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Every year since 1953, reporters and editors at Automotive News have chosen the year’s top auto story. Here are their picks.
2015: Volkswagen AG admits that it cheated on diesel emissions tests by installing software on vehicles that turned on emissions controls during testing and turned them off afterward, enabling the vehicles to pass U.S. emissions tests. The company said it had sold 11 million vehicles worldwide that could be in breach of regulations. The scandal cost CEO Martin Winterkorn his job, as well as those of Audi r&d chief Ulrich Hackenberg and others. Settlement costs were expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars.
2014: 2014 was supposed to mark the rise of New General Motors. Instead, it heralded the Year of the Recall, as a long-standing safety issue erupted into a full-blown crisis for a CEO just weeks into her new job. Along the way, a decade’s worth of GM incompetence and dysfunction were laid bare through an internal investigation and congressional hearings, battering a corporate image that had barely begun to recover from bailouts and bankruptcy.
2013: General Motors, as part of its biggest personnel shake-up since 1992, named product development chief Mary Barra to succeed Dan Akerson as CEO. Barra, an engineer and GM lifer who had spent much of her career working inside the company’s plants, became the first woman to run a major global carmaker.
2012: North America was the world’s hottest auto market. And coupled with that sizzling demand was a new leanness — painfully achieved during the recession — that helped dealerships, automakers and suppliers to a very profitable year.
2011: On March 11, a massive earthquake rocked northeast Japan and a devastating tsunami followed. Thousands died, and Japan’s auto industry was severely wounded, deep into the supply chain. Shortages of vehicles and parts disrupted the global auto market through the year. In the United States, vehicle shortages stifled a modest sales recovery that had been taking root.
2010: The industry began to claw its way back, but Toyota didn’t share in the recovery. Allegations of unintended acceleration sparked a heated safety controversy, ugly headlines and global recalls of millions of units. Toyota’s prime asset — a pristine reputation for quality — was seriously tarnished. The company lost U.S. market share, along with the trust of many shoppers.
2009: The industry slump went from bad to worse, and two of the Detroit 3 — GM and Chrysler — filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. The good news is that most of the hard work was done in advance, and each of companies emerged from bankruptcy in less than six weeks.
2008: It was a tough year from start to finish, and it ended with GM and Chrysler on their knees before Congress begging for money to keep operating. Ford was in better shape, but it wanted a line of credit. They didn’t get anything from Congress, but GM and Chrysler did get a $17.4 billion loan from President Bush and the Treasury Department.
2007: The Detroit 3 closed the gap in labor costs with their Japanese rivals. The car companies agreed to pay about 55 cents on the dollar to shift nearly $100 billion in combined retiree health care obligations to UAW-controlled trusts. The UAW also relented on two-tier wages that allow the Detroit 3 to replace workers earning $28 an hour with new hires earning half that wage.
2006: An awful year for Detroit 3. Ford loses $5.8 billion in third quarter; the Chrysler group, felled by sales bank, loses $1.5 billion; GM makes progress but is still light years from financial health. Detroit 3 lose 3.2 points of market share in 11 months; Japanese gain 2.2 points
2005: Delphi Corp., the world’s largest auto supplier, files for bankruptcy protection. GM refuses to bail out Delphi, its former property; Delphi CEO Steve Miller wants to cut wages in half and reduce benefits; UAW threatens a killer strike that would cripple GM
2004: Rebates remain sky-high; sales continue near 17 million despite weak fundamentals; Asians boost market share; Big 3 and others try new incentives
2003: The Big 3 moved the iron with high incentives but lost market share again; Big 3 share fell to 60.0 percent, down 1.7 points from 2002
2002: Ford’s financial and quality problems continue; a turnaround strategy, announced in January, includes a pledge to deliver $7 billion annual pretax profit by 2005 after losing $5.45 billion in 2001; Bill Ford brings back Allan Gilmour as CFO
2001: Ford fires Jac Nasser as CEO and president; Bill Ford (the fourth generation) succeeds Nasser as CEO and continues as chairman
2000: Chrysler in crisis. Daimler’s Schrempp admits that he planned from the beginning to make Chrysler a division; the Chrysler group loses about $1.8 billion in the second half of the year; heads roll in Auburn Hills, Mich., starting with President Jim Holden; Dieter Zetsche heads the Chrysler group in the United States, and Wolfgang Bernhard is COO
1999: U.S. sales set a record of 16.9 million cars and light trucks; the old record was 16,025,426 in 1986.
1998: Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corp. combine as DaimlerChrysler AG, with Daimler as the lead pony; headquarters are in Stuttgart; Juergen Schrempp and Robert Eaton are said to be co-CEOs
1997: In less than a year, H. Wayne Huizenga’s Republic Industries Inc. becomes the nation’s largest new-car dealership group, with 270 franchises and annual revenue of $10.3 billion; acquisitions continue; Republic wins fight with Toyota
1996: Airbags kill kids and small adults; NHTSA delay means no action until 1997 on whether to order lower-powered bags or allow owners to disconnect them
1995: Kirk Kerkorian, Chrysler’s second-largest shareholder, makes a takeover run at Chrysler in April, but Chairman Robert Eaton beats it down
1994: Sixteen former Honda managers and two former dealers are indicted in U.S. probe of bribes and kickbacks in wholesale organization; all but three plead guilty
1993: J. Ignacio Lopez quits GM and joins Volkswagen; GM says he stole secret documents; Lopez and VW deny it; FBI and German court investigate as year ends
1992: The bloodbath at GM. Long-passive outside directors rise in revolt as staggering losses continue; chairman, vice chairman, president and two executive vice presidents ousted; Jack Smith named chief executive, and John Smale is first outside chairman since 1937
1991: U.S. car and truck sales drop 12 percent from a mediocre 1990; GM, Ford and Chrysler deep in red; end of Persian Gulf war fails to ignite sales; GM announces massive cost-cutting program and cutbacks in personnel and facilities as year ends
1990: GM’s Saturn arrives after seven years of development; the car gets good reviews, pleases shoppers and dealers, but production problems hold output to a trickle, delaying evaluation of Saturn’s sales success
1989: After eight quiet years, Washington again becomes a major thorn in the side of the auto industry; President Bush and Congress talk about tighter emissions rules, much higher fuel-economy standards and alternative-fuel cars
1988: The sleeping giant stirs. GM’s profits rise; car-market share stabilizes; new models aren’t look-alikes; quality improves; overseas operations in high gear
1987: Chrysler buys AMC
1986: Turmoil at GM. Market share dips; plants to close; Saturn scaled back; plastic-bodied Camaro-Firebird dropped; bus operations for sale; Volvo to run heavy-truck venture; GM has third-quarter operating loss of $338 million
1985: Big 3 on buying binge. GM, Ford and Chrysler make major acquisitions outside the automotive field; biggest is GM’s $5 billion purchase of Hughes Aircraft
1984: Record profits for each of the Big 3 as well as a record profit of $9.8 billion for the four domestic automakers
1983: A year of recovery for the domestic auto industry; sales and production rise after three bad years
1982: John DeLorean is arrested on drug-trafficking charges; he is later found not guilty; his sports car company folds
1981: Another year of recession/depression for the domestic auto industry
1980: GM, Ford, Chrysler, American Motors suffer combined loss of $4.2 billion for the year
1979: Chrysler’s financial anguish. Federal loan guarantees sought; future of company in doubt
1978: The fall and rise of Lee Iacocca, who is fired by Henry Ford II as president of Ford Motor in mid-July, then becomes president of Chrysler in November
1977: Government orders airbags on new cars, to be phased in with 1982 models; industry fails in bid to have Congress override Department of Transportation decision
1976: Auto sales rebound after two poor years, reaching 9.96 million for 1976; intermediates and big cars are hot, but small cars are hard to sell
1975: U.S. automakers offer rebates of $200 to $500 to move huge inventories
1974: New-car sales (U.S. and import) fall to 8.6 million in 1974; 1975 model year is off to a dismal start
1973: The energy crisis. Arabs halt oil exports to United States; gas rationing feared; uncertainty hurts auto industry and entire economy
1972: Wankel engine advances. GM plans to offer Wankel-powered Chevrolet Vega in 1975 model year; other makers watch and wait; Mazda, with the only Wankel-powered cars in the United States, has a big year
1971: President Nixon’s economic program and its effect on the auto industry. Prices and wages are frozen; import duty is raised temporarily; currency is revalued; excise tax is repealed; program touches off auto sales boom
1970: UAW strike shuts GM for 67 days in the United States, 95 days in Canada; the strike costs GM production of more than 1.5 million cars and trucks and more than $4.5 billion in sales
1969: Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen fired as president of Ford Motor after holding the job for 19 months
1968: Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen named president of Ford Motor a week after he quit as executive vice president of GM
1967: 61-day strike costs Ford Motor 500,000 cars; Big 3 workers receive a raise of about $1 an hour in wages and fringes over three years
1966: Safety. Congress holds hearings; bills are passed; William Haddon is appointed safety czar; standards are proposed for 1968 models
1965: “The Year of Records.” All-time highs in sales and production of domestic cars and trucks
1964: Record truck sales and the first 8-million-car year.
1963: GM wins criminal antitrust suit growing out of Los Angeles discount-house situation
1962: Future of the franchise system. Los Angeles antitrust suit against GM viewed as threat to franchise
1961: Antitrust actions filed against the Big 3; GM accused in Los Angeles discount-house rhubarb; Ford’s acquisition of Electric Autolite properties questioned; Chrysler charged with pressuring dealers not to dual with Studebaker
1960: Chrysler’s conflict-of-interest problems; a president is deposed, and other executives are affected
1959: Compact cars introduced by Ford Motor Co., GM and Chrysler Corp.
1958: Enactment of price-sticker law
1957: The rise in imported-car sales
1956: GM begins offering five-year franchise contracts, up from one year, in response to dealer complaints
1955: (tie) Senate hearings on auto trade practices; attainment of supplemental unemployment compensation by the UAW
1954: Reduction of “phantom-freight” charges
1953: Fire destroys General Motors’ Hydra-matic plant in Livonia, Mich.