The '90s was a period when the U.S. automotive industry had reached a boiling point. Foreign automakers were starting to come out on top in terms of sales for the first time in some segments. As well, the kinds of cars that were gaining popularity fastest in the market weren't the coupes or sedans that previously buoyed Detroit's Big Three.
The sport-utility vehicle (SUV) started popping up in nearly every driveway during the 1990s. Despite the Jeep Cherokee having been on the market for years, when Ford released the Explorer in 1991, the SUV market exploded. This kind of car replaced the wagon as the go-to people mover for families who wanted to travel comfortably.
However, when the Explorer came out, there was a big difference in the kind of parent who drove their kids around in an SUV and the soccer moms who loaded their clan, plus some of the neighbors' kids, into a minivan. Chrysler introduced the Voyager/Caravan in the mid '80s with great success, and only saw popularity of its smartly designed vans explode as they shed their boxy form and were tastefully redesigned during the '90s.
Both Ford's SUV overhaul and Chrysler's reimagining of the van took existing styles that once appealed to commercial or niche markets and re-tweaked them to sell to the masses. When Toyota took over the sedan market with its Corolla before the turn of the millenium, the mid-sized sedan concept itself hadn't changed but the company producing the best-seller switched hands.
When Ford failed to strike gold twice with the redesign of the wildly successful Taurus, Toyota stepped in with a winning design for their flagship Corolla that took that mixed the simplicity of the original Taurus with surprising dependability.
More than a decade removed from the '90s, these big shifts in the industry largely remain with us today. Can you think of any other major changes from the turn of the century that reshaped the industry indefinitely? Leave your thoughts below:
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