Cars have had an impact on almost every aspect of our daily lives for more than a century. They are as much a part of our popular culture as music, art, literature, fashion and film. At no time in history was this truer than during the 2010s, a decade that started with car companies clawing their way out of a deep recession and is ending with hope for the future as the number of electric cars offered and number of EVs sold are both on the rise.
Here’s how the world rolled in the 2010s:
Welcome to the Age of Uber
Uber unveiled plans to launch what it called a ride-hailing service in 2008. The idea was to provide people with a simple app they could use to schedule and pay for private cars on-demand. The goal was to disrupt the taxi and traditional car service industries. And on July 5, 2010, Uber picked up its first passenger in San Francisco, California. Since then, the company has hit its share of speed bumps and detours. It has also gone global, and become the primary mode of transportation for millions of people worldwide.Earlier this year, Uber was valued at more than $82 billion for its IPO. Now it has more than 40 million users per month. Impressive.
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Riding with Royals, Part 1
On April 29, 2011, Britain’s Prince William married socialite Kate Middleton. Following the ceremony at Westminster Abbey and a horse-drawn carriage ride back to Buckingham Palace for a reception with the Queen, Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge rode around London in a Seychelles Blue Aston Martin DB6 MKII Volante given to William’s father, Prince Charles, by the Queen in 1969 for his 21st birthday. The Royal Couple reportedly did so to thank Londoners and anyone else who traveled far and wide to catch a glimpse of them tying the knot. That is, in lieu of inviting everyone back to the after parties. The Aston Martin’s license plate read: “Just Married.”
Cap Gets a New Ride
Captain America has been at the epicenter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, leading the Avengers as they save the Earth from enemies domestic and intergalactic. Marvel’s leading man has always rode rode a Harley-Davidson in the comics and, thus, continues to do so today on the silver screen. In 2011, Captain America (played by Chris Evans) took off on a WLA “Liberator”—modified by Howard Stark for use in combat, of course—in Captain America: The First Avenger. After the super-soldier thawed out for The Avengers in 2012, Rodgers rode a Harley-Davidson soft tail and then, in 2014′s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he upgraded to something a little faster and more nimble: Harley-Davidson’s Street 750. After all, all three were made in America.
Did A-List Celebs and Sports Pros Save the G Wagon?
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, better known as the G Wagon, is a massive, off-road capable sport utility vehicle with military origins. With its sharp angles, front cage and classic upright shape, it looks unlike any other car on the road, which is probably why the battle-tested SUV is popular with celebrities looking to make bystanders stop and take notice. In 2012, unconfirmed rumors persisted that Mercedes was pulling the G Wagon from the U.S. market and, then, suddenly reversed its decision. Although nothing was ever confirmed, the company supposedly changed its mind after some of Hollywood’s elite like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kim Kardashian and more, voiced their displeasure with the decision and asked M-B to rethink the move. Today, the G Wagon is alive and well and thriving, especially with the rich and famous.
EVs Became Cool
Though electric vehicles are still a blip on the overall automotive sales radar—representing an estimated 1.5% of of all new cars sold in the U.S. in first quarter of 2019—they dominated the automotive narrative over the last decade, mainly because of Tesla and its Model S, which went into production in 2012. Elon Musk’s luxury sedan single-handedly changed the way the world views EVs. They were no longer golf carts on steroids. Instead, they provided excellent performance, sleek looks and technology that was head and shoulders above everything else on the market. The Model S was simply a great car that just happened to be electric. Stay cool.
Breaking Bad Made the Ugliest Vehicle Ever Even Uglier
From 2008 to 2013, Breaking Bad told the tale of how Walter White, a hapless high school chemistry teacher, devolved into a murderous drug kingpin in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Played by Bryan Cranston, White started cooking crystal meth, with the help of a former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), to secure his family’s financial future after his death. The rest is television history. Walter drove a 2004 Pontiac Aztek, one of the ugliest and worst cars ever built. The Aztek made its debut in the first episode looking equally as tragic as Walt and didn’t ride off into the sunset until the middle of the final season when—Spoiler Alert!—White sold it to a mechanic for $50.
Rest in Peace Paul Walker
The street racing world was devastated in November 2013 when Fast and Furious star and hardcore auto enthusiast Paul Walker was killed after the car he was riding in—a Porsche Carrera GT driven by his friend and financial adviser Roger Rodas—crashed into a light pole and tree in San Clatia, California, before bursting into flames. The Porsche was traveling at a speed of more than 100mph when the incident occurred, according to the Los Angeles county coroner. The franchise paid tribute to Walker in 2015’s Furious 7, and that same year costar Vin Diesel named his daughter Pauline after Walker.
Car Films Worthy of Oscar Consideration
Having one good car film a decade is a fluke. Two is a miracle. But that’s what happened during the 2010s. The first was released in 2013 by director Ron Howard: Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brϋhl as legendary Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, respectively. The film focuses on the intense rivalry—and burgeoning friendship—between Hunt and Lauda during the 1976 Formula One racing season. Both men were on pace to take home the championship. Then, on August 1, Lauda crashed his Ferrari during the German Grand Prix at the famed Nϋrburgring. The car burst into flames, spewing poisonous fumes everywhere, severely damaging Lauda’s lungs. His head and body was also severely burned before another driver pulled him from the Ferrari’s cockpit. No one thought Lauda would recover, let alone race again that season. But within weeks, the Austrian was back in the saddle winning races. He lost the championship to Hunt by a single point after refusing to participate in the Japanese Grand Prix due to dangerous weather conditions.
Ford v Ferrari
The second car film worthy of consideration from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was released more recently. Back in 1966, Ford set the international car racing scene on fire by besting Ferrari at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. Its GT-40, Mk II captured the top three overall spots in a race, a race typically dominated by the Prancing Horse. In 2019, James Mangold released the film adaption of the rivalry. Ford v Ferrari is based on the behind-the-scenes story of how Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) helped build the car that would eventually silence Enzo Ferrari in 1966—as well as 1967 and 1968. Fifty years later Ford returned to the French countryside and bested Ferrari once again, taking first and third with the Ford GT super car in the LM GTE Pro category.
Steering Wheel Optional
In 2009, Google began developing a self-driving car project in secret—now known as Waymo—led by Sebastian Thrun, the former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View. Within a few years, the company announced that its autonomous cars had collectively driven some 300,000 miles under computer control without one single accident. Then in 2014, Google revealed its prototype for a driverless car. It had no steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal. By the end of 2018, more than 2 million miles had been driven by Google’s autonomous driving AI. All its driverless cars still have a steering wheel, though.
God Bless the New Pope Mobile
Lamborghini presented Pope Francis with a brand-new special edition Huracán in 2018. Too humble to keep the rear-wheel-drive, 573-horsepower supercar for his daily transportation needs (Vatican officials promise it has nothing to do with rumors the Pope’s might have a heavy foot—just kidding), the pontiff sold the Huracán at RM Sotheby’s auction house in Monte Carlo for $861,575. All of the proceeds went to particular causes, such as rebuilding homes and churches in war-torn areas and an organization dedicated to helping female victims of sex trafficking, close to the Pope’s heart. The current Pope Mobile is a little more sedate, being based on a Fiat 500L. But Pope Francis is often seen cruising around Vatican City in a 2008 Ford Focus.
Riding with Royals, Part 2
Not since Grace Kelly wed Monaco’s Prince Ranier in 1956 had an American actress married into royalty. That all changed on May 19, 2018, when Meghan Markle, star of the hit television show Suits, walked down the aisle with Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Following the ceremony and lunchtime reception, the couple made their way from Windsor Castle to Frogmore House to continue the celebration in a stylish silver blue Jaguar E-Type Concept Zero, an electric version of the 1968 British classic with a bespoke license plate, bearing the date of the wedding. Classic car Aficionados don’t freak out; there are no modification whatsoever made to the vehicle body or chassis during the conversion.Thus, it can be returned to stock relatively easily.
The Most Expensive Car Ever Sold at Auction
Vintage car auctions are where the world’s wealthy gain access to the exotics of their dreams. Some of these prize vehicles can easily fetch tens of millions of dollars on the auction block. On August 25, 2018, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO was sold by RM Sotheby’s in Monterrey for a record $48.4 million as part of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Seller Greg Whitten, who joined Microsoft in 1979 as its 15th employee, told CNBC at the time that he sold it for ten times what he paid for it in 2000. Widely considered the most beautiful Ferrari design, the model was one of the most successful racing cars that the marque ever built.
Would You Spend $19 Million on a New Car?
In March 2019, Bugatti introduced La Voiture Noire—French for “The Black Car”—at the Geneva Motor Show. Even before the cover was pulled back on the low-slung, one-off, black-on-black supercar, it was sold to an unnamed individual for an incredible $18.9 million (that’s $12.5 million for the car, plus another $6.4 million in local and luxury taxes), making it the most expensive new car ever sold. Bugatti refused to identify the buyer but said that it was someone with a large attachment to the brand. The 1,479-horsepower machine pays tribute to the company’s 110th anniversary with nods to the Bugatti Atlantic Type 57. Only four were ever built and only one received the black-on-black treatment. It disappeared at the start of World War II.
Win the World Series MVP, Get A New Corvette
Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg wasn’t the first World Series M0st Valuable Player to receive a Chevrolet as a reward for his efforts. But he was the first to receive a new, right-from-the-factory 2020 mid-engine Corvette C8 Stingray. The C8 is so new that full production doesn’t even begin until a few months from now, right around the time pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Car and Driver calls the new C8 spectacular, amazing and supremely capable: “Maybe even revolutionary.” The car continues the iconic V8 legacy with a brand-new, naturally aspirated, 6.2-liter mill under the hood. The big V8 cranks out a solid 495 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque in standard guise, up 35 ponies from the C7 Z51′s engine. It sprints from zero-to-60 seconds in three seconds, on to a top speed of 194 mph. The C8 Corvette Stingray’s mid-engine layout and more complex suspension system is expected to deliver significantly better performance through the twisties. Hold on and get ready for a wild ride in the new decade.
After nearly 82 years on the market and more than 25 million vehicles sold, Volkswagen ended production of its beloved Beetle. On July 10, 2019, the last People’s Car rolled off the assembly line in Puebla, Mexico, to free up capacity so that VW could build another compact SUV—just what the world needs.