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.

A look at China and Cars

Op-Ed by P. Wimsett

These days you might see conspiracies everywhere you go, at least where China is concerned. However a closer look at car making in China presents an interesting conundrum. Although China has built up a reputation as the world’s factory (due to various tax exemptions and the ability to operate without too many rules and regulations) other countries have proved better in exporting cars. And China’s domestic market could be a lot better.

The question might not be why the Chinese car market is huge, but why isn’t it bigger?

Not that cars aren’t important of course, its just that other materials have been more important. It just has never been a priority for the country. Although 46.8% of China’s GDP is from manufacture, most of this is chemicals, steel, and cotton. The manufacture of cars goes way down the list. Typically, countries that make there own steel do well in the vehicle manufacturing arena.

When you consider the entrepreneurial spirit of countries such as the US and Japan it doesn’t come as that remarkable that these countries sell more cars. But China gives them a run for their money-or did until very recently.

Last July there were reports that the Chinese car industry was failing. In 2019 there were 21 million passenger vehicles created in the country whereas 2017 had 24 million cars (These figures are from the German Association of the Automotive Industry).

But as of now the country seems to have come through the Coronavirus and out the other side, its possible to view China car manufacturing as an investment.

It seemed that even without the virus, the Chinese car industry was in a bad way. It seems that car sales in China fell by 92% after that with only 811 vehicles produced per day. Even without the virus we wouldn’t exactly be singing China’s praises as far as the car market is concerned.

Names like Chang-an and Chery Automobiles haven’t fared that well in the Western world, where Japanese cars remain quite popular. In other words The “West” has no problem buying cars made in Japan or South Korea, but not China. The Chinese seem okay buying Western Cars so long as they are made in China, which was the case until Covid shut down several factories.

To look at one name in more detail, Ford’s sales in China fell 20%. Since a factory operating at 80% can only break even, Ford was forced to close factories temporarily.

We don’t really know how much of this is Covid related and how much was already in the works. The closures were treated as longer Lunar New Year holiday. There’s not that much good news at the moment.

The factories were not just manufacturing Chinese cars. In Wuhan there was a Nissan factory (which were founded in Japan) and one for Honda (also Japan) and Hyandai (South Korea). So, by China falling ill, other countries soon felt the pinch.

Maybe by looking into how the US and Japan operate, China can now take the advantage? When the lockdown is over, and people begin to take to their cars out more it will be a rush by all automakers to resume manufacture. China could focus on finding a competitive advantage for their designs.

Areas it might look into is creating lightweight designs with composite materials, possibly personalizing the design. Things must surely change for the Chinese market, there should be a way through. Granted, these times are unprecedented, so no one knows what is coming.

Testing A Car’s Aerodynamics

A number of companies are dropping wind tunnels in favor of virtual simulation. Against what people may think, the computer simulation gives a better idea of reality than wind tunnels.

Propulsion, also known as drag, has a complicated relationship with the speed of the vehicle. As the speed doubles the drag goes up to four times that much.

Using wind tunnels to test cars goes all the way back to 1960. Things that can be tested include the design, speed, fuel efficiency and how the driver handles the car, the latter is especially important in assisting racecar drivers to know how to perform in the toughest conditions.

For a car to turn corners at 200mph requires the aerodynamics to be tested and retested. Racecar designers will actually use wind to artificially increase the cars weight to improve its traction and handling. They do this by adding spoilers and fins in order to increase the downforce.

It’s important that the peak of the roof is far enough forward, which not only adds to the aerodynamics it means there is more headroom for the back seat.

BMWs are tested in the Aerodynamic Test Center, which recreated road speed and air speed, up to a massive 300 km/h. The difficulty here is that you need a prototype vehicle to start with.

The variables investigated include the drag, lift, side forces, pitch, yaw, and roll.

The lift is the opposite to the drag, an upward force countering the weight of the object.

The pitch is a rotation by side parts of the vehicle, it isn’t that noticeable unless you are talking about the wing of a plane or the sail of a yacht.

The yaw is the rotation of the vehicle’s nose whereas the roll is the rotation of the whole vehicle’s body, usually in a crash.

In reducing these variables, the car becomes easier to handle. To prevent a car skidding on the road, you need to know the yaw and the drag especially, to prevent the car flipping over you need to know the roll force, but also the load and pitch forces. Ultimately whatever happens to a car is a result of all these forces interacting with one another. If a car is unstable it will be harder to control.

Flow Field

The areas that are affected by the aerodynamics of a vehicle is known as a “flow field”. It all comes down to optimization, making the car as easy to handle as it can be. This include lengthening the car, which effects the flow field” to make the car more aerodynamic as well as fuel effective–the pressure is distributed around the vehicle. The “flow field” is a picture of the drag, lift and the side forces and is shaped in a similar way to the car itself.

After the indoor stuff the cars are tested on the racetrack. They require 200 hours in all.

Another way of carrying out test is modelling, at around 30-60% of the production size. It’s a way to carry out similar tests but to save on running costs.

It’s best to understand how your car operates in tests so you know where the potential liabilities are. A car only drives well because its aerodynamics have been well thought out.

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.

A Rearview of 2020

It would be hard to write the story of 2020 without reference to Covid 19, the unprecedented nature of which caught everyone off guard. Sales were stopped altogether in March and there were difficulties between April-June. The rest of the year could be thought of as “mixed market forces” as everyone looked towards selling online.

Market Forces:

Another problem with the year was the lack of motor shows, the New York show was first to postpone from April to August, later to be dropped altogether.

For the many automakers which relied on the Chinese supply chain both production levels and importing issues affected US supply. This was one of the many reasons that used car vehicle sales increased here – as much as 30%.

New Models:

As with any year there were always the new models, such as the iconic Cadillac OT5 with a 335-horsepower twin turbo. An additional rear camera helps remove the blind spot you sometimes encounter when parking.

Ford introduced a 2020 Mustang and 2020 Fusion, the latter having an Ecoboost engine and driving assist.

Underperforming Sales:

One of the more popular cars was a compact crossover from Hyandai, the Tucson. Sales were still down at 900,00 units. Ford Transits sold 93,000 units which proves that businesses still need vans, even if sales were down.

Although new Jeeps and Cherokees were planned for this year as well as Toyota Highlander what happened was a slight drop; 17% for the Highlander. It could have been a whole lot worse.

The Subaru Forester showed the miniscule increase in sales: 2%.

International Car Sales:

In both May and June sales for passenger cars increased in China. Japan had the strongest sales, even if their sales were down by a fifth. Light vehicle sales were down by a quarter, but they recovered better than Europe for instance. In Russia sales were down by a quarter.

In June, France was the only country that outdid Germany and the UK. September 2020 was a good month for China, USA and Europe as sales increased, though recovery had not quite improved for Europe, it was still down by a third. Brazil had a similar decrease in figures.

There were some difficulties in September when car companies weren’t able to create WLTP** compliant vehicles. Still, Italian car sales increased by 10%, and Germany by 8%, despite the numbers from other countries contracted. Numbers of registrations increased in China for the fifth month running, which shows great promise for the rest of the world after the virus.

November 2020 the VW was the top selling model, the second being the Toyota Yaris.

Conclusion:

Maybe it’s best to draw a line in the sand for 2020, those who run car factories and those who sell cars are more aware of the difficulty but the general conclusion inside the industry is that car sales will resume with a few modifications in 2021. After all, people are longing to get back to normal (not just new normal) as well as getting away. If planned correctly, 2021 will show a big difference, we will wait and see.

**The Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) laboratory test is used to measure fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from passenger cars and vans, as well as their pollutant emissions.

Tesla Cars – Their Success Continues

Tesla seems to have a different way of selling than its rivals. They speak of being mission-focused, consumer-focused and giving a consistent experience, but how does it stack up?

There is certainly expansion occuring, not only in the US but also they are building factories in China and Germany. But why have they reached such lofty heights?

Despite various models, such as the Roadster, Model S and Model X they seem more than a car company. With (according to CNN) revenue valued at 24.6 billion, they are also a hardware and software company.

There are other authorities which speak well of Tesla – the Owner Satisfaction Survey in 2017, run by Consumer Reports, placed them highest. The survey looked into such variables as the driving experience, comfort and value amongst other items.

These cars are in majority sold online, selling cars directly to the customers instead of using dealerships. Their showrooms are in malls and places with high footfall instead of the regular out of town places. There is remote diagnosis and even remote repair so no need to visit the customer. Relying on mobile technology they don’t make a profit on service.

The prototypes of the Tesla were revealed in July 2006 in Santa Monica to 350 invited guests. It was certainly about quality, not quantity.

A loan from the US Department of Energy in January 2010 of a massive 465 million dollars was certainly good for business. It was repaid in 2013 in full. Tesla has been developing its technology in an environmentally friendly way ever since.

Surprisingly, the patents aren’t heavily protected but can be used by other companies. As a sidenote, the number of patents registered is certainly a sign that it’s a technology company with a emphasis on the internet; most car companies have only the odd patent. While they are flexible with their patents, there are several trade secrets of Tesla which do remain private.

If you wish to let Tesla self-drive, there is an autopilot program available. If you wish to drive it yourself reviews of the cars talk about a “feeling of acceleration” in addition to “ride quality.”

There is some controversy as to whether it is actually “self-driving,” the car still needs to be supervised. The Tesla can handle various automatic tasks such as lane centering, lane changes, self-parking and summoning cars from a parking space or a garage. It all sounds pretty cool.

20% of all electric cars were produced by Tesla, which given the strong Japanese and German electric car market this is quite an achievement. So in the grand scheme of all cars made in the world, Tesla has a tiny piece, however in an apples to apple comparison to similar cars produced they are a big fish in their tiny pond.

So, are you self-driving or are you supervising the driving? In September 2020 someone was charged with driving over 90mph, it appears both “passengers” where asleep. According to the authorities these support systems are meant to be complementary, the human behind the wheel is ultimately responsible.

Despite this differentiation from how other car makers sell their cars, there is a huge amount of choice with a Tesla. The sky is the limit—did you know they were developing a space program as well?

Texan Car Factories

There is a long history of car manufacture in Texas, as early as 1917 a plant in Fort Worth. As many companies manufacture in a number of states it’s hard to find an individual characteristic that explains why a particular car is made a particular place. For instance, we may associate Cadillacs with Texas, but they were originally from Michigan. Still, if car makers prefer to locate factories there, either the State government is friendly to them (tax wise) or Texans as enterprising individuals.

The reason why cars were first made in Texas was to do with promising tax breaks. The first factory created Chevrolet’s. It didn’t look that much like a factory; the windows were too big. It would be satisfying to say the first car was a success, but it was given to a local reporter who promptly crashed it – so much for promotions.

The tax breaks for Chevrolets unfortunately didn’t last beyond 1922 and the factory had to close. Fortunately, a similar one opened in downtown Fort Worth.

“Texans” by Plymouth/ Dodge were also made in Fort Worth in 1922, almost forgotten about now. Their slogan was “first in endurance, durability and speed.” They might have had too much of the last feature with a massive 35 hp, more than they cope with. In their glory days they produced 20 cars a day, but it seems they did not live up to demand.

One factory that is still running is at Arlington – Arlington Assembly. The factory has operated more than 60 years creating large SUVs and Chevrolet and Cadillac, although when it started in 1954 it also made aircraft. During the 1990’s they also made roadsters such as the Buick Roadmaster. The names were reminiscent of long past – The Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the Oldsmobile Cutlass, the Pontiac Chieftain, despite this only being the 1990’s.

As with other factories they have recently moved into battery powered cars, with many developing cell technologies. The Chevrolet Volt was the first mass market plug-in hybrid. The Tahoe, described as a “full-sized SUV” with several versatile features, is also produced here. There are plans for a new underbody for both the Tahoe and Suburban – other improvements are more cargo space and electro-hydraulic brakes for both vehicles.

At this factory plans were announced in December 2019 for an expansion costing 1.6 million. In addition to this, there will be a $1.4 billion spent on an improved body and paint shops. So, it doesn’t appear this factory is going anywhere soon.

Tesla chose Austin to build a plant for the Cybertruck and the site also produces the Model Y, a small SUV. Reports say that they are concentrating on the East Coast, not the whole US, planning to invest $1 billion. Since they are planning to have a Cybertruck out there in 2021 they may need to get a move on.

Another car maker in Texas which don’t immediately trip off the tongue is Union Tank Car Company. Their focus is railway engines and carriages, but they also manufacture cars. And as with many automakers they manufacture in other states as well.

Cobots and the Workings of a Car Factory.

Cobots is the nickname given to robots who build cars on an automatic assembly line (short for collaboration robots). These robots cost from $50,000 to $80,000 but the big expense with this type of machinery is maintenance and repair.

Why Robots?

The reason for using robots isn’t as obvious as you might think. It’s not necessarily about robotic precision and speed—humans are able to work as fast as accurate in most cases. It’s actually about the danger to humans from repetitive stress. A human the same motion over and over can build up an injury.

Humans also get bored doing the same thing over and over, which can lead to accidents that harm themselves or others or create a potential defect in the vehicle. When a robot does something wrong it does it every time which means when you discover the problem you can go back and fix them all. It’s expensive but imagine having random errors on random units and trying to find all of those.

Finally, certain chemicals that are used are harmful to humans. Paint for example. If a robot paints a car it can essentially move via conveyer belt to the next part of the process. In the distant past of the assembly line someone ran the risk of spraying the car, then the car sat until dry before moving to the next process.

Supervision:

The tasks are supervised by a computer program. The science of performing individual tasks depends on both geometry and timing. The program tells each robot where each part should be placed, how to rotate, where to weld, etc. It also supervises the rotating of parts and moving of the cars.

The first waves of assembly robots were all in cages, no doubt to protect human workers. Now there are fewer humans working in close proximity to the machines, so the robots seem to roam free. Most of them are based in one place but they give the appearance of being free compared to their predecessors.

Production Order

The first part of the car to be constructed is the floor. This is done through pressing steel. Next light robotic arms do tasks as diverse as screwdriving, wheel mounting and installing the windshield.

The arms use a combo of lasers and cameras so the item can be offset properly. Tasks such as welding require robots with longer arms. To perform the task properly every time the arms work along the same arc for an entire pass.

The robots need to work together. If the panels aren’t in the right place they can’t weld together properly. Some jobs are more complicated than others; windshield placing requires several vacuum powered functioned grips for example.

Other things you may not know about Cobots:

What people may not know is that robots also tend to other machines in the factory, for example automatic forklifts load and unload items.

Quality control is still performed by the human workforce.

Another thing people may not know is, like humans, robots tend to work on shifts. A robot can work for two or three shift operations until it needs to be replaced by another robot. Engineers are always looking for more accurate ways to the building of their vehicles.

As late as 2005 90% of all robots were found in car factories. Automating the process is about increasing the safety, quality and productivity. In the same way that conveyor belts were first used in the car industry robots have taken over auto factories.

As well as the co-bots many factories “employ” drones to check vital parts of the factory, such as delivery pipes. It saves humans from climbing around to check remote locations.

There is no end to a robots uses in a car factory. There were even reports that robots were making the coffee in one Ford plant – hardly the most dangerous job in the world, so maybe it was a PR stunt. Still, it shows their versatility.