Friday, April 19, 2013

170 Auto Makers in China


  An article in the April 10 issue of Wall Street Journal , "China Lets 170 Auto Makers Bloom," says that China has over 170 car manufacturing companies.  Though the Chinese government is now urging consolidation in this industry,  it had originally encouraged this growth.  We take for granted that having only three or four car manufacturers is a reasonable number.  And as the winnowing process in China progresses, they may ultimately reach this number. But it will take a lot of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies to get there.    And it will also take time---a lot of time---perhaps 90 years, because that's how long it took in the U.S.
            You see, The U.S. also had that many car companies at one time.   The American car industry began in 1894,  when Frank Duryea patented his gas-powered buggy.  He built this thing in Springfield MA.  But when Frank and his brother, Charles, made a serious attempt to mass produce this machine, they opened a factory in Waterloo, Iowa. They had made abortive attempts to build gas buggies in both Springfield, MA,  and in Illinois.  But to cheaply hire large numbers of machinists who actually knew how to build gas engines, Waterloo was the better choice.  Waterloo already had the world's first tractor factory, the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co. (which was later acquired by Deere & Co.)  This factory opened in 1892, by which time Waterloo had already enjoyed a thriving gas engine business for over a decade.   At that time, Waterloo was to the one-cylinder gas engine what Silicon Valley is to the chip today.  Toward the end of the 19th century, over a dozen companies built engines in Waterloo, and eventually, at least 175 different brands were built there.  In 1898,  the Duryea Power Company opened in Waterloo, located on Duryea street. Duryea street is still there, but alas, the factory closed after selling only 100 cars. The brothers could not agree on a final design and made continual changes. The investors soon grew weary of their bickering and withdrew their support.  But Waterloo soon had other car companies, some of which survived till the great depression.  There was the Maytag, shown above, whose plant manager, Fred Duesenberg, later produced a luxury car under his own name.  And the Wm. Galloway Farm Equipment company built a pickup truck.  And the Dart pickup was also built in Waterloo.   But by then, car factories were sprouting all over the country.  By 1898, you could buy a Cadillac or an Oldsmobile, and in 1903, the first trans-continental road race was won by someone driving a Winton.  Between 1900 and WWI,  almost every town of any size had its own car company.  No one knows just how many there were, but I'm sure it was over 170.   While few of these companies exist today,  many survived till the start of the Great Depression, and some closed their doors only at the start of WWII, when all auto manufacturing was shut down for the duration of the war.
            But in the 1950's, some of the old pre-war cars were still around.  When one of my brothers was in high school, he briefly owned an Essex and later had a Terraplane.  And one of his friends had  an Auburn,  and another friend had a Graham Page.   After WWII, there were far fewer car brands, but still a lot more than the three we have today.  When I was in college in the late 1950's, I drove whatever old, worn out car I could afford to buy.  At a time in my life when I had not yet owned a Chevy or a Ford, I had owned two Packards,  a Nash, and a Studebaker.  ,
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Not Well Accoutered

The tom kitty's passions won't scorch.
For the ladies, he carries no torch.
For since he's been neutered,
He's not well accoutered,
And spends all his time on the porch.