck, and knew it needed something distinctive to make a major impact in the segment. In 1994, comeback-minded management that had already put the Viper, the LH sedans, and the Neon into production, picked a risky design for the new Dodge Ram, one that aped the big rigs. It worked, and it reshaped truck sales into a three-way race. Today, Ram is its own brand, running a strong third to the perennial leaders, Ford and GMC/Chevy, and the highly profitable trucks are one reason Chrysler was preserved and not sold off piecemeal during its 2009 bankruptcy.
The auto industry was going global, as the 20th century called it a wrap. Ford had shared platforms between its various divisions, even selling European cars as Mercurys and underpinning compact Fords with Mazda platforms. The Contour and its Mercury Mystique companion were the next step of globalism: they were Ford's first real shot at linking car development between the independent branches of its far-flung family tree. The Contour's architecture was meant to feed multiple brands: it replaced the compact Tempo in the U.S., the C/D Mondeo in Europe, and even gave Jaguar a new small car to sell around the world. The Mondeo was a resounding success: the other spin-offs were Ford's first fails at using global vehicles in mainstream U.S. segments and in luxury brands, and the whole exercise taught lessons it used on its next global car, the Focus.
Chrysler LH cars
They introduced "cab-forward" into the marketing lingo of car fans everywhere, and restored the automaker's legitimacy in the passenger-car realm. The Chrysler LH cars weren't quite a "last hope," as some critics said, but they were exceedingly clever reworkings of the hand-me-downs Chrysler had salvaged from its failed relationship with France's Renault. From launch in 1993, the LH family sold well, eventually spawned six vehicles--the Chrysler Concorde, Eagle Vision, Dodge Intrepid, and Chrysler LHS, New Yorker, and 300M--and gave the company time to triage its small and compact cars and pickup trucks. Before long, Chrysler was firing on all cylinders, and was headed for the deal of the century with Germany's Daimler.