41 Years Ago In what may now seem like an April Fool's Day joke, American Motors Corp. and Sonotone Corp. on April 1, 1959, announce a joint research effort to consider producing an electric car powered by a "self-charging" battery. Two weeks later, on April 18, Nu-Way Industries unveils its experimental electric car with a one-piece plastic body. The company says volume production is slated to begin in May 1960.
Detroit's first International Auto Show opens a three-day run at the State Fair Coliseum on April 17, exhibiting import cars for the first time. Shortly after that show ends, the Detroit Automobile Dealers Assn. announces plans to hold an auto show in fall 1960 at the new Cobo Hall.
On the sales front, General Motors Corp. President John F. Gordon forecasts U.S. new (domestic) car sales will climb to a record 7.2 million in 1965, up from 5.4 million in 1958. (Retail new domestic-make car sales actually hit 7,617,000 in 1964 and set a record of 8,763,000 in 1965. At the same time, import car sales total 481,100 in 1964 and 569,400 in 1965, down from a record 614,100 in 1959.)
27 Years Ago Time is running out for prospective buyers to turn in their bids for the car and diesel engine division of England's bankrupt Rolls-Royce Motors. Bids, accompanied by a deposit of $16 million, must be in the hands of the receiver by May 1, 1973. One sticking point is the fact that a non-British owner or a subsidiary of a foreign company will not be allowed to use the Rolls-Royce name. Another is the fact that British Leyland makes Rolls' body shells and may not continue this work if the company is bought by a competitor. The sale price is expected to be between $80 million and $100 million.
While Britons worry over the treasured icon, auto-makers in the U.S. face the impending passive restraint requirement of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208. The rule calls for installation of an ignition interlock beginning Aug. 15. The system will prevent the car from starting unless the driver and out-board front passenger seat belts are buckled. Beginning Aug. 15, 1975, front seat passengers must be protected by passive restraints, with all passenger positions coming under the mandate two years later. Many analysts muse that 1973's record sales are being fueled by customer backlash over the impending safety rules and "costly" new emissions regulations for '75 models.
17 Years Ago In a turnabout, Chrysler Corp. in April 1983 announces that it has reached agreement to buy Volkswagen of America Inc.'s stamping plant in Sterling Heights, MI. Chrysler says it will convert the plant for assembly of its planned '85-model H-body cars (Chrysler LeBaron GTS and Dodge Lancer). The No. 3 auto-maker says the new line is aimed at the Honda Accord and will be a "young person's" car. Ironically, less than a decade earlier, VWA purchased Chrysler's then-unfinished assembly plant in Pennsylvania for assembly of its Rabbit car. Chrysler had called that facility the New Stanton plant, but VW changed the moniker to Westmoreland, after the county in which it was located.
At the same time, the Reagan Administration says it is standing by its 1981 decision not to seek an increase in corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) beyond the 27 mpg level.