75 Years Ago (July 1940): Bullet Proof Tires; Defense-Labor Law; New ’41 Features; Production Soars
In its July 6, 1940, issue, Ward’s Automotive Reports details the development of a new “bullet-proof” tire developed by Seiberling using a puncture-proof inner tube. As well as being resistant to blowouts, tests show the tire and tube is able to absorb several .50 and .30 caliber rounds and still travel 200 miles (322 km) without needing repair.
Responding to the possible U.S. entanglement in wars raging abroad, a new federal law permits President Roosevelt to extend the 40-hour workweek in the event longer hours are needed to meet defense requirements. In signing the legislation, the President says the law will be invoked only after “all available unemployed skilled workers have been absorbed by government and private war materiel plants.”
Reporting on changes in the upcoming ’41 models, WAR tells readers to look for more widespread availability of the Fluid-Drive transmission at Chrysler, where some models may offer it at no added cost. The newsletter also says it expects electrically operated convertible tops to be introduced, following a spurt of vacuum-operated mechanisms in ’39 and ’40 models.
In addition, electrically and hydraulically operated windows are seen coming to market this year. To handle the increased electrical loads, cars will likely feature larger batteries and higher-output generators.
Pending final June results, second-quarter car and truck output is seen reaching an estimated 1,221,000 units, up 23.1% from the 991,767 vehicles built in like-1939, Ward’s figures indicate. First-half 1940 production is pegged at 2,536,000 units against 2,055,748 in a year earlier.
Much of this year’s increase is attributed to higher demand in recent months as buyers react to the likelihood ’41-model prices will rise due to higher material costs and new federal taxes. Willys-Overland, for example, reports sales in the first week of July were higher than in any week since it began building ’40 models a year ago.
70 Years Ago (July 1945): Ford First; GM Body-Constricted; Kaiser-Frazer Venture Announced
Ford is expected to be the first automaker resuming civilian-market car production with 345 units allocated to it by the War Production Board for July assembly.
Ford’s quota is 4,000 in August with further increases set for September and October. Initial production will include Deluxe and Super Deluxe 2- and 4-door sedans and sedan-coupes. An improved version of Ford’s venerable flathead V-8 is expected to power all but a hand full of cars in the initial ’46 run, the rest having a variant of the I-6 engine introduced prior to the onset of the war. The 6-cyl. engine is forecast at 15% of output beginning in October.
No complete cars are forecast for production at General Motors until August, at which time a shortage of body capacity is expected to restrict Buick, Cadillac and Pontiac to offering either a 2-door or 4-door sedan at ’46 launch. Only Chevrolet will be allotted two body styles, likely 2- and 4-door sedans. There is no word yet when Oldsmobile will recommence output. The lengthy reconversion process at Fisher Body plants, due to extensive war-materiel production, is seen as the reason for GM’s output limitations. Chrysler is expected to begin out of ’46 models in September with Hudson, Nash and Packard coming on stream in October.
“The week’s announcement by the newly formed Kaiser-Frazer, Graham-Paige combination has aroused considerable interest in industry circles,” says WAR in a page-one story in its July 28, 1945, newsletter. The lower-cost Kaiser model, expected to be built on the West Coast, and sold in the $500-$1,000 range, is said to be a rear-engine, 6-passenger car featuring extensive use of aluminum and magnesium to help reduce weight. It will be sold by the factory directly to dealers without an intermediate distributor. Locations in Seattle, along with San Diego and Oakland, CA, are being scouted as possible manufacturing locations.
At the same time, the higher-price Frazer, targeted at $1,500, is to be manufactured at the Graham plant in Detroit. The company is said to be attempting to negotiate an end to the lease of a significant part of that plant held by Chrysler since 1941. Frazer models also are of rear-engine design, possibly using Lycoming’s recently developed air-cooled, horizontally opposed, 6-cyl. powerplant. However, some sources say a light-weight water-cooled I-6 aircraft engine also is under consideration. Unlike Kaiser, Frazer’s distribution network will utilize distributors to get the cars to dealers.
60 Years Ago (July 1955): Wagons Soar; New Mercury Plant; ’56 Lincoln Praised
U.S. output of station wagons is expected to reach a record 550,000 units in the nearly-concluded ’55 model run. That represents a 57.1% increase from the 350,000 built in the ’54 run. “Commercial demand for the versatile jobs has been climbing due to adaptability of the body style to delivery and pickup services,” WAR says, adding “But the largest share of the market gain has stemmed from suburban dwellers who use the models as passenger-cargo vehicles.”
Based on Ward’s data, the increased demand has centered on 4-door models at the expense of 2-door variants. In the ’55 model run through May 31, 1955, output of 4-door wagons was 24.5% ahead of entire ’54 production of similar models, while 2-door variants were ahead by just 10.5%. Accompanying the shift to 4-door variants is a move toward 6-passenger wagons from 8-passenger variants, the latter accounting for just 19.9% of ’55 output vs. 53.5% in ’54. Chrysler is the only manufacturer to experience higher demand for 2-door vs. 4-door models. Introduction of the sporty 2-door Chevy Nomad and Pontiac Safari has so far failed to spark a similar move at GM.
Mercury says it will build a new assembly plant near Los Angeles in response to its growing market penetration in Western states. In 1954, for example, Mercury’s share of the U.S. car market was 4.9% nationally, but 6.5% in California and 5.0% in Oregon, while rival Pontiac captured a 6.5% share nationally, but just 5.3% in California and 5.0% in Oregon. According to Ward’s, “Consistently, post-war, Mercury has obtained a greater percentage of its new-car sales from the Western area than have its competitors.” And its share of the 9-state region – Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming – also has repeatedly exceeded its share nationally. However, Mercury’s sister brand, Ford, has not experienced the same success in the West.
Lincoln now is transitioning from ’55 models to its all-new ’56 line, nearly a month ahead of the Aug. 26, changeover planned for Ford and Mercury. The new Lincoln is described as “strikingly beautiful” by industry observers who have seen it. The car is longer, wider and lower than the model it replaces, with a new wraparound windshield and a V-8 rated at 275 hp. Although a 4-door hardtop will not be in the lineup when output launches, one will be added shortly thereafter. Lincoln is expected in showrooms in early September. Meanwhile, the launch of the all-new Continental Mk II reportedly has been put off until early October due to tooling delays. Indications are Continental will offer only two options: tinted glass and air conditioning. All other luxury features will be standard.
50 Years Ago (July 1965): Record Car Sales; Ford Car TV; GM, Chrysler Lambasted; Avanti Rides Again
Domestic-make retail new-car sales in January-June reach all all-time high of 4,576,291 units, surpassing by 14% the prior record of 4,014,896 set just a year earlier. But the booming market is not all good news for GM, whose market share slips to 53.6% for the period from 54.8% in first-half 1964.
Ford, on the other hand, has increased its share to 27.3% from 26.1%, largely on the strength of the red-hot Mustang, and Chrysler has boosted its take to 15.4% from 13.8% with the help of several new models. On the other hand, American Motors’ share slips this year to 3.6% from 4.9%, while Studebaker accounts for only 1% of January-June 1965 sales compared with 0.4% in like 1964. In the last 18 months, GM’s highest share of the domestic car market was 56.2% in May 1964.
Ford dealers in the Great Lakes area soon will begin selling a small portable TV adaptable for use in a car. Developed by Ford’s Philco electronics division, the $169.95 set can be plugged in to a car’s cigarette lighter socket or a portable battery pack as well as operate on household current. A bracket for attaching the TV to the back of the front seat is $12.95 and a car-mounted outside antenna is available for $12.95. Sales eventually will be expanded nationwide.
Testifying before a Senate subcommittee investigating auto safety, executives from GM and Chrysler are heavily criticized for not having facts and figures on their safety programs readily available. Ford has yet to testify, while American Motors gains the subcommittee’s approval for a statement saying the auto industry should force consumers to accept safety equipment. All three manufacturers say their ’66 models will incorporate most of the 17 safety items required on ’67-model government-purchase vehicles. It is widely expected ’66 car prices will increase an average $60 or more due to the inclusion of such items as 2-speed windshield wipers, windshield washers, backup lights and a driver’s side-view mirror as standard equipment. In addition to those items, Ford says its ’66 cars will have a 4-way emergency flasher system except in five states where it is illegal.
The recently deceased Avanti sports coupe is being revived by an independent company, with an Aug. 2 public intro scheduled. Avanti Motor Corp. has purchased the manufacturing rights, tooling and six buildings in South Bend, IN, from Studebaker. Only 800-1,000 units are slated to be built annually, selling for $7,000. Standard equipment includes power steering, power brakes, air conditioning and other accessories. A GM V-8 supplies the power and buyers will be able to customize the interior.
25 Years Ago (July 1990): 4-Cyl. Leads; Chrysler to Pay Penalty; Transplants Take 16.4% share.
The 4-cyl. engine is the dominant powerplant so far in the in the ’90 model year with the 6-cyl. a strong second. Based on a Ward’s analysis of 4,383,081 ’90-model cars built in North America for the U.S. market through March 3, 1990, 46.2% of them were powered by an I-4. V-6 engines accounted for 40.1% of output with V-8 trailing at 13.4%. Thanks to the Canada-built Chevy Metro, 3-cyl. engines were installed in 0.3% of ’90 models.
Aside from transplant automakers Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota, all 100% I-4 powered, the largest user of the “four” was Chrysler. The No. 3 automaker installed 4-cyl. engines in 55.0% of ’90 models built through March, compared with a 38.6% rate at Ford, followed by 35.6% at GM. On the other hand, GM was the most profligate user of V-6s, installing them in 49.7% of output, compared with Chrysler’s 45.0% rate and Ford’s 37.8%. The Dearborn automaker installed V-8s in 23.7% of its ’90 models vs. 14.7% at GM. Chrysler installed no V-8s in its ’90 model cars.
Chrysler likely will have to pay Renault some $200 million in penalties for failing to meet the terms of a manufacturing agreement negotiated at the time Chrysler bought American Motors from the French firm. The agreement called for Chrysler to build and sell 300,000 midsize Renault-derived Premier sedans through 1992 or pay $1,300 per unit short of that goal.
Despite the later introduction of the badge-engineered Dodge Monaco, Chrysler has sold only 90,000 of the models between the 1987 launch and June 1990, indicating it will fall about 150,000 units short of the requirement. The Premier/Monaco uses Renault engines, transmissions and other components.
Transplant Asian automakers account for a record 16.4% of cars built in the U.S. and Canada in first-half 1990. That is up from 12.1% a year earlier, a seventh consecutive annual increase. Since 1981, the last year prior to the Asian “invasion,” the Big Three’s output share has fallen from 95.4% of the total builds (Volkswagen’s now-closed plant in Pennsylvania accounts for the remainder) to 83.6% with further declines seen as Asian producers ramp up their operations. At the same time, GM, Ford and Chrysler have sourced 5% of their output this year from joint-venture operations with Asian brands.
South Korean automaker Kia is said to be eyeing an independent U.S. market launch, possibly through Hyundai dealers. Currently, Kia builds a version of its Pride small car sold in the U.S. as the Ford Festiva and another marketed in Japan as the Mazda 121. Kia is likely to entire the U.S., with a limited lineup including the Pride. The automaker says it sees no sales conflict with Hyundai’s least costly model, the Excel.