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Top 10 Automotive Stories for 2010

With 2010 about to disappear into our rearview mirror, here’s our pick for the Top 10 automotive news stories for the year just past:

NASCAR Hall of Fame

10) NASCAR Hall of Fame Opens! In 2010, NASCAR opened the doors to its “Hall of Fame” museum in Charlotte, N.C. Built at a cost of $160 million, the museum inducted as its first honorees legendary drivers Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson and Richard Petty, as well as NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr., and his son Bill France, Jr.

Google's Driverless Car

9) Google Invents Driverless Car! Okay, “invents” may be a strong word — “driverless” cars have been around for decades in one form or another — but Google did stun the automotive world when it announced it had driven a tricked-out Toyota Prius with gear that allowed it to travel 140,000 miles guided by nothing but radar and GPS signals. (It did carry a human passenger in the event the robo-brain went goofy.)

Plug-In Car

8) America Prepares to Go Electric! Auto companies are betting big bucks that Americans are eager to trade their gas pumps for extension cords. Ready to roll out of showrooms and into America’s garages are such cutting-edge electric vehicles as the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt and the Tesla Model S. How will they fare? 2011 will tell the tale.

Gas Pump

7) Gasoline Prices Stabilize! For those of us not quite ready to abandon the internal combustion engine, the big news about gas prices is that there was no news. In most parts of the country, gasoline stayed below $3.00/gallon thanks in large part to reduced demand due to the Great Recession.

Tombstone

6) Favorite Brands Bite the Dust! In 2010, we said goodbye to such famous labels as Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn and Mercury. (And we’re still mourning the loss of Studebaker.)

SUV

5) SUVs Are Back! When gas prices spiked two years ago, many experts believed the days of the gas-guzzling family Sherman tank were over. While sales of larger SUVs continue to lag, Americans have returned to buying smaller SUVs and crossovers in healthy numbers.

Crash Test

4) Crash Test Ratings Revised! Long accused of handing out five-star ratings like perfume samples, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2010 revised its crash-test procedures to reflect more real-world conditions and even added (gasp!) a female crash-test dummy. Expect ratings for many cars to come down, which ain’t necessarily a bad thing.

Ford Motor Co. HQ

3) Ford Shows How It’s Done! In October, Ford posted a three-month profit of $1.7 billion, its sixth consecutive profitable quarter. Ford was the only American car company not to participate in 2009’s “auto bailout,” and in 2010, it demonstrated continued strength and sound management.

GM HQ

2) GM Is the Comeback Kid! Once left for dead, General Motors (GM) emerged from bankruptcy firing on all eight cylinders with an IPO that raised a staggering $20.1 billion. In November the company reported a third quarter profit of $2 billion on $34.1 billion in revenue, showing that “Buy American” is no longer a punch line.

Runaway Toyota

1) Toyotas Out of Control! In 2010, Toyota had to recall 10 million vehicles, including tens of thousands of its best-selling Prius hybrids, in response to complaints that its vehicles were, on occasion, accelerating out of control. The recall was a major black mark on Toyota’s long-standing reputation for reliability and quality control.

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