There were a lot of news stories in the automotive world in 2011, from exciting new and newly redesigned models to natural disasters that threatened some of the largest automakers in the world. As the year draws to a close, we decided to revisit some of the top stories that grabbed headlines, influenced consumers, and changed the future of the industry.
- Japanese earthquake and tsunami. In March of this year, a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, causing massive human and industrial tragedies. Some of the hardest hit companies in the country were automakers Honda, Nissan, and Toyota, who were forced to shut down production. It took several months for the automakers to recover and resume full manufacturing levels.
- New fuel economy regulations. 40 MPG became the new standard in 2011, thanks to more hybrid vehicles on the road and new technologies that made non-hybrids even more fuel efficient. This year, with encouragement from the Obama Administration and most automakers, the NHTSA and EPA even jointly decided to set new fuel economy rules. From 2017 to 2025, the new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) will rise 3% each year for cars and 5% for trucks, resulting in the average vehicle receiving 54.5 MPG on its CAFE tests in 2025.
- Gas price increases. This past March, the country saw gasoline prices spike to almost $4.00 a gallon, helping fuel-friendly cars, hybrids, and electric vehicles become even more popular, and forcing automakers to focus more energy on these fuel sippers.
- All-electric vehicles hit the road. Sure, EVs have been around for years, but 2011 was the year that mass-produced electric vehicles from some of the top vehicle manufacturers in the country landed in the U.S. Vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt quickly made an impression, and now almost every automaker has a purely-electric vehicle in the works.
- Chevy Volt/EV safety concerns. While we’re on the topic of electric vehicles, another big story this year was the safety concerns surrounding the Chevrolet Volt, and subsequently all EVs, following several incidents in which a crashed Volt caught fire while in storage. Following an investigation, it was discovered that EVs are indeed safe, GM had simply failed to include instructions for draining the liquid-cooled battery pack the way a gas tank would usually be drained by emergency responders.
- NTSB pushes for cell phone ban. It’s no secret that the use of a cell phone while driving is dangerous and causes thousands of accidents and deaths each year. This is why late this year, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a ban on non-emergency phone calls and texting by operators of every vehicle on the road.
- Saab declares bankruptcy. Over the last few years, Saab has struggled to keep up with competitors. The Swedish automaker couldn’t even be saved by GM and was forced to declare bankruptcy this December.
- Death of Dan Wheldon. While this story may not have as much to do with automakers as the rest on this list, it was certainly one of the largest stories of 2011 and will force many investigations and new regulations into the safety of races.
- Ford story of the year: If there is one word to describe Ford in 2011, it would be technology. The vehicle manufacturer released many innovative technologies this year, and was often recognized for their contributions to safety and convenience. While some technologies are currently being used and others are in the beginning stages, they are certainly all impressive. Some of these include inflatable seatbelts, health management services, recycling plastic bottles to manufacture seats, EcoBoost engines, and updates to the MyFord Touch infotainment system.
- Ford newly redesigned car of the year: Following the redesign of the Explorer last year, Ford had a lot to live up to with their updates this year, and the automaker definitely delivered. While the Flex received minor updates, it was the 2012 Focus that really stole the show with its stylish and sleek redesign.
What do you think was the biggest automotive news story of 2011?