Friday, November 25, 2016
A large percentage of what might be called “buff” automotive history focuses on one particular model or brand. This work goes into extreme detail and satisfies hobby car owners who relish pointing out subtle features and alterations. However, examining an automobile’s history without placing it in a critical historical human context is fraught with distortion. Such an isolated study can become nothing more than an exercise of limited explanatory power and less than satisfying to a broader audience. How do older enthusiasts interest a younger generation who might follow them into the car collecting hobby? Not by writing pedantic books and articles on carburetors and spark plugs.
Integrative forays can prove as wide-angle windows into the human and societal past. For example, probing into how car culture reflects, anticipates, or follows the political, social, and economic environment can lead to powerful explanations about everyday life. Bringing a large number of varied sources to a story adds dimensionally to any history. Chronology, location, and deep knowledge about a broadly construed topic matters. It is one thing to write scissors and paste history, yet another just to repackage what others have written without batting a critical eye.
The dynamic structure of the automobile industry, its geographical locus of activities, management-union relationships, assembly line processes, government oversight, market dynamics, consumer preferences, and the products themselves have all changed dramatically during the past thirty-five years. Car culture(s) remains of general interest; but profound generational, regional, social, and economic differences related to the so-called “love affair” with the automobile exist. For example, in the Dayton, Ohio, area where I live, on any summer Friday night gray-haired men and a few of their wives gather around hot rods and cars from the 1950s and 1960s at a defunct car dealership lot. The next morning a very different group – mostly young people with their wives and girl friends and middle-aged upper middle-class enthusiasts -- meet for cars and coffee at an upscale suburban shopping village to look at tuners, newer sports cars, and a few odds and ends. Further, a large number of urban millenials avoid cars or at least love of the car, altogether. Having moved back to the heart of Dayton, they find entertainment in the historical Oregon District or downtown, and status in the cell phones they own. Every region and community has its own sui generis car culture, lived out quite distinctively.
Oil Shock Shockwaves: A Brief History of Chrysler and American Motors Corporation during the Late 1970s and Early 1980s
Oil Shock Shockwaves: Chrysler and American Motors Corporation
The complex economic consequences from Oil Shocks I and II hit the Chrysler Corporation and American Motors Corporation particularly hard. Under accountants Lynn Townshend and John Ricardo, Chrysler was at best characterized by uninspired leadership until November of 1978 when Lee Iacocca, recently fired at Ford, came on board. In 1975 Chrysler shut down a number of plants in the U.S., and its European operations, small but not insignificant, were in shambles. Needing to move a massive inventory, Chrysler was the first car company to offer rebates in a commercial aired during the 1975 Super Bowl. Yet at the time Chrysler’s story was not totally bleak: its 1976 Plymouth Volare was awarded Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. It sold well, but later became the most recalled vehicle of its era. And no wonder, since the Volare’s defects included models without a necessary muffler heat shield; failed seat belt retractors; corroded brake lines, and upper control arms separating from the sub-frame assembly. But what the Volare was most known for, and what brought Chrysler to near bankruptcy, was its non-galvanized front fenders, which quickly rusted away. It was a visual testimony to Chrysler Corporation’s lack of quality products. And the from also sold the wrong products, as Iacocca later confessed: “The classic mistake was to build all our production on speculation, carry those tremendous inventories and let them get old on us. We weren’t meeting the market – we always had the wrong stuff built.” By 1978 Chrysler was giving away its foreign subsidiaries – British Roots was sold for $1 to Peugeot, and Spanish Barrieros truck operations went to Renault.
It remained for Lee Iacocca to step in and save Chrysler with government assistance. Preaching equality of sacrifice and accountability, Iacocca asked for concessions from the UAW. On the corporate side, Iaccoca fired 51 of 52 Chrysler vice-presidents, thus eliminating a host of corporate fiefdoms. With a leadership team he brought from Ford that included Hal Sperlich, Iacocca gradually pulled the firm out of its death spiral with popular 1980s products that included the K-Car and the minivan. Iacocca sold these vehicles personally in television ads, and what could have been an economic disaster was at least averted until a second major American manufacturing decline after 2007. In part, Iacocca blamed Detroit’s problems in the early 1980s on Japanese imports and preferential tariffs in Japan, and to that criticism the Japanese cleverly responded by erecting transplants in the U.S.
|a dorky K-Car|
American Motors Corporation was hardly any better off than Chrysler by the mid-1970s. In 1975, AMC followed up on its relatively successful Gremlin with the fishbowl looking Pacer, a car that was slow, heavy, and got poor gas mileage. Its Jeep brand kept the company going, but AMC’s Kenosha plant was old and outdated. In 1978, 1976 AMC cars were the subjects of a massive pollution control recall that was costly and further tarnished the brand.
A large percentage of AMC was sold to Renault in 1982 (22.5%) and 1983 (49%). American consumers were now offered the AMC Alliance, a reworked Renault 9. Stories of the Alliances’ poor quality abound, as tears were shed then and laughter now. The end came in 1987, with Jeep being sold to Chrysler; the last AMC Eagle left the Kenosha plant that same year. What remained was the Detroit Big Three, and it was not so big given the onslaught of Japanese and German brands. While European markets were largely inaccessible to the Japanese, American politicians, including President Jimmy Carter, had looked the other way to the Japanese and their unfair trade practices. The French had not been so kind to the Japanese, who moved quickly to exploit American markets. In the end it was the French who picked up some of the pieces of the American industry after the economic storm of the 1970s and early 1980s had done its damage.
 Steven Parissien, The Life of the Automobile (New York: St. Martins, 2013), pp. 285-7; Judith Stein, Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010), pp. 254 ff..
 “Why Bail Chrysler,” U.S. News & World Report, 87 (December 17, 1979), 64.
 Lee A. Iacocca, with William Novak, Iacocca, an Autobiography (New York: Bantam Books, 1984).
This article is from the Chicago Tribune and appeared in this morning's Dayton Daily News. I do not know either of the historians quoted but found the article fascinating and factual.
Automakers use the model year to distinguish new vehicles that feature the latest updates in technology, styling, creature comforts and options.
But why are new models born in the future, with model year 2018 vehicles introduced in 2016, for example?
Finding the answer is like finding Waldo.
There are a variety of theories on who or what initiated the model year. While Henry Ford helped create the auto industry in the early 1900s, a tip of the hat goes to the nation’s farmers for playing a role.
“The automotive model year started back in the teens. Farmers would harvest their crops and sell them every fall, and that’s when they had enough cash in their pockets to go out and buy a car. And that’s how the model year started, and eventually that’s how the fall introduction of new cars started,” said John Wolkonowicz, an independent auto analyst and historian in Boston.
Also contributing was weather.
“In the early days, assembly plants in Northern states had trouble with lighting and heating in the winter months,” says Bob Kreipke, Ford Motor Co. historian, “so they mostly produced in the summer months and then put the cars out for sale in the fall.”
Following World War II, the industry settled on Oct. 1 as the start of the model year, Wolkonowicz said, and it was subsequently recognized as the time new cars and new features arrived annually.
“The new model year in the ’50s and ’60s was designed to bring excitement in cars. Cars were shipped to dealers covered in canvas tarps, and dealer showroom windows were painted over to hide the cars until preview night. Dealers had parties in their stores on the night the new cars were shown for the first time,” Wolkonowicz said.
Thus the end of the year felt like a new year for cars.
Another factor that influenced the annual model change was federal safety, emission and fuel economy mandates in the 1960s and 1970s that forced automakers to not only focus on new technology and innovation, but on the timetables set to meet them. As government regulations increased, development costs skyrocketed.
“The cost of regulations is one reason the model cycle (from introduction to a replacement version) moved from what had been three years to what has become five to six years. And it’s why there aren’t as many new cars introduced each model year today as there had been in the past,” said Joe Phillippi, president of AutoTrends, a research and consulting firm.
The three-year model cycle meant modest changes and upgrades in each of three consecutive years before the vehicle was replaced with a totally redesigned next generation successor that prompted consumers to buy again. Critics called it “planned obsolescence” motivated by the desire to make lots of money.
“The industry needed time to develop the items to meet the regulations, because it takes more time to install a rearview camera than it does to simply add a tail fin,” said Kreipke, in defense of the longer model cycle. “The industry also needed longer time to make money on the vehicles after adding costly government-mandated systems. With a three-year cycle you wouldn’t reach break-even on the cost of regulations in three years. There’s a saying in the industry that the first vehicle off the line costs $20 million, and it takes at least three years to get that down to $20,000 so you can make some money.”
Since photos of new model year vehicles appear in magazines and newspapers, as well as being seen in person at auto shows months beforegoingonsale,thenewmodel year has lost some thunder but still attracts a special breed of buyers.
“There are buyers who purchase a new car at the start of the model year to be first with the newest before anyone else — like their neighbors,” said Phillippi. “This is why cars in showrooms at the start of the model run are loaded with all the options, because the industry knows the newest buyers are the type who will step up to pay to get the car first.”
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Funny how minuscule controversies go on and on, including those amongst automotive historians. Several years ago I was in Mannheim, Germany and saw this memorial. I imagine if the first name was Carl in piece of stone located in the place near where Benz did his work, it had to be right.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
|Open for victories: In 1957, Paul O’Shea driving the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLS won the US Sports Car Championship for the third time|
|In 1956, Paul O’Shea won the US Sports Car Championship for the second time in a row driving the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL touring sports car. The photo was taken in the 1955 season, in which he competed already driving the W 198.|