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Making and Selling Cars

Innovation and Change in the U.S. Automotive Industry

James M. Rubenstein

Publication Year: 2001

From the creation of fast food, to the design of cities, to the character of our landscape, the automobile has shaped nearly every aspect of modern American life. In fact, the U.S. motor vehicle industry is the largest manufacturing industry in the world. James Rubenstein documents the story of the automotive industry . . . which despite its power, is an industry constantly struggling to redefine itself and assure its success. Making and Selling Cars: Innovation and Change in the U.S. Automotive Industry shows how this industry made adjustments and fostered innovations in both production and marketing in order to remain a viable force throughout the twentieth-century. Rubenstein builds his study of the American auto industry with care, taking the reader through this quintessentially modern history of production and consumption. Avoiding jargon while never over simplifying, Rubenstein gives a detailed and straightforward account of both the production and merchandising of cars. We learn how the industry began and about its methods for building cars and the modern American marketplace. Along the way there were many missteps and challenges—the Edsel, the fuel crisis, and the ascendancy of Japanese cars in the 1980s. The industry met these types of problems with new techniques and approaches. To demonstrate this, Rubenstein gives the reader examples of how the auto industry used to work, which he alternates with chapters showing how the industry has reinvented itself. Making and Selling Cars explains why the U.S. automotive industry has been and remains a vigorous shaper of the American economy.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

During the century just ended, Americans walked on the moon and split the atom. They invented miracle seeds that could feed the world, and nuclear weapons that could destroy it. But no invention contributed more to transformation of life in the United States in those years than the motor vehicle. ...


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1. From Fordist Production . . .

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pp. 1-29

The Michigan Historical Commission designated the Ford Motor Company’s former Highland Park plant a historical site in 1956. The historical site marker reads: “Home of Model T. Here at his Highland Park Plant, Henry Ford in 1913 began the mass production of automobiles on a moving assembly line. By 1915, Ford had built a million model T’s. In 1925, ...

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2. . . . To Lean Production

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pp. 30-55

In the same year when Lindbergh flew nonstop alone across the Atlantic and Al Jolson sang in the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer, the public unveiling of the Ford Motor Company’s latest Model A car caused an even greater public sensation than either of these notable events. Within thirty-six hours of its unveiling on December 2, 1927, the new Ford ...

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3. From Making Parts . . .

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pp. 56-87

The auto industry’s second major Fordist production achievement early in the twentieth century was vertical integration, which means the control of all phases of a highly complex production process, from initial research to final sale. Vertical integration created an hourglass structure in the automotive industry: thousands of companies supplied parts ...

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4. . . . To Buying Parts

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pp. 88-118

Douglas & Lomason Company was the forty-first-largest U.S. automotive parts producer in 1994, selling more than $500 million worth of parts for installation in new U.S. motor vehicles that year. The company was listed on the NASDAQ exchange, and its 5,800 employees made seats and decorative trim for Chrysler, Ford, and Mitsubishi. The fate of Douglas ...

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5. From Deskilling the Work Force . . .

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pp. 119-150

A line of expensive Potter & Johnson machines stood idle at the Ford Motor Company’s Piquette Street assembly plant on Easter Monday, 1908, because no skilled mechanics were on duty to operate them. Also unstaffed were half of the plant’s line of lathes on which camshafts were turned. Manpower shortages on these two lines were slowing the entire ...

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6. . . . To Reskilling Labor

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pp. 151-180

American auto workers in the late twentieth century were angry. They were angry with Japanese companies for “invading” the United States. They were angry with the Japanese government for “preventing” U.S. companies from competing there. They were angry with the U.S. government for allowing the Japanese to “invade” without a fight. They were angry with the American public for “unpatriotically” buying Japanese ...


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7. From a Class-based Market . . .

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pp. 183-216

General motors’ vision of what it—and most Americans— wanted from the future was most clearly displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Four million people waited hours in line on switch-back ramps leading into a cleft in the large white façade of a building designed by America’s foremost industrial architect, Albert Kahn. Inside the building, visitors sat in one of six hundred upholstered chairs that carried them ...

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8. . . . To a Personal Market

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pp. 217-250

For nearly half a century the term Edsel has had a clear meaning in the United States: an expensive, ill-conceived failure. The Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel car in 1957 to compete against GM’s long successful “car for every purse” strategy. Before its introduction, Edsel generated so much popular interest that Newsweek magazine teased its ...

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9. From Dealing with Customers . . .

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pp. 251-277

Negative perceptions of automotive dealers changed little through the twentieth century. A 1914 automotive industry study reported that “early retailers were incompetent, doing little more than passing along orders to the factory and informing customers when their ordered vehicles had arrived. . . . The automobile industry from the start to the present day has been an industry of extravagance . . . from the standpoint ...

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10. . . . To Serving Customers

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pp. 278-306

In 2000 AutoNation was the largest group of dealers in new and used cars in the United States, with 282 dealerships around the country. AutoNation dominated motor vehicle sales in several major markets, especially south Florida (where the company’s founder, H. Wayne Huizenga, lived) and Denver, where AutoNation bought several dealerships owned ...

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11. From a National Market . . .

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pp. 307-330

Robert and Helen Lynd observed during the 1920s that the motor vehicle had become an accepted essential of normal living in the United States. It served as the primary focal point of urban family life and made leisure activity a customary aspect of everyday experience. Business people considered ownership of a luxury vehicle as a symbol of wealth, ...

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12. . . . To a Global Market

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pp. 331-352

Global leadership in the motor vehicle industry in 1900 rested in Europe, especially in Britain, France, and Germany; within a decade, the United States would move ahead to dominate production and sales of motor vehicles. Neither the Ford Motor Company nor General Motors existed in 1900; within a decade, the two would become the world’s dominant producers. ...

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pp. 353-356

Producing and selling motor vehicles changed remarkably little in the United States through most of the twentieth century. Ford’s mass production techniques remained the basic form of arranging assembly plants. Hundreds of individual parts and components were attached to the frame or body by thousands of minimally skilled workers, each performing specific tasks in a logical sequence along a moving assembly line. And GM’s ...


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pp. 357-370


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pp. 371-386


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pp. 387-401

E-ISBN-13: 9780801873713
E-ISBN-10: 0801873711
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801888533
Print-ISBN-10: 0801888530

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 33 halftones, 19 line drawings
Publication Year: 2001