The History of the Car
The modern motorized car was invented in 1886, but it didn’t find a mass market until Henry Ford perfected the assembly line process to manufacture automobiles at a low cost. The resulting automotive industry changed the face of how Americans conducted their daily lives as the car extended their reach to distant places. Americans now could purchase a car on the installment plan, and they found themselves susceptible to marketing and advertising strategies.
Benz and Daimler
Germans Karl Benz, Wilhelm Mayback and Gottlieb Daimler are credited as the inventors of the modern automobile. In 1885 they separately built a motorized tricycle and bicycle. A year later, Mayback and Daimler built a four-wheel motorized horseless carriage, according to oldandsold.com. They later partnered to found Mercedes-Benz.
Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 in Detroit, Michigan. In 1908, he developed the automotive assembly line to mass-produce the Model T, according to wardsautoworld.com. It sold for less than $900. More than 15 million Model Ts were manufactured by 1927.
William Durant created General Motors in 1908 to serve as the umbrella company for Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and the Oakland, which later became Pontiac. General Motors reigned as the most powerful corporation in North America for most of the 20th century, according to myfoxdc.com. In the 1920s, GM chief Alfred P. Sloan developed management policies still used today as a template for American corporations.
The Volkswagen Beetle brought the concept of an economy car to the United States in 1949. Within a decade, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Studebaker attempted to emulate the fuel-efficient compact car. VW also developed a successful and clever self-deprecating David vs. Goliath advertising campaign, according to theautochannel.com. More than 21 million Beetles were produced by 1992, breaking the Model T’s 15 million production record. Japanese automakers Toyota, Honda and Datsun, later Nissan, followed VW’s lead, with even better results.
The Ford Motor Company launched the Mustang in 1964. It was marketed through heavy advertising and youth-oriented television ads to baby boomers who became of driving age in the early 1960s, according to ateupwithmotor.com. It changed how automakers advertised their cars and created a market for sporty two-door coupes with a long hood and short rear deck.
Detroit automakers, who had a penchant for building large gas-guzzling cars, took a terrible beating following the 1973 and 1978 fuel shortages. GM, Ford and Chrysler were forced to downsize their cars and reduce horsepower in the engines to compete against better built and more fuel-efficient Japanese imports, according to Fortune magazine.
General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and restructured with help from the federal government. Both companies implemented massive job cuts and closed assembly plants due to rising fuel prices, a severe recession and the continuing Japanese encroachment of the market share. Ford secured a line of credit and was able to avoid bankruptcy. In July 2009, Ford reported a second-quarter profit of $2.3 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.