SPEED: $3.00-A-Gallon Gas Top U.S. Auto Story of Last 10 Years; Domestic Auto Sales, Racing Safety, Retro Styling, eBay Motors Round out Top Five
U.S. gas prices soaring above $3 a gallon, and the corresponding fallout -- an influx of "hybrid" vehicles, declining sales of monster-sized SUVs and a growing interest in fuel alternatives -- was the top response from a group of automotive journalists and SPEED on-air automotive personalities, when asked about the most memorable consumer automotive stories of the last 10 years.
“There's no question the absence of cheap gasoline, once considered a virtual birthright among U.S. consumers, has fundamentally altered the buying and driving habits of Americans”
A look at the Top 10 stories (descriptions below):
1. Gasoline tops $3 a gallon
2. Fall of domestic dominance
3. Dale Earnhardt crash at Daytona
4. Retro-inspired cars
5. eBay Motors
6. Barrett-Jackson Auctions
7. Ford vs. Firestone
8. Comeback of the Mini
9. Boom of the Supercars
10. "Trick", "Dub", "Pimp" and Whip"
"There's no question the absence of cheap gasoline, once considered a virtual birthright among U.S. consumers, has fundamentally altered the buying and driving habits of Americans," said SPEED motor sports and automotive writer Tom Jensen.
Coming in second, the fall of domestic dominance in auto sales is No. 2 on the list, with General Motors 51-percent U.S. market share in 1962 falling to 24 percent today. Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda have been the big winners, grabbing market share thanks to higher-mileage vehicles and reputations for quality and value.
"General Motors once was a symbol for American global dominance and excellence in engineering and marketing. Sadly, GM has become an automotive dinosaur, a case study of what happens when profits are put ahead of customer satisfaction and building great cars," Jensen said.
And with all of the recent improvements in consumer automotive safety, it took the tragic death of NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt in 2001 to focus the world's attention on safety at the race track. The result -- more safety equipment, safer race cars and safer race tracks for fans in attendance.
"Dale Earnhardt's death sent shock waves through the entire racing world, but especially NASCAR, where he was both the sport's biggest star and a man regarded as the toughest ever to strap on a helmet," said Jensen. "It was the kind of brutal wake-up call that forced NASCAR to redouble its safety efforts."
TOP 10 AUTOMOTIVE STORIES OF THE LAST DECADE
1. $3 a gallon for gasoline - As gas prices climbed steadily, more than doubling over the last 10 years from $1.27 a gallon in April 1996, consumers began the search for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Manufacturers introduced hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Ford Escape, and have recently begun to scale back production of their gas-guzzling SUVs.
2. Fall of domestic dominance - In 1921, Ford Motor Company held an amazing 60 percent of the domestic car market. By 1962, General Motors had eclipsed the Blue Oval and held a still-dominating 51-percent U.S. market share. Ten years ago, GM held a 31-percent domestic market share for cars and trucks. Today, that number has fallen to 24 percent, with Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda the big winners, grabbing market share thanks to higher-mileage vehicles and reputations for quality and value.
3. Dale Earnhardt crash at Daytona - In February 2001, the unthinkable happened. One of the world's greatest drivers and NASCAR's most popular icon was gone. On-track safety in every series from NASCAR to Formula One came under increased scrutiny and the sanctioning bodies quickly moved to implement compulsory safety items like the HANS (Head and Neck Support) system for drivers and the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, a "soft wall" designed to absorb kinetic energy in the event of a crash.
4. Retro-inspired cars - "Back to the Future" was the course automakers took in looking for something to pump up sales, as a cache of retro-inspired vehicles like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevy HHR, VW Beetle, Ford T-Bird, Dodge Charger and redesigned 2005 Ford Mustang reappeared in showrooms across America. Even racing icons like the famous Ford GT were recreated to satisfy consumers' insatiable quest for nostalgia.
5. eBay Motors - When online giant eBay launched its motoring site, car buying - and selling - changed forever. Now linking millions of potential purchasers, eBay Motors created a truly global marketplace for new and used vehicles, parts and services; helping fuel the growing collector and specialty car markets.
6. Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auctions - Each January, the collector car hobby descends on Scottsdale, Ariz., for what has evolved into a week-long lifestyle event where celebrities, classic and exotic cars, and bidders willing to part with millions of dollars to obtain the car of their dreams, share the spotlight. Now in its 36th year, the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction is the bellwether of the hobby, establishing trends, setting prices and pushing collector car sales to a record $100 million during the nine-day event.
7. Ford vs. Firestone - In May 2000, the "blowout" became a nationwide "blow-up" as Ford Motor Company and Firestone Tire Company pointed fingers at each other over the exceedingly high failure rates on Firestone tires fitted to Ford Explorers. Each company claimed the other was culpable as 250 deaths and 3,000 serious injuries occurred across America, all involving tread separation and subsequent rollover accidents. Firestone, ultimately, recalled more than 10 million tires. Ford remodeled the Explorer a few years later.
8. Comeback of the Mini - Sir Alexander (Alec) Issigonis was an impish man with many engineering achievements, but he will be remembered primarily as the man who gave us the Mini, the tiny transport that revolutionized the motoring industry. Originally designed for the British Motor Corporation, this tiny cult car, highly successful on track, in rallies and hill climbs, was re-invented by BMW for a new generation hungry for the little powerhouse.
9. Boom of the Supercars - Exotic materials, exotic designs, cutting-edge technologies and six-figure-plus price tags separate the "supercars" from the rest of the rides. In the last decade Aston Martin, Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini have all launched their own supercars. The fastest of all, though, is the $1.2-million dollar Bugatti Veyron, which has a 1,001-hp engine and top speed in excess of 250 mph. Be the first one on your block to own one!
10. "Trick", "Dub", "Pimp" and Whip" - In the last decade, an active youth movement has added these terms to the automotive lexicon to describe the wild, "anything goes" customization and "tuning" of every kind of vehicle imaginable - from pickups to pony cars, from street rods to SUVs. Enormous wheels, 8,000-watt audio systems, supercharged and nitrous-enhanced engines, spas and hot tubs - if you can imagine it, someone, somewhere will make it an automotive reality.
SPEED, celebrating its 10th Anniversary in 2006, is the nation's first and foremost cable network dedicated to motor sports and the passion for everything automotive. From racing to restoration, motorcycles to movies, SPEED delivers quality programming from the track to the garage. Now available in more than 71 million homes in North America, SPEED is among the fastest growing sports cable networks in the country, the home to NASCAR TV and an industry leader in interactive TV, video on demand, mobile initiatives and broadband services.