The 2010s are over. It truly was a period of great upheaval for the auto industry. Sexy electric cars! Crossovers! The death of the sedan! All these trends will continue to impact automakers in the coming years. And the vehicles that influenced the changes likely got their start between 2010 and 2019. Which were the most important?
I’ll discuss my picks, in no particular order. Then I want to hear from you.
Tesla Model 3/Tesla Model S
I’d like to get these cars out of the way because they are pretty much everyone’s top picks for the decade, for good reason. Which Tesla sedan is the most important? A case can be made for either one. The Model S signified the coming age of the EV. It proved that electric vehicles could be sexy, stylish, and fun-to-drive. It also established Tesla as the undisputed champ of YV drive train efficiency. Automakers are still playing catch-up with the Model S, a car that debuted almost ten years ago. That’s extremely impressive.
And the Model 3? It’s the first mass produced EV that can truly replace a mainstream internal combustion vehicle on the merits. It matches the performance credentials of the BMW M3 while costing the same as a regular 3 Series. It’s a legitimate luxury car and the longest range EV currently on the market. That’s revolutionary.
2016 Toyota Rav4 Hybrid AWD
Toyota sold about 93,000 examples of the Rav4 Hybrid in 2019. That number alone puts it ahead of many cars currently on the market. Most importantly, it thoroughly vanquished the Prius as Toyota’s best selling hybrid. The first generation Rav4 hybrid isn’t earth-shattering. But it solidified Toyota’s commitment to hybrid technology and carried the torch for the current model, which boasts far more impressive fuel economy. The Rav4 hybrid is further proof that buyers are perfectly willing to adopt alternative energy vehicles as long as they look good. And it represents what has made Toyota so successful in America: steady improvement and unbeatable reliability.
2013 Ford Fusion
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata was the first sign that Korea could build a sedan that wasn’t simply a facsimile of an established Japanese nameplate. But its driving dynamics left something to be desired. By contrast, the 2013 Fusion resurrected the spirit of the original Ford Taurus by blending Euro-inspired looks with a competent ride and handling balance that was available at any trim level. Its styling clearly influenced future mid-sizers too. Plus, it neatly represented Ford’s rapid rebirth after a period of stagnation and near death.
That being said, its cancellation is the real reason why it deserves a spot as one of the most influential vehicles of last decade. The demise of the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 weren’t nearly as shocking because those cars were the last in a long line of mediocre sedans from Chrysler. But the Fusion had steadily built a reputation for itself since 2006 and it was one of the top sellers in the segment. Suddenly, anything less successful than the Ford had the potential to be eliminated. Mid-size sedans were often used by critics to judge the overall health of an automaker. That’s not the case anymore. The Fusion’s cancellation was absolute proof that sedans were officially taking a back seat to crossovers.
2018 Honda Accord/2018 Toyota Camry
The 2013 Ford Fusion injected some much-needed soul into the mid-size sedan segment. And its positive reception clearly influenced the two sedans most responsible for killing it: The 2018 Accord and 2018 Camry. They succinctly represent an important axiom of the American automotive market: Any headline grabbing or revolutionary American vehicle will almost inevitably have an extremely competent (and more reliable) Asian competitor breathing down its neck in a few short years. I have no doubt a next-generation Fusion sedan would have been a worthy competitor to the Japanese entries. But Ford ruined their chance at having the top selling mid-size sedan decades ago. Nothing could change that now. The Big Three still haven’t fully grasped how the Japanese became so competitive. It may be their undoing. The Accord and Camry always built upon the groundwork laid by their predecessors. And now they’re institutions. The duo always threatened vehicles like the Malibu and Taurus, but they earned a place among the most influential cars of last decade because they finally knocked a big player out of the game.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan/2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Remember Dieselgate? For a short while, it really seemed like Volkswagen might pull out of the American market. Their sedans began to fizzle out and their most loyal customer base suddenly had little reason to stick with the company. The brand was in deep trouble. Then two vehicles appeared that would quickly turn their fortunes around. The Tiguan and Atlas aren’t the absolute best at their jobs, but they’re resonating with buyers at a time when the company needs to sell profitable vehicles, especially in America. They’re proof that crossovers are essential to any automaker looking for a prosperous future before EVs become popular. With apologies to John Lennon and The Beatles: Love isn’t all you need. All you need are crossovers.
I could probably add a couple of more vehicles to this list, but that’s all I got for now. Thoughts?