The term was invented in 1991 after Detroit News crime reporter Scott Bowles noticed a recurring initialism showing up on the daily crime reports; RAUDAA, which stands for Robbery, Armed, Unauthorized Driving Away of an Automobile.
Bowles and his editors decided to do a project on this specific crime. They found dozens of instances all over the city of people being pulled out of their cars by armed criminals. But before they had a story, they had to improve on the name. RAUDAA wasn't catchy enough. They tried several options before settling on carjacking. Soon, the term was everywhere.
"A few days later, Ted Koppel used the word 'carjacking'. And that was it." Bowles told Created Equal. "When the feds made it a federal crime ... now you see it everywhere."
Carjacking became another threat to people living in or visiting the city. The invention of the term may have even lead to a temporary spike in the crime. Detroit police recommended drivers roll through red lights if they felt unsafe, a practice that continues to this day. Decades later, Detroit is still known for carjackings. In 2013, Detroit Police Chief James Craig managed to escape a carjacking when someone attempted to take his unmarked police car on one of the city's main thoroughfares. In 2014, the Associated Press dubbed Detroit 'Carjack City'. Last year, there were 532 carjackings in Detroit.
The story of how carjacking turned from a local phenomenon to a federal crime is fascinating and WDET plunges into the subject in detail. You can listen to the podcast here.