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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 187-188

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Book Review

Taking the Wheel: Auto Parts Firms and the Political Economy of Industrialization in Brazil

Taking the Wheel: Auto Parts Firms and the Political Economy of Industrialization in Brazil. By CAREN ADDIS. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999 . Tables. Figures. Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. xii, 257 pp. Cloth, $47 .50 . Paper, $18 .95 .

The history of Brazil's automobile industry, encompassing both assembler and auto parts firms, is a subject on which much has been written, not only in Portuguese but also in English. Even so, the author of this book has produced an original and almost insuperable account of that history in four of its seven chapters.

Those chapters are the intermediate ones, from the second to the fifth, all well documented and duly based on personal interviews with several of the main actors. They deal respectively with the origins of the industry after the Second World War, up to the 1964 military coup; its reorganization and expansion from the late sixties to the late seventies; and the new departures during the subsequent years until the beginning of the 1990 s--the latter being analyzed with regard to the relationships between part suppliers and auto assemblers, and to the successful upbuilding of a competitive manufactured goods' export economy.

However, some questions discussed in the first and last two chapters affect the author's conclusions and render rather superficial and disputable the attempted updating of her data and argument to present times.

By wishing to demonstrate, almost at any cost, that the main initiatives and leadership within the sector didn't come from either the Brazilian state or multinational enterprises, she reveals a lack of deeper familiarity with the country's more general economic historiography, as well as an insufficient command over the economic theories of oligopolistic competition, which characterizes present-day industrial organization all over the world.

It is true that, at the beginning of chapter 1 , which constitutes a general introduction to the book, and is rather laden with technical jargon, she admits that "readers who are more interested in the historical material than in the theoretical discussion may wish to proceed directly to chapter 2 ." But, unfortunately, this procedure cannot be adopted, since the same discussion reappears in the concluding chapter. The decisive role Addis attributes to the activities of the smaller Brazilian national firms could have been sustained at certain moments in the past, but it certainly does not apply to the present.

Neither the author's preface nor her introductory chapter give any precise [End Page 187] indication of the steps and time that were required to complete the study. According to a statement on page 119 , the initial empirical incursion was made between 1986 and 1989 . It seems to have been followed, ten years later, by a second and shorter one. During this interval, many important changes occurred in Brazil, including a strong concentration process and a pervasive denationalization of its manufacturing industries in general. Such changes, in turn, have entailed the elaboration of many new analyses, theses, and dissertations.

The new trends, still requiring further systematization, should have been better taken into account by the author's updating effort in chapter 7 and elsewhere. As this did not happen, her book can only be recommended as a good introduction to the subject, but not as an exhaustive and definite study of it.


Tamas Szmrecsanyi
Universidade Estadual de Campinas, São Paulo



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pp. 187-188
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Archived 2004
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