General Motors Throughout The World

Detroit Renaissance Center

It should come as little shock that the biggest factory in Detroit, based in the Renaissance Center, belongs to General Motors but this isn’t their only plant. How much does it account for in the grand scheme of their manufacturing and just how did GM become such a major player?

Plant Locations:

There are hundreds of factories around the world employing tens of thousands of people. The size of the GM payroll and how widespread it is, could be a reason they’re a major player. Let’s take a closer look at some of these locations.

In the US:

There are more than 100 facilities in cities across the US, including Arlington and Bay City. Of specific note is the Cadillac. These include assembly plants as well as part stamping plants, propulsion component and battery plants. Most, however, are distribution centers. Still, they’re vital parts of the local economies as it gives smaller communities a tie into a global product.

In the internet age it’s hard to grasp how difficult it was for a smaller city to bring in big business with international sales. It took something that required a lot of parts and that sold all over the world in high volume. This could be one reason GM is considered a major player.

Equinox

The GM Defence Concord Facility makes vehicles especially for the army. They have a factory in North Carolina which was previously used to make Chevrolets. GM has a long tie with defense contracts which could be another reason they’re a major business.

Mexico

There are several factories in Mexico, including the Equinox and the Trax. Vehicles such as the Saab and the Oldsmobile used to be made in Mexico. They also make pickups and various other trucks.

Canada

1907 McLaughlin

The link between GM and Canada has a long vintage; all the way back to 1907 when McLaughlin and Buick were contracted to make Buick cars. After successfully making Buicks for several years McLaughlin sold Buick stock in order to obtain a foothold into GM stock. McLaughlin joined GM Detroit, forging a strong link.

The GM’s main center is called the Canadian Regional Centre and works with many countries around the world. Although you may hear of some factories closing, such as one in 2017 it still makes cars such as the Chevrolet and the Pontiac.

Brazil

’78 Opala

General Motors do Brasil began in 1925. It did final assembly from various parts imported from the US and was based in the city of San Paolo. The first car produced was an Opala, a type of Chevrolet.

One million Opalas were made in Brazil, and it was even used by the Brazilian police as well as the taxi service. The name comes from Opal, a German subsection of GM. The first version was a 4-door sedan and was available in “Especial” (Special) and “Luxo” (Deluxe).

Europe

In Europe the General Motors brand has been less than successful with names such as Opel and Vauxhall not actually capturing the public imagination. People seem to prefer the German cars-those being BMW, Merc and VW. The business was eventually sold to the PSA Group who own such names as Citroen and Peugeot.

This was GM cutting their losses—no real way to hide it – and what a loss. According to official figures the venture eventually lost $39 billion. Only a major player can lose $39 billion and survive.

China

In China things appear so much better with promising sales on Buicks, Chevrolets and Baojun and Wuling. Don’t recognize those last two? Don’t feel bad they’re clearly not available in your market. There are several other vehicles brands Westerners won’t recognize.

Baojun Advertisement

Wuling originally made very small vans until it joined with GM in 2002 where it began to manufacture small trucks as well.

Baojun was created a few years after Wuling (in 2010) with the goal to create what was known as “farmer’s cars.” It’s first vehicle looked like a cross between a Chevrolet and a Daewoo and the latest vehicle is a MPV – multi-purpose vehicle with seven seats. They have to their name, a number of crossovers, compacts, and electric vehicles. There are so many Baojuns out there that they could have their own article.

Wuling

If you own a new car in North America, South America or China then the chances are that it’s a General Motors vehicle. The magnitude of the company cannot be easily stated.

Editors Note: Here at the Kicker we’re working with the descendants of legendary Harley Earl to get a story about the early days of GM. His official story can be seen in the documentary, “Fins,” the making of which has tied up our dig into this era of GM (they had the exclusive scoop). But there is more to the story than the film reveals so we’ll be coming to you soon with more on the era of GM’s hay day.

The Glory Days of AMC Cars

Pacer not a Pinto

Without a doubt, the golden era for AMC was the 1970’s, and we mean golden in more ways than one.

A report by the CAP-HPI around five years ago suggested that AMC seventies models with a copper bronze hue or even custard yellow were on the way up. Despite the car industry changing in the intervening years many cars of this vintage remain popular.

Side Note: CAP produces a black book analyses the used car market, similar to Kelley Blue Book only based on large scale market.

Setting Themselves Apart:

AMC, American Motor Corporation, looked to be different than other automakers and came up with an SUV style vehicle, the Eagle. It looked like a cross between an all-terrain vehicle and a passenger car, with a long hood but about the same size as a VW Beetle. They were manufactured by AMC & Chrysler between 1979 and 1987.

It had the alternate name of the Eagle Wagon which makes sense if you see one. According to an article written for Newsweek in 1979 it was the only four-wheel drive passenger vehicle made at the time. It could also be thought of as the first crossover.

Was this a gamble? Possibly, after all there was no established market for such a car. There doesn’t appear to be a genuine effort at market research on AMC’s part, only a prediction that “consumers would embrace a vehicle with the comfort of an automobile (sic) but with capabilities of an all-terrain vehicle.”

The design came from Ray Lunn who was the chief designer for the AMC Jeep. It was given the convoluted code name of “Project 8001 plus Four.” Having a uni-body was vital to the design; a unitized body means a vehicle frame or chassis is purpose made for the car in question. Unibody was not a common thing in ATV’s of the time, since people who like to take their cars off-road also like to pound out dents from going off road—not a strength of the unibody design.

Other AMC Oddities:

In perhaps the weirdest product crossover some Hornets and Gremlins could be ordered with denim interiors in the 1970s created by jean manufacturer Levi. It can’t be the best substance to keep clean though.

The AMC Hornet shouldn’t be confused with the Green Hornet or the Hudson Hornet. As with most of the cars referred to here, it was only produced in the ‘70s. A compact which came as either a sedan, or a station wagon. The Hornet had the same platform as the Gremlin, the Eagle and the Spirit, among others.

Gremlin

The Gremlin has a reputation as an ugly and therefore bad car. In fact, gremlins are mythical creatures that destroy machines so it’s a terrible name for a car line. The truth is the Gremlin was ahead of its time; a sub-compact manufactured in both the US and Mexico by AMC. It was produced a long time before the 1985 film of the same name.

What’s a Matador?

Today we might honestly ask that, but ironically an AMC 1970’s advertising campaign asked, “What’s a Matador?” The twist is that at the time AMC Matador was the car to have, superseding the AMC Rebel. A two-door hardtop, it had the export name “Rambler Matador.” They also became the car used by the LA Police Department for a while.

(Trivia section: What car did the AMC Matador replace? The answer is below.)

One way that the costs were kept down in AMC cars was having parts such as the distributor, starter and carburettor shared with companies like Ford. Not many people realise that AMC manufactured engines for other company’s cars when practical.

In the end, AMC was purchased in 1987 by Chrysler who continued some of the car lines for a few years and then phased them out.

Answer to the question above: The AMC Matador replaced the Plymouth Satellite as the car used by the LA PD.

The Origin Of Trucks

Benz-Gaggenau BL 10 platform truck

Firstly, where does the word truck come from? It appears it was first used for the wheels on a ship’s cannon and was extended to carts carrying heavy loads. Before gas powered trucks were steam trucks, though they weren’t that widespread.

While vehicles remained expensive, luxury items, the truck wasn’t that popular either. There were many cheaper ways to transport goods – carts, canal boats, railways and so on.

The first trucks had wooden wheels clad in iron. The Phoenix was a later model, a converted car that ran on coal gas, lamp oil as well as gasoline.

Early Trucks

Karl Benz came up with the first truck in 1895 which was in turn altered to become an autobus. In 1896 Gottleib Daimler produced a horseless wagon with 4hp. Although it was said to carry 3300 pounds many disagreed – presumably this was too much for them?

Because of the lack of interest in Germany Gottleib Daimler tried selling the product in England, as coke and coal was cheaper than in Germany. There may have been a speed issue too. Up to 1896 the speed limit was 4mph. It was advertised as being able to transport 1500Kg but it wouldn’t be until 1901 that a truck could outdo the steam alternative as a test run between a motor truck and a steam truck in Liverpool proved.

They would also be promoted in Paris by the French Automobile Club in 1898. The wooden wheels referred to above were a hazard as they were liable to catch fire.

Süddendeutsche Automobilfabrik’s truck used a steel frame and steel wheels along with wheels and pistons. Before that German trucks had used a belt drive.

Other versions were created by Peugeot and Bussing. Only after the Second World War were things like pneumatic tires and power brakes introduced. The diesel engine was introduced in 1923. All of these were styled as large delivery vehicles, not pick ups as we think of them today.

The First American Truck!

Autocar created the first truck in the US with a choice of either 5 or 8hp and two-cylinder engine in 1899.

The first pickup truck was “vehicle no 42” in 1896. After that a modified Ford Model T called The Runabout had a similar design. The first Chevy truck was created in 1918 also using the Model T chassis. The chassis would continue for some time, in 1935 the same chassis would be used to create a station wagon for Chevy, though they did need to alter the load bearing capabilities of the vehicle and remove some of the body panels. These were open-cab vehicles and included such items as specialist hickory wood wheels.

EV Trucks?

There were a number of electric trucks being produced as early as 1907 with strong suspension and gears, such as a 5-ton truck produced in Indianapolis.

Model T Tow Truck

Tow Trucks

The tow truck was created in 1916, basically from necessity. Created by Ernest Holmes in Tennessee it hooked up cars (either broken or crashed ones) using chains and pulleys to take them to the wreckers. The tow truck company and the associated wrecking business was taken over by Miller Industries.

The Volvo’s first truck in 1928 had a four-cylinder engine and although it was said only to allow 1,500Kg many people overloaded it with little side-effect.

The truck, like all early vehicle styles, was only finding its way at that point since there were no huge freeways and has come a long way since.

Exploring Cars on Various Islands

There are a number of islands that ban cars such as the Mackinac Islands which have to rely on bicycles and horses though they do allow snowmobiles during the winter months and a police car for obvious reasons. Apparently, a car was smuggled onto the island by the secret service in 1975. It was only there in case a quick getaway was needed for the president’s visit.

Although these islands without cars do seem idyllic this post isn’t concentrated on that specifically. More on that topic later though.

Islands that Embrace Cars

There are, after all, other islands which embrace the motor car such as Amelia Island, Florida. They are due to hold an automobile event in May. It includes an auction of various classical cars.

Peel P50 Microcar

Developed on the Isle of Man the Peel P50 microcar is the smallest car in production – though there have been smaller homemade (and garage made) cars. It is designed for an adult and a bag of shopping weighing 59 Kg or 130 pounds. Turning in an enclosed area is impossible, the only thing you can do is pick the whole thing up. It is road legal in the UK if not elsewhere.

Seguin Island in Paris, the site of a medieval abbey farm was the location of a Renault factory up until 2005 when the buildings were demolished and is now a cultural centre.

Shetland off Northern Scotland are to have electric cars powered by tidal power. This was created by Nova Innovation, though the charge point does resemble other electrical charge points.

A Portuguese island in the Atlantic – Porto Santo – charges up cars using solar power which in turn can add electricity to the grid (yes, it is still part of the electricity grid) and gives money back into the community.

For some islands, such as the Big Island, Hawaii renting a car seems to be the best way to get around. Even then you can’t go to such places as Mauna Kea or Green Sand Beach. If you wish to travel by public transport, there are taxis, Ubers and Lyfts available – though the latter is fairly new to the island and operates from the three main airports.

So, what about Car Islands that Don’t Work

So far, so picturesque. But the introduction of cars is bad news for paradise island in the Pacific such as the Marshall Islands or South Tarawa. These are littered with broken down cars, buses and even trucks left on the side of the road. You will also find the detritus of abandoned cars by the beach, which is sad as this is where it is believed to enter the ecosystem.

It’s not just vehicles obviously, but these items are highly visible. There’s no space to dump vehicles, the only real option is to export the car. Repairs that would otherwise be made are not carried out due to the lack of trained mechanics and car knowledge on the islands. It could be changed with a bit of training here, but even getting to the island is proving tricky nowadays.

The Mistake That Was The Edsel

Have you ever heard of the Edsel? Probably not, as they only manufactured for three years during the fifties, but if you work in car manufacture it is hard to forget them.

The Edsel was to compete against the Buick and the Dodge. They were marketed as cars of the future at medium price. In hindsight this seems mad, they were the same price as a Ford Mercury but not considered to be for the same market sector, so why?

It’s possible you do need to innovate during a recession but creating a luxury product?

Ford claimed at the time that was adequate product development involving sophisticated market analysis. In reality no such research had been carried out. The manufacturer of cars was a fairly new enterprise so maybe they should have known better, but they didn’t.

What’s in a name?

Ford Motor Co named this giant mistake after Henry Ford’s own son, which added weight to their claims that they didn’t do this as a joke. Then they created several different versions of the vehicle (four sedans and three station wagons), which had strange working names– for example the Edsel Citation.

The strange names, indirectly because of the influence of comic poet Marianne Moore who worked for the company at the time. Although her names were not used, they still leant the cars a tongue in cheek aura that didn’t help people take the project seriously.

Buzz and Foreshadow.

When Ford previewed beforehand pictures of the Edsel to promote it they appeared slightly blurred, which was probably an accident or an attempt to create an air of mystery, but it felt almost as if the company knew what was going to happen. When the pictures were shipped to the sales agents they were always done under wraps as if it was something illicit. Again, this was likely a sales tactic, but it struck many as if they were postponing the inevitable.

Looks that Kill.

Although the station wagon version had a superficial similarity to other station wagons but with innovative designs such as a rotating dome speedometer and a deep ditch steering wheel, the “horse collar grille” and powertrain features to the hood struck people at the time as bazaar. (It wouldn’t really move the needle by today’s standards but cars at the time were classy and fashionable not “other worldly.”)

September 4, 1957 was known as E-Day. This is where the first inklings of what the public felt about the vehicle was discovered; that it was far too unconventional a build.

It was thought to be reborn “LaSalle” a car also known for its design problems; it didn’t seem to be like any other car. And if it’s not like a car you know, how can you drive it?

Although some of the body panels were toned down in 1959 and it was given a vertical central grille the car still had trouble with its teletouch transmission system, no one could understand it. So still the sales numbers remained extremely small and it was eventually removed from the market.

Where did they Go Wrong?

It’s probably a case of hubris. Ford had a strong record of innovation and leading the car market. To some degree they may have believed that whatever they thought was cool and edgy would be adopted by the public as the next great thing. They may have been hoping that people in the market for a new car during a tough economy were advanced thinkers who would want a car that reflected their iconoclastic success. The truth is when people get their fingers burnt they get a bit cautious for a while.

They leapt to far beyond what people were accustomed to and at the worst possible time. However, looking at pictures of this car one wonders if there was ever a good time for the Edsel.

Given the amount of money involved it seems ludicrous that Ford employed none of the usual business safety procedures, such as getting the proper amount of feedback from the public including or having average consumers test drive it before it hit the market. Although Ford may have learnt its lesson, there will be further disasters masquerading as vehicles to come…

Why The Car Industry Is So Vital

OP-ED By P. Wimsett

The building of cars is the number one industry in the US and other countries. This is why in a pandemic economy it has been protected by the government.

There’s more to it than that though. You need to able to travel to school or work. Then you have business conferences, expos and similar. Added to this, various aspects of the entertainment, travel & leisure industry/hotels, theaters and sports arenas…the list goes on and on. It’s all about people being at the right place when you need to be there. So, there is a definitely an argument to be made that transportation impacts ever other industry on some level.

But is domestic manufacture vital as an industry?

The History of American Car Making

The mass production of cars was famously begun by Henry Ford. He also created large plants or super factories as well as moving assembly line. This was the only way a Model T could be created every 24 seconds.

The superfactory infrastructure was also vital in getting the time down, having a glass factory and a steel mill as well as a number of other plants in the general vicinity. If you have to rely on deliveries the process breaks down.

There is an argument for assembling cars one at a time in a shed using parts (glass frames, radiators etc) but it would be very unlikely to make a profit. Some luxury sports cars are made this way. This business model relies on having a car ordered in advance of making it and these cars are by definition, luxury (not needed) meaning if they aren’t made the buyer can simply get a different car elsewhere.

If we’re only looking at vital cars, then we’re looking at affordable cars or vehicles built to a vital purpose like hauling goods to market. Affordable cars need to be mass produced not made to order. A modern car factory needs to work at 80% capacity just to break even. You also have the difficulty of maintaining working conditions in a small environment. So, a superfactory is better.

Well, this might be an exaggeration as it would be hard to visualize the big-name cars being “clinker-built.” It wouldn’t be safe, it wouldn’t be quick and it wouldn’t be economical. So, it could be said that the superfactory system is the only way.

As well as the factories you also need showrooms and forecourts (auto lots) as well as the annual motor-shows for the system to work. With motor-shows being cancelled (most notably the one in Detroit but there usually hundreds around the world) and car lot sales so restricted that sales in general are breaking down.

Detroit

To examine how vital the industry is, it is probably worthwhile to focus on the city of Detroit. What sort of city would it be without the Big Three-General Motors, Ford and Chrysler? And what would the US economy be without these three names? There are so many questions and because we are still living through it, so few answers as yet.

Although the Big Three are no longer the biggest names in car processing they are still big enough to the US economy to be protected.

So, this is where we are, in a non-industrialized state of limbo. For our own good this state of affairs cannot continue for that much longer. There is the health risk, true, but poverty in a country causes mental complications. How long can the US economy survive on handouts from the government, which is really barrowing against the future? No one knows, but it appears we’re going to find out.

Fill ’er up…

We do it every day, fill up the car with gas or diesel. But it might be worthwhile looking at gas stations themselves. Many are owned by the big names such as Shell and Gulf, and fair number of the smaller names have gone under.

What we commonly call a “gas station” in the US is more technically called a “Filling Station” as the idea was to supply automobiles with whatever sort of fuel or lubricant they needed—be it gas or deasil, oil, and yes, Propane.

They became known a little later as service stations when they were combined with small mechanic shops to provide basic tire and engine repair functions. Later still, the service portion was remodelled to include snacks and beverages, which came at a high mark-up because they were convenient. This was, of course, called a convenience store.

A Little About Gas Station Design

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filling_station

Filling stations typically offer one of three types of service to their customers: full service, minimum service or self-service.

Full service An attendant or gas jockey operates the pumps, often wipes the windshield, and sometimes checks the vehicle’s oil level and tire pressure, then collects payment and perhaps a small tip.

Minimum service An attendant operates the pumps. This is often required due to legislation that prohibits customers from operating the pumps.

Oregon and New Jersey forbid you to pump your own gas.

Self service The customer performs all required service. Signs informing the customer of filling procedures and cautions are displayed on each pump. Customers can still enter a store or go to a booth to give payment to a person.

Unmanned Using cardlock (or pay-at-the-pump) system, these are completely unstaffed.

The First Gas Stations

The first filling station in the US (and also the world) was built in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1905 at 420 South Theresa Avenue. (The 2nd was in Seattle, WA. BTW). You could get your hands-on fuel prior to that, but it was an add-on to an existing business—like a dry goods or general store. When Henry Ford made the automobile a middle-class purchase the need for a boutique store became obvious. By 1909 a third station was built in Altoona, Pennsylvania. But none of these stations would have looked quite right to the modern eye.

The first “drive-in” station came December 1, 1913 when Gulf Refining Company built it in Pittsburgh, PA.

Historic Gas Stations

In America, when you think gas, you probably think of Texas. There’s an obvious reason why, the oil boon from the start to the middle of the 20th century. The Oil Boom moved Texas from a rural state with lots of ranches to a largely industrial state where petroleum dependent manufacturing could be near the source. Texans depend so much on gas for daily living- so much so that they are known as the “oil patch community” and many of the towns located throughout the state are known as “oil towns.”

Additionally, several oil patch museums are located within the State which are no doubt worth seeking out for anyone with an interest in how Texas became so prosperous. Here are a few examples of Lone-Star States historic gas stations.

The Old Sinclair Station was built in 1933, an interesting part of the façade are the wood-sash windows (metal ones are much more common nowadays). It exemplifies Spanish Colonial architecture service stations which at one time could be found all over the US. These have become increasingly rare, unfortunately.

Schauer Filling Station

The Schauer Filling Station, completed in 1929, can be found in Houston. It consists of a blue bungalow with a wide veranda (where the gas pumps used to be). The building has fallen on hard times, described in 2013 as being in a ruinous condition. Scavengers have been salvaging parts off without asking. It has since been listed as a national historic site, which will hopefully attract someone willing to restore the building, or at least prevent further pilfering.

Jenkins-Harvey Super Service Station

The Jenkins-Harvey Super Service Station and Factory was also built in 1929 and has an Art Deco style with various foliage designs. It was built by local architect James P. Baugh and funded by local businessman Samuel A Lindsey. The gas pumps were removed in the 1980s but it is still in relatively good conditions, probably due to how much concrete is in its construction.

The Phillips 66 gas station in McClean, Texas has a gabled roof and has a general Tudor revival style, as well as a front chimney. Unfortunately, this specific one was completely remodeled in 1991 but still bears some of its old style.

Gas Station Memorabilia

Dino

Not only do gas stations themselves offer an interesting history but sometimes it’s the logos, mascots or other paraphernalia associated with them. Sinclair Gas was associated with a green dinosaur for instance called Dino which can still be found throughout the US. Other mascots included a figure looking at a flame wearing white with the message “Happy Motoring” on their top (Esso), a beaver with a red hat (Buc-ee’s, which also run convenience stores and fast food restaurants) and a blue X with a long nose (Idex; the mascot’s name is Idekkun). There are too many mascots to mention them all here, but generally speaking they are all quite colorful in order to get drivers attention.

Rare Pickups on The Market

GMC Crewcab

Although pickups seem designed to carry a load, only 15% of them are designed for work. One reason is that they were built as a passenger vehicle only with a little more cargo capacity. Regardless of the original design intent, many car makers have tried their hand at making a pickup and many pickups are quite collectable.

Collectable Trucks

The Lincoln Blackwood doesn’t look like a regular pickup, it barely has enough room for a load. Nor does it have a 4×4. A crossover in all but style, you may say.

The Sierra California Sundancer has such a huge cab and the sunroof is another unusual addition. It was only sold for one year in the state of California in 1987. They appear rather cumbersome and either didn’t catch on or they were just too expensive to make.

VW

VW Rabbit

The VW Rabbit doesn’t have the iconic VW look but it was a breakaway design created in the 1970s to satisfy those who wanted a pickup with qualities similar to the Datsun Truck and Ford Courier.

Created in a plant in Pennsylvania with a choice of 1.6L diesel and 1.7L it was strange that the VW Rabbit didn’t do better. A notable feature was that the normal gear was marked “E” for economy – a low gear is best for the bank balance – instead of “D” for drive.

Chevy

Chevy Cameo

It’s weird to turn the design of Chevrolet into a pickup but the Cameo attempts this. Again, it had limited manufacture, in this case in the 1950s. Still, it remains a stylish pickup.

Other Chevy pickups include the Chevrolet Colorado has an extended cab size and a payload of 1,575 pounds (the payload is the amount that can be carried); also it can tow 7,000 pounds. The most successful Chevrolet pickup model has been the Silverado which has both basic and luxury models. In 2020 a Silverado HD model came out.

Dodge

A strong red model with a huge hood is the Ram Heavy Duty. It has 1000 pounds weight of torque. The torque is the power it needs to work through gear changes; because a pickup truck carries or tows more weight than a sports car it needs to have more power, especially when driven at low speeds.

Cadillac

How can you improve an ancient pickup? Take the 1949 Cadillac Diamond T201, it’s wise to repaint the black fenders and handlamps and re-upholster the leather interior. Unfortunately, as it’s a traditional pickup it only has a cab so no room for backseat passengers. You still have the 6-cylinder engine and 4 speed transmission to their credit.

With less than 10,000 models around this is an ideal pickup to rejuvenate, especially given the walking cane gear stick – it just oozes class in a way unusual in a pickup, but that’s what you would expect from Cadillac.

In conclusion

Ultimately these types of vehicle require strong suspension to allow them to carry heavy loads, an SUV provides a smoother ride for you. The pickup is there if you want the option to move heavy loads too. You have balance out the need for smoothness or the need for storage space.

American Cars and American Standards

There is a difference between an American standard car and what someone internationally might see as an American car (or even an all-American car). Outside the US an American Car is one of the big names such as Corvette and Cadillac, though jeeps and pickups have a certain feel about them which links them to the US.

Manufacture

Is a car “American” because it’s made in America? It’s difficult to locate all the resources that make up a whole car, so it would be truly difficult to have a car that was entirely made within one country—even a country as big as the US. So, calling a car “American” made may be a piece of misdirection, although much of the steel and other vital components do come from America.

Many people consider a car American when the final assembly is done in America, but most car makers locate a plant within the country they’re going to sell to, so some “foreign cars” are assembled or at least modified within the US. All cars used to be made from materials from the US but today things aren’t as clear.

Some American cars are made in alliance with other countries. Some Chevrolets such as the Sonic have the backing of Korea and are being sold in Mexico and South America, as well as Eastern Asia. While the Spark (also partly a Korean car) is also made in Vietnam and Columbia.

Yes, they are American vehicles, there was definitely American money involved as well as American designers, but things are more complex than that.

Corporate Ownership

Another, common way to think of a car as American is when the car maker had its start in American. Now that’s getting warmer. Of all the huge car firms in the US, Buick is the oldest, being at 110 years old.

Other people consider a car American made when the corporate headquarters are in America, but … most car makers sell internationally so they have headquarters of some stripe several places on the globe.

Was there ever an American Car?

Take the Model T Ford for example, even with this vehicle it’s hard to calculate how truly American it is. It was designed by an American but apart from that it was manufactured globally. Ford had factories all around the world, including Walkerville in Canada and a region near Old Trafford in Manchester. Anywhere labour was inexpensive Ford put an assembly line or sourced parts.

1927 Aeroford

There were other forces changing the makeup of cars when business became worldwide, such as local laws and local tastes. Is it the American thinking that makes it an American car? For example, Americans seem to be in love with large vehicles that drink gas.

In 1920 Ford create the Aeroford, as a rebranding of the Model T, in London. The Aeroford was an attempt to merge the exotic idea of an American automobile with the UK tastes. Can the Aeroford be described as an American car? It’s hard to say, but it wouldn’t be the last car from the US was altered for a local market—either for local taste or to adapt to local rules.

The Future of The American Automobile

In the future, Tesla could well outrank names like Ford, but at this moment it pays to invest in the gas guzzler rather than the “green” car. It may not stay that way forever.

Does the consumer really want American vehicles, or do they prefer a global standard? Opinion is divided but having some kind of American prestige is a good selling point. On the other hand, the cost of an American factory, compared to say somewhere in Latin America makes a big difference.

It is not about national pride. On the practical side, you should want a car that will continue to have available parts. In purchasing a car made in the US you can be sure, at least with the big names, that any spare parts can be sourced economically and with some ease. Although sooner or later cars are discontinued leading to a lack of replacement parts.

So, What Should we Mean by American Car?

“American,” as a car description, is more likely to represent an iconic design, such as the sedan, rather than where things come from. We like big engines and bold design. We like to look off-road capable, even if we never go off road. We like variety in interior, so our car doesn’t look exactly like the next guys/gals. And we like leg/head room. Our cars should reflect the American values of freedom, independence and democracy—if you can create a design that does that, you’ve got a future in car biz.

Car and Bubbles

Messerschmitt

When we talk about “bubble cars” we tend to refer to types of micro-cars (being a car with a 700cc engine or less) with a spherical shape. They have no reverse gear meaning they can only turn to navigate a small space. It’s very easy to get them stuck in a small space.

They were mainly produced in Europe and used canopies of aircraft such as Messerschmitt and Isetta, the Messerschmitt production being focused on Germany.

The Isetta is one of the few bubble cars which crossed the Atlantic, if only in places such as Argentina and Brazil. It had both rear wheel engine and rear wheel drive, its front consisted of the door for entry; no hood, radiator, or anything you tend to associate with a vehicle. Despite its small shape it was based on the design for a van.

Rehabbed Isetta

Because of its micro size it is still the ideal car to improve and you can still buy original parts through the BMW website.

Isetta originated in Italy through Iso before being taken over by other companies, such as Iso. This type of vehicle had four gears and a reverse, so it was an improvement on the Messerschmitt. You could also escape through the sunroof if you were completely boxed in.

The Isetta has had its imitators, the company Zetta created its own Isetta lookalike, consisting of a motorbike engine and manual transmission. Bubble cars are a gift for the hobbyist mechanic and as you can imagine companies enjoyed cashing in on this.

1960 BMW Isetta

Rust especially affects such vehicles, which makes it harder to read chassis numbers and so on. This means it’s even harder to find the correct part. Indeed, it’s always a good idea to deal with rust whatever car you have.

Related slightly to the bubble cars was the UK produced Peel car – one of the smallest cars ever produced. Unlike the Isetta they don’t have to be factory built, you can choose to build them yourselves, also it has three wheels, rather than four. It’s not quite a bubble, its design is a squarish cube above a more rounded shape.

Peel

The top speed of these vehicles varied, the Turbo reached 50 MPH. The Tridents look more bubbly in shape and run on electric motors. Again, production was sadly short-lived, designed for tiny roads not huge freeways. 

There could be something about bubbles which makes for niche cars, such as the bubble top car. The Forcasta, not a micro car by the way but a full-size one, was a modified version of the Cadillac and it isn’t helped by the psychedelic upholstery which can be seen under the sphere.

Another change was now the front half could be raised by hydraulics. As with many modifications it was evidently made by someone who was a fan of the car but felt it was too factory-built. It is a shame that other cars didn’t have the Forcasta treatment, but there may have been economic reasons why not.

Beijing Bubble

Even China has a bubble car although we don’t know much at this moment, beyond that it costs about $750 equivalent, it’s top speed is 30 MPH and a range of 60 miles.

The next question one might ask is…will there be a future for the bubbles? Several people seem to have taking up the call by blending the old idea of the bubble with the newer idea of EVs. Seen below is a possible bubble of the future.