Thursday, January 29, 2015

Automobile History: An Interview on China Radio International, January 29, 2015

Hi folks: the link that follows is my CRI interview that was aired today, January 29, 2015.

 Here were the talking points:

1.      January 29th, 1886 is usually regarded as the birthday of car, and the German engine designer Karl Benz is regarded by many as the “Father of Automobile”. Looking at that period of time, would you say the appearance of automobile was something inevitable or something very accidental?

2.      Concerning the early history of automobiles, there is a cliché in the west that “the automobile is European by birth, American by adoption”. Why do you think America was able to quickly catch up and overtake Europe in the early stages of the auto industry?

3.      The word “automobile” is basically an American term. It was first used in America in 1895 and fully adopted in the US in 1899. Why do you think the history of the US chose “automobile” instead of other words? What are some of the interesting stories behind the adoption of this word?

4.      Regarding to the history of the US auto industry, anyone with a little common sense can think of many labels: Henry Ford and mass production, the General Motors and its long-time CEO Alfred Sloan, the rise and decline of Detroit, and so on. But what is usually neglected by people when they talk about the history of auto industry?

5.      In China, it was not until the 90s and the beginning of the 21st century that private cars came into the lives of the ordinary citizens. In history, did the US have a similar transition in terms of car users?

6.      I read the introduction part of your book “The Automobile and American Life” where you said the work you have done through this book is sort of like your “auto-biography”. Tell us how, over the years, your perception of automobile has evolved.

7.      In the introduction of the book, you also argue that the automobile and its related infrastructure transformed everyday life as well as our basic values. I have no difficulty in understanding “transforming everyday life”, but could you elaborate a little bit more on “transforming our basic values”?

8.      If you were to put your fingers on five major influences the auto industry has made upon the human society, either positive or negative, what are they?

9.      In the course of the 20th century, many technological products have come and go. People fell in love with them and then dump them. But automobiles have survived and remain as popular today. What are some of the most important factors behind its survival?

10.  When there are so many cars on roads, management of these cars inevitably becomes a problem, notably with regard to traffic jam and parking space. What would be your advice on how to address the dilemma between producing more cars and less congestion on roads?

11.  From a historian’s perspective, what is the direction in which today’s auto industry is going?

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