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A Boomer's Eye View of Cars

Environmental awareness, politics, the oil crisis--and some of Detroit's worst efforts--led a generation to shun the Big Three's cars

1949
The auto industry becomes the engine of America's postwar prosperity; Detroit controls 99.7% of the U.S. car market.

1955
Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus; the Civil Rights Movement begins.

1957
Sputnik launched; the technology race begins.

1959
Cadillac tailfins reach their zenith.

1962
Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring; environmentalism is born. Volkswagen ads urge consumers to ''Think Small.''

1963
President Kennedy promotes physical fitness, starting boomers on lifelong craze.

1964
The Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and gain instant cult status.

1965
Ralph Nader publishes Unsafe at Any Speed, an indictment of the Chevrolet Corvair. First successful Japanese import, Toyota Corona, hits the market.

1968
Vietnam War protests spread, and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy reinforce strong anti-Establishment leanings in boomers.

1969
Woodstock music festival; VW bus becomes hippie icon.

1973
Oil embargo leads to lines at the gas pump. In the scramble to come up with cleaner, fuel-efficient cars, Detroit reaches a new low in quality.

1974
Nixon's resignation in the wake of Watergate scandal confirms boomers' suspicions of authority.

1978
Lawsuits alleging Ford Pinto gas tanks explode in rear-end collisions raise safety fears.

1979
Second oil shock; Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca begs Congress to bail out failing carmaker.

1980
Ronald Reagan elected, beginning the ''Dynasty'' era of conspicuous consumption; boomers pay up for fancy labels.

1982
Cadillac launches Cimarron, a gussied-up Chevy Cavalier, in a failed bid to regain share. BMWs become car of choice for affluent yuppies.

1983
Chrysler introduces the first minivan, a kid hauler for boomers that looked nothing like mom's station wagon, marking the start of America's love affair with trucks.

1987
Stock market crash puts chill on consumer spending. Quality is in; glitz is out.

1987
J.D. Power publishes first initial car-quality surveys; finds American cars have 22% more defects than those from Japan. This confirms what boomers have long suspected: That American cars are simply inferior.

1988
Much-ridiculed ''Not your father's Oldsmobile'' ad campaign hits the airwaves.

1989
Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti join Honda's Acura in storming the U.S. luxury-car market. All three quickly shoot to top of quality rankings.

1990
GM launches Saturn, its boldest and still most successful attempt to beat back the Japanese. Ford introduces Explorer, igniting the sport-utility craze.

1992
First boomer President elected. Ford Taurus, originally introduced in 1986, becomes best-selling car in America, surpassing the Honda Accord in popularity.

1996
First boomers turn 50.

1997
Mercedes launches M-class SUV.


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Updated Nov. 20, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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