Essay: How Cars Have Revolutionized America

The world history of cars is connected with the names of Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler in Germany; Louis Renault, Rene Panhard, Emile Lavassor and the Peugeot brothers in France, and Frank and Charles Duryea, Ransom E. Olds, Charles King, Elwood Haynes, David Buick and Henry Ford and many others in the United States [Wright, 1996]. They all made the great impact on the universal love and worship of cars and the freedom they can give.

The introduction of cars revolutionized almost all aspects of life in the United States. The automobile industry was one of the most innovative and profitable ever since.

It is interesting that the US automobile industry partially owes the first steps of its history to William Steinway, owner of Steinway & Sons piano factory, who bought US manufacturing right for Daimler cars in the United States. By 1891 the Daimler Motor Company, owned by Steinway, was producing petrol engines for tramway cars, carriages, quadricycles, fire engines and boats in a plant in Hartford, CT. [Bottorff, 200 ].

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The first gasoline powered car in America was built by brothers Charles and Frank Duryea in 1893. Thirteen Duryea of the same design were produced in 1896, making it the first production car. The mass production of gasoline-powered automobiles in the United States was connected with the name of Ransom E. Olds and the successful creation his classic Curved Dash Oldsmobile. In 1904 Olds was able to produce 5,508 units of his automobile, which was an impressive amount for that time.

Another automobile pioneer who piloted the new model car invention in the beginning of the automobile industry was Henry Ford. While working as an engineer for the Edison Company, Henry Ford created the Quadricycle in 1892, which was build in reality only in 1896. With his invention he started the Ford Motor Company in 1903. Ford revolutionized the industry by introducing the idea of the assembly line. This idea implied that each worker was responsible for putting one part, or doing a piece of work on each automobile, which greatly reduced the production time of automobiles and improved areas of building.

Ford’s innovative approach also comprised the idea of standardizing car models. His Model-T, a basic black model with few added features invented in 1908, changed the automobile industry forever because standardization allowed Ford Company to speed up the production of Model-T cars and to keep its production cost very low. Due to this, the Model-T was positioned as a car for an ordinary man and added a new meaning to Americans attitude to cars – it was a dream, an affordable one.

In the ‘2Os the automobile industry experienced a new step of evolution. The emotional bond between Americans and their cars became stronger. This was used by the companies that manufactured cars in the attempt to win new customers on a comparatively empty market. Mechanical issues of the car production and its mechanical attributes were considered less. The new wave of leaders like Alfred P. Sloan and Harley Earl of General Motors, Walter P. Chrysler and Ned Jordan, were concerned with defining the automobile’s role in the life of the consumer. Car advertisements of that time emphasized the intangible values like image, romance, and fun [Wright, 1996], and thus, made customers believe that a car was an essential part of their lives.

Mechanical issues of the car production and its mechanical attributes were considered less. The new wave of leaders like Alfred P. Sloan and Harley Earl of General Motors, Walter P. Chrysler and Ned Jordan, were concerned with defining the automobile’s role in the life of the consumer. Car advertisements of that time emphasized the intangible values like image, romance, and fun [Wright, 1996], and thus, made customers believe that a car was an essential part of their lives.

 

The new automobile era has changed not only the American society itself, it is partially responsible for numerous changes in almost every aspect of life. Paved roads, freeways and interstates have made traveling and transportation quicker, safer and more comfortable. Urban complexes, parking, motels, fast-food restaurants, shopping malls, drive-in movies, drive-in banks, drive-in florists, etc) have grown near most of the roads in the US. Many industries owe a great deal to the popularity of the automobile industry. Especially those that are bound with it on a production or maintenance levels: oil and petroleum industries, steel industry, electronics, automotive parts manufacturing, and many others. The car manufacturing companies become the biggest consumers of steel, aluminum, copper, glass, zinc, leather, plastic and platinum, lead and rubber in the United States.

Moreover, one must admit that new marketing principles and different innovations in the automobile industry on recent decades made an enormous impact of the development of the commerce, dealership system, customer care, and support, transportation services, legislative policy, financial services, insurance, design, newest computer technologies, etc. For example, Lee Iacocca’s innovative approach to sales management that was introduced in Ford Motor Company enabled customers to purchase new cars though installment payments, entering thus the installment selling in the automobile industry. The legislative, financial and insurance spheres have all developed tremendously and were impressively enriched in the last century mainly due to the enforcement of the automobile industry.

The three major automobile manufacturers in the United States—General Motors Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and DaimlerChrysler AG — provide much of the industry’s total direct employment in the United States [Encarta, 2006]. The share of national carmakers on the market is far from being stable, and the statement is right for the analysis of the industry’s past.

One of the main benefits of imported cars, was the combination of lower price and better fuel efficiency. Americans, who had to face an energy crisis in 1970s, which was followed by an immediate rising cost of gasoline, highly appreciated these qualities. The introduction of air pollution and safety standards in 1970 Clean Air Act made national automakers struggle for survival due to intense competition from abroad – Japan in particular. By the end of the 1970s, Japanese automakers were selling 2.5 million cars a year in the United States (approximately every fourth car was of Japanese origin) [Encarta, 2006].

To face competition and cut operating costs, the U.S. automakers had to adopt new technologies and production methods (lean production): e.g., increased automation, quality control, just-in-time inventories, diesel engines, catalytic converters, electronic fuel injection, and many more.

In the 1980s, the increase of U.S. imports of cars had threatened the economic strength of national automakers again. Domestic sales improved in the 1990s, but at the beginning of the new century, foreign automobile manufacturers seem to win the car sales battle over the US market again. For example, the Ford Company faced its car and truck market share in North America fall to about 17 percent in 2005, (which is the percentage share of the 1980s), and General Motors faced in 2005a decrease of its North American market share to 26 percent [El-Messidi, 2006].

The level of U.S. motor vehicles sales on the national market is predicted to remain at about the same level in the future (1-2% growth per year). At the same time, foreign manufacturers and markets are growing at much higher rates. To ensure a proper level of exports, essential for the development of the automobile industry, the U.S. trade officials have negotiated trade agreements such as the Memorandum of Understanding with Korea (1993), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, 1994), and the U.S.-Japan Automotive Framework Agreement (1995) that enabled to increase the automobile and other exports to Japan, Mexico, and Korea several times over [Encarta, 2006].

The influence of the automobile industry of the American society is enormous. The introduction of cars has revolutionized America and the whole world in many different ways. It is evident that the revolutionary achievement of world’s most prominent scientists and mechanical wizards provided an excellent opportunity for the humanity to make a massive step into the future.

References:

  • Bellis, Mary. 2006. The History of the Automobile [on-line]. About, Inc., a part of The New York Times Company. ; available from: http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aacarssteama.htm; Internet; accessed 28 April 2006.
  • Bottorff, William W. What Was The First Car? Quick History of the Automobile for Young People [on-line]. Austin Business Computers page; available from: http://www.ausbcomp.com/~bbott/cars/carhist.htm; Internet; accessed 28 April 2006
  • El-Messidi, Kathy. 2006. Automobile Industry [on-line]. Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2006; available from: http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761563934/Automobile_Industry.html; Internet; accessed 29 April 2006
  • Haynes, Lilian. The Automobile in History [on-line]. Creative Communications Trust; available from: http://www.autocluster.com/ushistory/id41.htm; Internet; accessed 28 April 2006.
  • Wright, Richard A. 1996. A Brief History of the First 100 Years of the Automobile Industry in the United States [on-line]. Wayne State University’s Department of Communications; available from: http://www.theautochannel.com/mania/industry.orig/history/chap1.html; Internet; accessed 27 April 2006

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