If someone told you a decade ago that three of the automotive industry's most innovative and game-changing vehicles would be built by American automakers, would you have laughed?
It would have certainly been difficult to imagine, back when Detroit automakers were known for poor quality passenger cars and gas-guzzling, street-clogging, SUVs. But fast-forward to 2014, and three of the industry's arguably game-changing vehicles are indeed American. Without further ado, here's the list of game-changing vehicles from Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), General Motors (NYSE:GM), and Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA)
Let's kick the list off with the least innovative, yet still game-changing, vehicle on the list.
3. General Motors' 2014 Chevrolet Impala
I know what you're thinking, how the heck is the Impala a game-changing vehicle? Hear me out. In terms of what the Impala is, it's not going to change how we look at the automotive industry. But what the Impala represents will certainly emphasize how Detroit automakers have changed the game.
Consider that Consumer Reports magazine named the 2014 Impala its top-ranking sedan. So what, right? Well, that's a big deal when you have to turn back the clock two decades to find the last American vehicle that has held that spot.
In fact, Detroit automakers had essentially been left for dead in the domestic midsize and large vehicle segments. If it wasn't a truck or SUV, and it was Detroit made, you weren't interested. Vehicles such as the Chevy Impala, and Ford's Fusion, have changed the game when it comes to consumers paying attention to Detroit passenger cars.
"The Impala's performance is one more indicator of an emerging domestic renaissance," said Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports automotive testing, according to the Detroit News.
Next up is a historically dominant vehicle from General Motors cross-town rival, Ford.
2. Ford's 2015 F-150
While it's absolutely a great thing for Detroit to be competing in the passenger vehicle market again, if you could pick one vehicle segment to dominate, though, it would be full-size pickups. That's because full-size pickups haul in larger transaction prices and profits for automakers -- that's where the money is.
Ford's F-Series trucks have long dominated the segment, being America's best-selling truck for 37 years, and our nation's best-selling overall vehicle for 32 years. Ford's F-Series has even outsold the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra combined since 2009. Rather than resting on its dominance, Ford is doing something that no automaker has done -- produce an aluminum-bodied vehicle at such high production volumes.
By using aluminum in the F-Series' truck body, and then further strengthening its steel frame, the next-generation F-150 is going to have the best of both worlds: a more durable truck frame with less total weight. That weight reduction, of up to 750 pounds, will improve the truck's fuel economy for truck buyers.
Furthermore, this use of aluminum shouldn't be confused with a crinkling beer can. The heat-treated aluminum has better properties than steel when it comes to dent and ding resistance, and at one-third of the density, it can be thicker and more light-weight at the same time.
In addition to the truck's weight reduction, Ford is adjusting its engine lineup to better serve different consumers. Ford will offer a 3.5-liter V-6, a 2.7-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V-6, a 3.5-liter Ecoboost V-6, and a 5.0-liter v-8. That means no potential truck buyer will be stuck without the exact performance they desire, be it a work truck needing daily V-8 performance, or a daily driver with better fuel economy that can tow when called upon.
Long story short, as gas prices rise and consumers demand a stronger truck, Ford's 2015 F-150 will provide a military-grade aluminum body for better fuel economy and a truck that delivers more towing and hauling capability than its previous generation. Aluminum bodied trucks are coming and competitors will scramble to copy Ford.
"Our assumption is that the Ford F-150 will be successful, there is no way Ford won't let it not be successful," Richard Schultz, managing director of Ducker Worldwide said. "And there is no way GM and Chrysler would not follow Ford."
Last on this list, yet arguably the most innovative and potentially game-changing vehicle in decades, is from the youngest American automaker.
1. Tesla Motors' Model S
The automotive industry has used internal combustion engines to power vehicles for more than a century. The industry was practically begging for disruption and innovation, and finally the Model S represents a true game-changing development for electric vehicles.
Don't confuse Tesla's Model S for your stereotypical electric car, though. The Model S is a unique twist between a sports car, luxury car, and purely electric vehicle and could be the greatest American-made car ever.
Looking at the sports car angle, Tesla's Model S with its top-spec model accelerates from zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds. If those numbers are meaningless to you, consider that a 2001 Lamborghini Diablo VT 6.0 accelerates zero to 60 in the same 4.2 seconds. Further, the top-spec Model S would even beat a Porsche 2013 911 Carrera to 60 by one-tenth of a second -- pretty impressive for an electric car, no?
Beyond its racetrack qualities, Tesla's Model S also earned a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and topped the list in every subcategory. To put it another way, Tesla's Model S outscored every major make and model vehicle approved for sale in the United States and set a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants -- also impressive, no?
With as many record-setting attributes as the Model S has, it shouldn't be a surprise that Consumer Reports awarded the electric vehicle a 99 out of 100 points -- one of the highest scores the publication has ever given. Motor Trend also unanimously voted the Model S as its 2013 "Car of the Year". For those of you dismissing the Model S because of its high price tag, which starts around $70,000, fear not: It's more affordable third-generation vehicle will hit the markets in roughly three years and cost half as much.
All three of these vehicles are changing the game for their respective automakers, and further prove that American automakers are indeed enjoying a resurgence in the industry.
Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.