Every so often a car comes around that changes the face of a brand, a style or even the industry. Henry Ford did it best with the Model T, not only revolutionizing the auto industry, but also changing the way we manufacture goods forever. No car has changed the world quite so much as the Model T, but automakers are showing off their newest innovations right now in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Guangzou, China, all hoping that their latest and greatest cars could become game changers for their companies or even the industry as a whole.
There have certainly been some awesome concepts to debut so far. Probably the biggest potential game changer among these is the Nissan BladeGlider, a zany sports car styled after Nissan’s ZEOD RC racecar (which Nissan has promised to produce in all its wacked-out glory). Other companies (most notably Subaru) have also released other potentially game-changing concepts, but until they’re destined for production, they can’t quite be considered game changers.
All of this game-changing concept talk got us thinking about cars that have already made an impact. We’re still waiting to see more from L.A. and Tokyo, but until then, here are 10 cars we think have gone above and beyond to shake things up.
10. In 1997, Volkswagen decided to move forward by giving us a blast from the past—it introduced the New Beetle. The first Beetle Volkswagen had imported to the U.S. since 1977, the New Beetle sought to boost Volkswagen’s sales by evoking memories of the legendary original Beetle. Playing up the retro styling and marketing the car aggressively toward women, the New Beetle was by all means a success and spawned a new 2011 incarnation. Released at the same time as the Plymouth Prowler (which lasted only 5 years), the New Beetle was one of the first cars to whole-heartedly embrace the retro styling that became so popular in the 2000s.
9. Wolfsburg wasn’t the only place making big changes in 1997—Toyota City was also shaking things up with the Prius. Introduced in Japan in 1997 and worldwide in 2000, the Prius is nothing short of a polarizing car, with most either loving or hating it. One thing that can’t be denied about the Prius is that it has been a smashing success for Toyota, with almost 4 million sold. Before the Prius came along, Toyota had a reputation as being a solid, reliable automaker and not much more. With the Prius, Toyota added to its image, also claiming the title of green automaker. Due to the Prius’ raging success, Toyota added more and more hybrids to its lineup and turned the hybrid into a mainstream automobile.
8. Let’s be honest—up until about 1970, Japanese automakers didn’t enjoy the best reputation in the U.S. That all changed when the Datsun 240Z arrived. Seeking to undercut the European sports-car market, Datsun made a car that not only looked good, but could also compete with the likes of Porsche and Jaguar from a performance standpoint. Priced well below its European rivals, the 240Z was a winner and changed the sports car market in the U.S. forever. Not only that, but it ushered in an era of fun, fast and well-built Japanese cars. America got its first taste of awesome Japanese engineering from the 240Z and hasn’t looked back since.
7. BMW has long been known for producing some of the world’s most fun-to-drive cars. Boasting such nameplates as the M3, Z4 and 135i, it would be odd to think that BMW would make a car that wasn’t enjoyable on the road. While that hasn’t happened quite yet, the jury is still out on the brand’s new i3. Built to help BMW meet more stringent fuel-efficiency standards, the i3 looks nothing like BMW’s other cars, and it is still unknown how it will perform in the fun category. For a brand that has built its reputation producing “the ultimate driving machine,” the i3 seems like an odd risk to take. If the car is a success, it could help usher in a new, more fuel-efficient era for BMW (which seems like a real possibility given the awesome-looking i8). However, if Munich’s loyalists reject the car as not being a true BMW, the car could very likely go the same way as the Aston Martin Cygnet. Here’s to hoping that it will help pave the way for BMW to become more fuel-efficient while maintaining its performance reputation.
6. Until 1992, Subaru was known as being a reliable and dependable brand—nothing more, nothing less. That all changed when the company unleashed the Impreza WRX on the world. After the release of the WRX, Subaru gained an enthusiast following other brands can only dream of. Pushing out 237 hp and boasting a manual transmission and all-wheel drive, the WRX was an instant classic and changed Subaru’s image forever. No longer seen as the Japanese Volvo, Subaru’s cars became known as fun, reliable and durable—favorites of both the rally world and anyone in a colder climate. With an all-new WRX set to debut in 2015, the car is still breathing tons of life and excitement into Subaru—something it lacked before the WRX’s arrival.
5. In the fifth spot is a car that seeks to change the perceptions of three brands: the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86. While Subaru has more than maintained its reputation as the car of choice for rally fans, it never made a serious foray into the rear-wheel-drive (RWD) sports-car market. That all changed in 2012, when Toyota and Subaru launched the Toyobaru Twins. With Subaru wanting to make a move into the RWD market and Toyota boss Akio Toyoda wanting to bring “passion” back to the Toyota lineup, Toyota and Subaru worked together to design and produce the car—a match made in enthusiast heaven. Winning wide praise, the car remains extremely popular and has already prompted Toyota to explore bringing more sports cars into its lineup (it is currently jointly developing another with BMW). While the change for Subaru is unclear as of yet, it appears that the car has definitely ended the days of Toyota’s lineup lacking that extra something.
4. There aren’t many cars more iconic than the Ford Mustang. Introduced in 1964 as a 1965 model, the Mustang has captivated America for almost 50 years. What is most notable about the Mustang is what it created: the pony car. Forever changing the car game, the Mustang inspired Ford’s competitors to produce cars like the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and Dodge Challenger. Remarkable in its own right, the Mustang earns a spot on this list for bringing us the pony car and forever making the automotive world a better place.
3. “The Germans no longer have a corner on the corner.” If someone had said these words just a few years ago, nobody would have taken them seriously. How could anyone challenge BMW, Mercedes or Audi at their own game? Cadillac decided to try, and in August 2012 launched the ATS. The rest, as they say, is history. The ATS has been a smash hit, earning glowing reviews and loyal fans wherever it goes. Charged with revitalizing a troubled brand, the ATS is now widely considered to be a leader in the luxury sports car market and is the car that made Cadillac a serious rival to the German luxury brands. Look for Cadillac to go nowhere but up, especially with the 2014 CTS, billed as an even better car than the ATS.
2. In the number two spot is a car that many questioned at its inception, but has gone all-out to prove the naysayers wrong: the Porsche Cayenne. Launched in 2002, the Cayenne was initially loathed by many Porsche purists, claiming the car would ruin Porsche’s reputation as a high-performance luxury sports-car maker. While Porsche loyalists still debate the Cayenne’s merits, the data simply screams that the Cayenne was one of the best decisions Porsche ever made. Since it hit the streets in 2002, no other Porsche has even come close to matching the Cayenne’s sales numbers, and Porsche has earned far more on the Cayenne than any other car. These sales figures allow Porsche to sink more money into improving its traditional sports cars and developing new models. With the Cayenne such a hit, Porsche made a big move this week and launched the Macan, a smaller luxury SUV aimed at grabbing huge sales and making Porsche more of a mainstream brand.
1. In the early 1960s, Ferruccio Lamborghini was a man on a mission. Owner of Lamborghini Tractors, he was an incredibly successful man who was having some mechanical troubles with his Ferrari. When he went to Ferrari to complain, he was shrugged off and left determined to beat Ferrari at its own game. In 1963 he founded Lamborghini Automobiles and began developing his Ferrari rival. In 1964, Lamborghini unveiled the 350GT, the first in a long line of cars that would go toe to toe with Ferrari’s best. The 350GT was not only a game changer for Lamborghini, it was also a game changer for the world of supercars. For taking a simple tractor maker and spinning off one of the world’s premier supercar manufacturers, the Lamborghini 350GT is our pick for the biggest game changer yet.
What cars do you consider game changers?