In hindsight, 1980 was a pivotal year for the new car market in the United States. The industry had endured two major energy crisis just a few years apart and consumer preferences were slowly but surely starting to shift. Japanese automakers were wise enough to notice the changing times, they acted quickly and they managed to dominate entire segments by the time the decade was over.
The story was different for European automakers. Fiat shuttered its U.S. arm in 1982, Renault left in 1987, Volkswagen went through very hard times and Audi famously nearly went bust. Peugeot struggled but it soldiered on until the early 1990s and Alfa Romeo managed to make it until 1994. Mercedes-Benz sales rebounded when gray market imports were banned but, like BMW, it was caught off-guard by the arrival of Lexus, Infiniti and Acura.
In this volatile context, what car(s) do you think should have been sold in the 1980s in the United States and why? For the sake of this argument we’ll pretend that safety / emissions regulations and the Chicken Tax don’t exist – anything goes. This is a point of endless debate so we’re looking forward to reading your comments, especially considering the fact that our readers are largely split between Europe and the United States.
There are many possible answers but we’ll start off by mentioning the Peugeot 205. It was a small, robust and relatively well-built hatchback that could have performed admirably in its segment if properly executed. We’re sure the GTi model would still be popular today, we can imagine a spruced up 205 CJ aimed squarely at the Volkswagen Cabriolet and so forth.
Another one that immediately comes to mind is the Volvo 480. Interestingly, it was designed for the U.S. market (which explains why it’s fitted with side reflectors) but Volvo decided not to export it at the last minute. The decision was blamed on the unfavorable currency exchange rate.