General Motors, Chrysler and Ford's Revolutionary Cars and Failures

Nothing says cool, hip and exciting like a Ford.

Well, maybe not. But the U.S. carmaker is trying to change its image as it launches a new marketing campaign for a fuel-efficient, small car it hopes will help pull it out of a slump.

Ford has picked 100 everyday Americans who will test drive and live with the new Fiesta, a compact car aimed at competing with those made by Toyota and Honda. The 100 "young trendsetters," as Ford calls them, will share their opinions on all kinds of topics through social media outlets ranging from Facebook to Twitter to YouTube.

The "agents" applied for the opportunity online, posting short videos on YouTube explaining why they would be the best representative agents for the "Fiesta movement." More than 640,000 people have viewed the applications on YouTube.

Ford, like its counterparts in Detroit, hopes that one car will help save the struggling automaker. But unlike General Motors, which is putting its energy and brand behind an electric car, Ford is hoping that a small, compact will be hip enough to revive its image.

General Motors is staking a lot of its recovery on the fate of the Chevrolet Volt, an electric car that it says will revolutionize the market and restore the company's brand name.

It isn't the first time that an automaker has pinned its success on one breakthrough model.

The minivan changed the way Americans thought about cars.

Many have tried but only a few have succeeded. Here is a look at some of those game-changing cars and those who fell way short of the promise.

Minivans: Chrysler's Family Auto Invention

One of the best-known success stories is that of the minivan.

In November 1983, Chrysler introduced the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager. The world was never the same for soccer moms again.

"It's a far cry from today's minivan, but it really did revolutionize the market," said AutoTrends consulting analyst Joe Phillippi.

Chrysler dominated the market at first as other car companies struggled to play catchup. That, in turn, helped turn the company's profits around.

"It's hard to imagine that it was 25 years ago," Phillippi said.

Chrysler's Birth of the SUV: Jeep Cherokee

Chrysler struck again in 1984 with the Jeep Cherokee.

Nothing said outdoor ruggedness, but family-friendly, like the Cherokee.

This revamped, smaller version of the old Cherokee really kicked off the modern SUV age. It also came in a four-door version, making it a the first jeep that could also serve as a family car.

"They sort of invented the four-door mid-size sport utility vehicle," Phillippi said.

But not every car is a success, despite Detroit's deepest desires.

The Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto both came out in 1971 and were an attempt by American automakers to compete with the compact, more fuel-efficient cars imported by Toyota and Honda that were then first flooding the market.

The Vega's reliability was … well, less than reliable.

Phillippi said Chevrolet came up with an all-aluminum engine, "what they thought was going to be an innovative way to manufacture" a car. The problem was that the engine cylinders wore out faster than expected and burned though oil at "an alarming rate."

Jack Nerad, market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said the car was crucial in hurting General Motors' reputation, compared to the reliability of foreign cars.

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