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Forgotten Innovators

It was bound to happen, and here is my car post. But this isn’t your father’s car post, it’s a list of forgotten innovators, leaders in their segment that have changed the automotive landscape.

You may be surprised by some of this stuff — that’s the point. This list is meant to be quirky and remind you of some familiar faces that showed tremendous leadership and foresight.

1. 1998 Lexus RX300: I would consider this to be the most significant innovation. While everyone was building their SUVs on truck platforms, Toyota comes out of left field with an SUV based on a car platform (the Camry’s). The RX line quickly became (and is still) the highest selling vehicle for the brand. Nowadays, these car-based SUVs are called crossovers. Talk about foresight.

2. 2000 Nissan Maxima: Family cars didn’t always come with 255 horses under the hood. In the middle of some bland times for this segment the Nissan Maxima single handedly raised the bar on performance. I’m talking 65 more horses than a base Mustang at this time.

3. 1998 Dodge Durango: Before the Durango, 3rd row seats were reserved for Expeditions, Suburbans, and minivans. The concept of a 3rd row in a midsized SUV was brand new. This was the first midsizer to do so. After the Durango, everyone was scrambling to slap extra seats back there. Now, you can even get a 3rd row on a Toyota Rav 4!

4. 2005 Ford Mustang: This is very recent, but so important that I had to put it on this list. Think about where the styling for America’s muscle would be if the Mustang hadn’t gone retro? They had to have some guts to do this after the retro Thunderbird tanked. After this debuted, the Camaro, Charger, and Challenger all followed suit. Now there’s some leadership.

5. 2001 Toyota Tundra: During this time, crash test results weren’t very high on the priority list for this segment. Then, word got out that the Tundra was the only pickup to do well in the IIHS crash test. Fast-forward to today and Detroit has 5-stars for it’s trucks across the board.

6. 1997 Mercedes-Benz M-class: This is what set fire to the luxury SUV segment. The concept of an off-road capable, comfortable, luxurious, made for the masses SUV from the three pointed star was brilliant. At the time, there was nothing like it. The M-class also introduced several safety innovations for this segment, like side airbags. Does any one remember it’s debut in Jurassic Park The Lost World? That’s when I fell in love.

7. 1996 Dodge Caravan/ Plymouth Voyager/ Chrysler Town & Country: If you are my age then chances are that you knew at least 5 families that had one of these when you were a kid. This was the modern mold for today’s minivan. During this time Daimler Chrysler was considered to be Detroit’s design leader; these minis where head and shoulders above it’s competition. The sheer sales numbers put it on this list along with some big-time mid 90s innovation.

So there we have it, leadership in a way that might not cross your mind everyday.

><(("> Joseph Rector

Joe is a former ><((“> Team Member at Catch Your Limit, a management and marketing firm with offices in Tallahassee, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. To learn more, visit

Posted in Creativity/Innovation.

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