If you've never experienced writer's cramp, try making a list of the
technical innovations and societal changes that the automotive industry has
spawned. In the century since the Duryea brothers produced 13 identical copies
of a "motor wagon," thus giving birth to the American sector of that industry,
cars have driven society as much as we have driven them. Suburbia, for example,
would have been difficult to create without the mobility cars provide, enabling
people to live long distances from where they work.
Just think of the jobs the industry has created. Tens of thousands of Americans make their livelihood supporting the industry, including working in the many supplier companies, whose role in car design and production continues to expand.
Automotive engineers have stamped their influence all over industry. For example, criticized by many for the quality of their products, the car companies have taken the lead in the drive for quality that has swept industry in general in the last several years. Even the imports admit that Detroit has closed the quality gap significantly. As if to show that they are not resting on their laurels, Ford executives recently stripped 44 supplier plants of their quality crowns. And, the company promises to withdraw Q1 (quality) status from any supplier whose parts have been implicated in a safety recall.
Automotive needs have brought about major innovations in plastics. Now, despite cost instability, Chrysler is experimenting with aluminum for production cars. Next spring, it will build 3,000 Prowlers with all-aluminum frames and some aluminum in body panels.
The Big Three are among the largest users of computer-aided design and analysis software. Ford this year decided to standardize on CAD software from SDRC, Milford, OH. That and decisions made on other software in Detroit have streamlined car design and production. At this year's Management Briefing Seminars conducted by the University of Michigan's Center for Automotive Studies, GM said it is adopting "virtual prototyping" for all cars for the 1998 model year. "The new dies are already waiting in a warehouse," reports the Center's Brett Smith.
This issue describes some of the changes in automotive technology today. We congratulate the industry and the engineers who make it exciting. May the next century be as good as the last.