The Rise and Fall of the Motor Town

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When you think of motors and motor manufacture you think of Detroit. Nowadays though it is like a ghost town with many abandoned factories. The Big Three factories were all based here, namely General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, but the place is full of so many remains of old car factories that it is hard to chronicle properly. But let’s start at the beginning.

The very earliest factory in Detroit was in 1899 and was called the Detroit Automobile Company. It only lasted two years and the cars and trucks weren’t that impressive, especially as the cars manufactured looked like they were made with baby-buggy wheels. At that point, cars weren’t thought to replace the horse and carriage and no one was looking at them as economically viable.

Only slightly later the Packard Automotive Plant was built in Detroit; 1903. Based on the East Grand Boulevard it still stands as a huge urban sprawl of concrete. Although it closed in 1953 businesses were still using the space up to the 1990s.

Although everyone associates the Ford Motor Company with the Model T Ford these were built in Highland Park, Michigan in 1908. Having said that he did have a factory in Detroit also in 1903 in Mack Avenue but it took some time to be as large as the Packard factory. Ford had put money into the Detroit Automobile Company too but the Model T would be a real turning point for him.

The biggest Ford factory in Detroit was the Rouge Factory or Rouge Complex built between 1917 and 1928. To date, this is the largest factory in the world and went on to inspire car factories all around the globe. It is currently a museum to the history of car manufacture and innovation in general. It is not unremarkable that Detroit still holds their automobile heritage in high esteem.

The Chrysler factory was also known as the Dodge Main Plant. To be technical, the Dodge brothers owned the factory before Chrysler but that’s just the story of car manufacturers, takeovers and more takeovers. The Dodge brand was originally about working cars, vans and trucks such as the Texaco tanker. In about 1939 it became a more luxurious brand (although all cars from this point look rather stylish).

The factory closed in 1979 and became the site of a General Motors factory building cars like the Cadillac, though it looks like even the GM factory will be demolished this year. Chrysler had been merged with Daimler in 1998. In 2014 Fiat went into partnership with Chrysler to create further Dodges, such as the Dodge Dart. It’s sad that they are no longer associated with Detroit.

There are plans for a new car factory in Detroit building the Grand Cherokee and the Jeep, ironically on the site of Ford’s Mack Avenue car factory. Of course, the SUVs won’t be ready until next year, but the investment in Detroit is the main thing. So maybe Detroit’s love affair with the car will remain.

 

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