The turn of the twentieth century witnessed the dawning of the automobile industry. Tinkering by bicycle, motorcycle, buggy, and machinery entrepreneurs in Europe and the United States led to the first prototypes of automobiles in the late nineteenth century. French woodworking machinery makers Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor built their first car in 1890 with an engine designed in Germany by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. Armand Peugeot, a French bicycle maker, licensed the same engine and sold his first four lightweight cars in 1891. German machinist Carl Benz followed the next year with his four-wheeled car and in 1893 Charles and Frank Duryea built the first gasoline-powered car in the United States. Ransom Olds is credited as the first mass producer of gasoline-powered automobiles in the United States, making 425 “ Curved Dash Olds ” in 1901. The first gasoline-powered Japanese car was made in 1907 by Komanosuke Uchiyama, but it was not until 1914 that Mitsubishi mass-produced cars in Japan.
Each region in the triad — North America, Europe, and Asia — has made significant contributions to process, product, and organization throughout the twentieth century. These innovations together have shaped the competitive structure of the automotive industry that exists today. The organization of production inputs — such as labor and suppliers of components and materials — as well as the configuration of distribution channels are also important dimensions of the growth and evolution of the industry. Furthermore, various forces outside the industry shape industry structure and strategies: trade flows; regional and international movement of capital; regional and global policies on trade, environmental regulation, and intellectual property, particularly in emerging economies; and the infusion of information technology throughout the procurement, production, and distribution systems.
The automotive industry is dynamic and vast, accounting for approximately one in ten jobs in industrialized countries. Developing countries often look to their local automotive sector for economic growth opportunities, particularly because of the vast linkages that the auto industry has to other sectors of their economy.
MODERN ECONOMIC ORIGINS OF THE AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY
The auto industry has passed through several stages: (1) craft production (1890-1908), in which dozens of small enterprises vied to establish a standard product and process; (2) mass production (1908-1973), precipitated by Henry Ford ’ s moving assembly lines, which became the standard operating mechanism of the industry; and (3) lean production (1973 – present), which was initially developed at Toyota under the leadership of Taichi Ohno during the 1950s, and which introduced a revolutionary management process of product-development and production.
Mechanization of auto production has also been transformed over the past century, led by the need for faster and lower-cost production on the supply side of the industry. Ford ’ s mass-production system relied on standardized designs to enable the construction of assembly plants that were fully automated and utilized interchangeable auto parts. In its heyday, between 1908 and 1920, Ford streamlined the assembly process to the point where it took just over an hour and a half to produce one car. Setting the industry standard for production enabled Ford to take the lead in market share, but it also led to a complacent mindset that hindered innovation. In the 1920s General Motors improved on Ford ’ s assembly line process by introducing flexibility into the production system, enabling faster changeovers from one model to the next. However, it took half a century after Ford stopped mass producing Model T ’ s in 1927 for another production paradigm to emerge as the standard in the global automotive industry. Toyota ’ s lean production system — which had its beginnings in 1953 — drove productivity to new heights by replacing the “ push ” system with a “ pull ” system. Instead of producing mass quantities of vehicles and pushing them through to dealerships to sell to customers or hold as inventories, the lean system pulled vehicles through the production process based on immediate demand, minimizing inventories at suppliers, assemblers, and dealerships. Just-in-time production also gave a larger responsibility for product design, quality, and delivery to assembly workers and suppliers than did the mass-production system. Suppliers were not vertically integrated into auto assembler operations, but rather networked to the assemblers via long-term contracts. This total system of cost-minimization and responsiveness to customer demands revolutionized auto manufacturing on a global scale, although the model has been adapted to regional conditions.
Product innovation in the automotive industry has mainly been a response to customer demands, although product positioning is a critical strategic variable for automakers. Ever since General Motors began producing different types of vehicles for different product segments, thereby ending the reign of Ford ’ s low-price, monochromatic Model T, the ability to vary products on several dimensions has been the main strategic variable of auto producers. U.S. automakers have mainly been responsive to customers ’ desires for comfort, speed, and safety, and have developed rugged drive trains, plush suspensions and interiors, and stylish chassis and bodies. In contrast, European auto producers have focused their attentions on performance and agility features of vehicles, such as steel-belted radial tires, disc brakes, fuel injection, and turbo diesel engines. For Japanese producers, the miniaturization culture and the scarcity of fuel, materials, and space largely determine the specifications of cars.
Organizational innovations have also occurred over the past century. In concert with the introduction of mass production techniques came the vertical organization of production processes. Auto assemblers internalized the production of critical components in an effort to minimize transaction costs associated with late deliveries and products that were not produced to exact specifications. For example, the share of components purchased from outside suppliers relative to the wholesale price of an American car dropped from 55 percent in 1922 to 26 percent in 1926. During the Great Depression, this propensity to internalize production eased, with suppliers gaining independence and importance in the replacement parts market. Automakers found that a highly vertical organizational structure did not permit the flexibility in operations necessary for product innovation. In the 1930s, Ford ’ s vertically integrated and centrally controlled organizational structure gave way to the multidivisional organizational structure that was implemented by Alfred Sloan at General Motors Corporation (GM). Sloan ’ s decentralized configuration of GM fostered an independent environment for the development, production, and sales of a wide variety of vehicles. With the lean production revolution came the introduction of organizational reform referred to as the extended enterprise system. Although Japanese auto manufacturers established and diffused efficient mechanisms of supply chain management throughout the industry, Chrysler Corporation is credited with successfully implementing these innovations in the American venue.
Rivalry among assemblers in the automotive industry, once contained within national boundaries, has evolved into global competition. First movers established market dominance in the early 1900s, and their brands are still the most recognized by consumers today. The fact that auto producers choose market strategies based on what their rivals are doing indicates that this is an oligopolistic industry. What is interesting here is that market leadership remains dynamic: It is not a given that General Motors or Toyota or DaimlerChrysler will be the market leader of tomorrow.
Before industry standards for products and production were established, hundreds of automakers existed, each vying to establish a beachhead in the industry. In the United States, for example, the year 1909 saw the largest number of automakers in operation in a given year — 272 companies. It is estimated that in the first twenty years of the industry ’ s existence, over five hundred firms entered the industry in the United States alone. The 1920s brought a wave of precipitous exits by auto manufacturers, with many firms merging into more profitable companies. In the 1930s General Motors became the market leader, with Ford slipping to second place because of a yearlong changeover in production from the Model T to the Model A. By 1937 General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler — long referred to as the Big Three — had 90 percent of total sales in the U.S. market, forming a dominant-firm oligopoly (General Motors accounted for 44.8%, Chrysler 25%, and Ford 20.5%). By the 1960s, only seven domestic auto producers remained.
In the late 1990s Japanese auto manufacturers took over more than a quarter of the U.S. market, and Big Three market share slipped below 70 percent. Today, there are only two-and-a-half U.S. automakers — General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler — collectively capturing 58.7 percent of the U.S. market. GM still has the largest share of the U.S. market (27.3%), but Toyota ’ s market share in the United States is just one percentage point below Chrysler ’ s (13%). Worldwide, market concentration has also been declining since the mid-1980s, with entrants such as Hyundai/Kia diluting the collective market share held by dominant automakers.
Market rivalry in the auto industry centers on two strategic variables: (1) product variety and quality, and (2) transactions price, which is manipulated to boost sales. The tension between shareholder concerns about short-term profitability and a company ’ s desire for long-term viability is palpable. Automakers must attract and maintain a solid customer base, building allegiance to brand name in an effort to maximize earnings in the long term. Maintaining high customer repurchase rates is critical to long-term profitability in the industry. Therefore, automakers attempt to attract and keep customers from the purchase of their first car in their late teens until retirement and thereafter. Product variety at all of the major automakers spans the full spectrum from small to full-sized cars, although some automakers are better known in particular market niches. For example, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura capture a third of the upscale market in the United States, whereas Buick, Ford, Mercury, and Toyota are known for their family-styled traditional cars. Turnkey reliability is the hallmark of Japanese makes, whereas Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota appeal to buyers of small or sporty vehicles. The fastest growing market segment in the United States in recent years has been sport utility vehicles (SUVs). By the early 2000s, SUVs captured 55 percent of vehicle sales.
Auto producers have used various means to develop a full line of product offerings for a broad spectrum of customers. For example, GM has historically used acquisition or shareholdings to offer a variety of brands — including Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac. In the late 1970s, GM purchased shares in Suzuki and Isuzu subcompacts and imported those vehicles, in part to satisfy Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency requirements. In recent years, Ford-Mercury-Lincoln has also diversified its portfolio by acquiring Volvo and Jaguar. Toyota, Honda, and Nissan initiated a clever marketing ploy in the 1980s aimed at selling luxury vehicles in the United States: They named their luxury brands Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti, respectively, even though these cars are built on the same platforms as their other vehicles.
Product quality has been converging over time. As recently as 1998, European and Japanese makes had fewer vehicle defects than average for cars in their first few months on the road, whereas U.S. and Korean cars had more defects than average. By 2004 vehicles from all four regions were within ten defects per hundred vehicles of the average, which had fallen from 176 to 119 defects per hundred vehicles. Interestingly, both the Japanese and the South Korean newcomers outperformed U.S. and European vehicles on this quality scale.
To attract customers to a brand, small cars are at times used as a loss leader; that is, a firm will sell their low-end vehicle at a price below invoice, while recuperating large returns on SUVs, luxury brands, and specialty cars. Another pricing strategy that is often used by automakers to clear inventories and to get the customer in the door is discounting. At particular times of the model year (which typically begins in October and ends in September of the following year) direct assembler-to-customer discounts as well as dealer-to-customer discounts are used to adjust transaction prices to ebbs and flows in demand. If the revolutionary pull system becomes pervasive in the auto industry, the need to manage inventories through end-of-model-year discounting could become obsolete. However, product positioning will continue to be an important competitive variable for automakers because demographic attributes drive the needs and desires of customers.
Automotive suppliers have been gaining global importance in the automotive industry, taking on the primary responsibility for product development, engineering, and manufacturing for some critical systems in the automobile. In its initial stage of development, the auto industry was comprised of auto assemblers that integrated parts production into the enterprise. Independent auto parts producers mainly supplied aftermarket parts. Throughout the twentieth century, this vertically integrated structure within assemblers has been replaced by a more network-oriented tiering structure. Here, assemblers coordinate design and production efforts with premier first-tier suppliers, while these suppliers are responsible for global coordination of the supply of their subassemblies and for the coordination of production by sub-tier parts manufacturers. Thus, first-tier suppliers have been rivaling automakers in market power and in share of value added to any given vehicle. While it seems unlikely at this time that such suppliers will evolve into complete vehicle manufacturers, the profit generated by the sale of a vehicle is shifting toward the supplier and away from the traditional assembler. Automakers, therefore, face stiff rivalry both from other automakers and from dominant suppliers. Only a select few suppliers have achieved “ true global competency ” in the production of automotive systems, but the industry trend is pointing in this direction. The “ Intel Inside ” phenomenon seen with computers — in which the supplier ’ s brand identity is critical for the sale of the final product — has not yet taken over the automotive industry, although “ Hemi Inside ” could be an emerging example.
As manufacturing momentum shifted toward auto parts suppliers, so too did the share of labor. Since the early 1960s, total employment in the U.S. auto industry has ranged between 700,000 and just over 1 million workers. Up until the mid-1980s, auto assemblers employed the majority of those workers, but from then on the employment share for automotive parts suppliers in the United States has consistently been greater than the share of workers at assembly plants. Between 1987 and 2002, the share of automotive sector employment at assembly plants declined from 44 percent to 36 percent, whereas the share of workers at automotive suppliers increased from 46 percent to 54 percent. Add to this change the influx of mostly non-unionized automotive transplants (foreign suppliers and assemblers), the outsourcing of parts and assembly to foreign nations, and the general sectoral shift away from manufacturing toward the service sector, and it is clear that the 1980s marked a turning point for labor in the U.S. auto industry.
Labor unions that represent autoworkers in the United States have had to weather a myriad of undulations in domestic business cycles since 1935, when the United Auto Workers (UAW) was founded. (Other unions that represent auto workers in the United States include the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers of America, the United Steelworkers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.) Recent changes in the organization of the auto industry and in the ownership of domestic firms, however, present uniquely formidable challenges to union strength. First, the implementation of lean manufacturing techniques and the drive to achieve globally competitive prices, quality, and delivery standards is likely to precipitate job cuts as suppliers strive to increase productivity. Second, only a few automotive transplants in the United States allow union status — namely, NUMMI (GM-Toyota), Diamond Star (Chrysler-Mitsubishi), and Auto Alliance (Ford-Mazda), all of which are joint ventures with U.S. companies. Yet, total transplant employment is rising: Between 1993 and 2003 employment at transplants in the United States rose from 58,840 to 93,408. The UAW continues to strive to organize labor at transplants and is targeting supplier parks near unionized assemblers in an attempt to maintain locational control. Third, outsourcing of production in a continuously globalizing industry diminishes the bargaining power of unions not just in the United States, but in Europe as well. Fourth, auto assemblers and suppliers are increasing their utilization of temporary workers. In Germany, BMW has a pool of temporary workers that can be utilized at different factories as needed, and in the United States auto assemblers are increasingly employing contract workers to reduce costs.
The globalization of the auto industry appears to challenge the status quo for labor in traditional regions of vehicle production. As employment in the industry shifts toward the supplier sector and toward emerging economies, the attempt to maintain good wages at traditional plants is paramount for autoworkers. Total hourly labor cost at GM and Ford for 2005 was estimated at $65.90, with $35.36 in wages and $30.54 in benefits, healthcare, and retirement costs. Other estimates for 2004 show earnings of production workers at assembly plants at $1,217 per week, whereas workers at parts plants earn $872 weekly, and workers in all manufacturing industries make an average of $529 per week. Autoworkers — particularly those who work in assembly plants in developed countries — certainly have a great deal at stake as the industry continues to globalize.
By contrast to labor, the power that dealerships exert on assemblers has historically been minimal. The push system of production meant that dealerships were the repositories for the inventory overruns of auto assemblers. Also, up until the 1960s, dealerships could legally be controlled by automakers. Therefore, auto dealers earn the majority of their profits from aftermarket sales of parts, accessories, supplies, and service, all of which are a small portion of their business. With the movement toward a pull system of production, dealerships could play a more important role in the automotive industry. However, the countervailing threat to dealerships is Internet-based sales, an innovation that stands to mitigate the market power of dealerships vis- à -vis auto assemblers.
MAJOR COUNTRIES OF PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION
The Worldwide Big Three automakers
are General Motors, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Ford Motor Company. In 2004 these companies had worldwide market shares of 13 percent, 11 percent, and 10 percent, respectively, and production shares that closely mirrored these numbers. Interestingly, the geocenter of automotive production is the Asia-Pacific region, with over 23 million units produced in 2004. Japan was the dominant producer, with China a distant second at half of Japan ’ s output that year. Western Europe and North America ranked a distant second and third in worldwide production, respectively, producing between 16 and 17 million vehicles in 2004. Germany is the dominant producer in western Europe, while the United States produces the lion ’ s share of vehicles in North America.
The biggest consumers of vehicles are North Americans, with Asian Pacific and western European customers a close second and third. Although per-capita ownership of vehicles in China is very small (1.5 vehicles per 100 households compared to 50 vehicles per 100 households in Japan in 2001), the number of vehicles sold in China in 2004 fell only a few hundred thousand short of vehicle sales in Japan. In addition, the growth rate of sales in Japan between 2003 and 2004 was a sparse 0.1 percent, whereas China experienced a 17.2 percent growth in vehicle sales during that period. The other countries with over a million in vehicle sales per year that also had double-digit growth in vehicle sales in 2004 were Russia (24 percent), India (18.2%), Brazil (17%), Mexico (11.8%), and Spain (10.2%). Market opportunities in these countries are highly dependent on macroeconomic performance and policies. Hence, automakers pursue a portfolio approach to production and marketing, given the fragility of economic growth in these regions.
Since the 1960s, auto analysts have looked to a few regions for sources of new productive capacity: Eastern Europe, Latin America, India, and China. By 1980, however, the eastern European motor industry had stagnated and during the 1980s severe economic and political turmoil caused halting growth in the Latin American automotive sectors. In the 1990s liberalization of trade and investment policies gradually emerged in India and China. Today, China has captured attention as the location for new automotive productive capacity. Beginning with Volkswagen ’ s investment in 1985, all of the major automakers have established productive capacity in China through joint-venture relationships with local automakers.
In the mid 1970s passenger car production was practically nonexistent in China. Thirty years later, sales and profit rates had soared, although capacity utilization is low (between 50% and 60%) and inventories are high relative to their Japanese, European, and U.S. competitors. If China continues on its pathway from centrally planned economy to modest marketization, and continues to become more fully integrated into the global economy, then its domestic automotive industry will most likely steadily expand.
IMPORTANCE OF THE INDUSTRY FOR MACROECONOMIC ACTIVITY AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
The automotive industry is an important sector of the overall economy, particularly in industrialized countries. For example, the automobile is second only to a house in purchase value for the average American household. The average manufacturing job in the automotive sector pays 60 percent more than the average U.S. job. It is estimated that the industry generates 10.4 jobs for every worker directly employed in automotive manufacturing and support services (excluding auto dealers) in the United States. Employment spillovers are seen in manufacturing and nonmanufacturing industries, including retail trade and services. In 2000 motor vehicles and equipment (assemblers and suppliers) expenditures on research and development (R&D) outpaced R&D spending in many of the thirty-nine largest industry groups, including pharmaceuticals and medicines, semiconductors and other electronic components, communications equipment, and computers and peripheral equipment.
Motor vehicles are also a major component of international trade and foreign direct investment between countries. In 2000 the share of automotive products in world trade was 9.4 percent, unchanged from its share a decade earlier. Western Europe, North America, and Asia in declining order are the global leaders in exports and imports. While western Europe and Asia are net exporters of vehicles, North American imports far outpace exports. In North America, exports have remained relatively flat since the 1980s, whereas imports have ratcheted up. North America, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are all net importers of automotive products. Intraregional trade figures show that intra – western European trade was the largest in value at almost US$200 billion that year, intra – North American trade was second at US$87.7 billion, and intra-Asian trade was the lowest at US$19.6 billion. Interestingly, intra – North American trade declined by 10 percent compared to 1990. The fastest growing region-to-region trade was North America ’ s trade with its European and Latin American partners.
From time to time barriers have been erected around the globe to protect local automotive sectors. For example, over the past twenty years, countries in North America and Europe have erected tariff and non-tariff barriers specifically applied to trade in automobiles. Between 1981 and 1988, the United States and Japan “ voluntarily ” agreed on a fixed number of vehicle units that Japan would export to the United States. The European Union and Japan also entered a voluntary export agreement (VER) between 1990 and 1999, as Japanese imports to Europe began to surge. In both cases, the VERs were partly responsible for an increase in transplant production, as Japanese auto producers jumped over the trade barriers to erect manufacturing plants in the United States and Europe. Although the transplants have become a critical component of the local manufacturing landscape, the jobs and exports that they generate are weighted against their dampening effect on wages and the costs that some local governments incur to attract foreign firms to their region.
In developing countries, trade and investment restrictions in the automotive sector take the form of local content rules, tariffs, and quotas. The impetus behind these protectionist measures is to give local producers a chance to develop before they face competition from world-class auto producers that are more productive and therefore have lower unit costs. In recent decades, regional trade pacts have been implemented that liberalize many of these local content, investment, and trade restrictions. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was implemented in 1994, is one significant example. When the United States and Canada included Mexico in their free trade pact on trade in automobiles and parts, Mexico reduced tariffs for its northern partners and lifted restrictions on local investment for all foreign companies, allowing domestic status for transplant operations.
One of the critical determinants of the location of assembly plants and their related suppliers is production cost. Production costs and market opportunities are the primary reasons why jobs are shifting away from the traditional geographic centers of vehicle production. At the same time, implementation of the lean production paradigm is shifting the operational center of vehicle production toward first-tier suppliers with global capabilities. Variable costs of production — costs that depend on the number of vehicles produced — include expenditures on materials and labor. In the automotive industry, material costs range between 22 and 50 percent, whereas labor costs range from 10 to 20 percent. Because these costs vary by region and product produced, auto assemblers and suppliers are actively engaged in assessments and adjustment processes that lead to changes in the configuration and operations of their plants. Yet, the evolution of North American, European, Asian, and South American trading blocs has significant implications for the geographic configuration of production and trade flows. While it remains an important factor, comparative advantage is not the sole determinant of trade patterns in the automotive industry.
CHANGES AND CHALLENGES IN THE AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY
Auto industry analysts anticipate major organizational and geographical changes in the global auto industry in response to innovations in auto-manufacturing techniques, reconfigurations in the loci of demand for vehicles, and growing environmental concerns. A new model of labor utilization will develop as suppliers and automakers adjust to flexible manufacturing practices and the globalization of their operations.
As of 2007, overcapacity in the global automotive industry is estimated at 20 million units, which is approximately one-third of global annual production or the productive capacity of the western European automakers. With minimum efficient scale of production at an assembly plant estimated at 200,000 vehicles, dozens of assembly plants are likely to close as automakers strive to improve their profitability. Capacity unitization of about 75 percent is the tipping point below which automakers are in jeopardy of experiencing financial losses.
Overcapacity, therefore, has triggered mergers, acquisitions, and network alliances. Auto companies are consolidating and simplifying control and development functions, and attempting to minimize new investment initiatives, the number of unique parts in their vehicles, the number of design and production tools used, the number of components made in-house, and the number of direct supplier relationships. Assemblers are also utilizing modularization to simplify final assembly processes, and they are experimenting with various organizational designs as part of the restructuring process. Automakers and parts suppliers are utilizing vertical and horizontal strategic alliances with the expectation that they will facilitate the development of new products and the spread of automotive productive capacity to new geographic regions. These ventures, however, will also create new competitors, particularly in emerging economies.
However, consolidation has not proven to be a panacea for optimizing productive capacity in the industry. Mergers have typically occurred between companies that have complementary product lines and therefore the opportunities for retiring some plants are diminished. Effective rationalization brings job losses. Yet mergers between companies from different countries (such as Germany ’ s Daimler-Benz and Chrysler in the United States) have not typically brought capacity reduction, because political forces strive to maintain domestic jobs.
Analysts anticipate that production will shift away from traditional regions in North America, Europe, and East Asia to Brazil, China, India, and countries in Southeast Asia. Trade liberalization will facilitate this geographical shift in production, as well as increased commonilization — the sharing of principal components and platforms — although consumer tastes will militate against the full introduction of a homogeneous “ world car ” from each automaker. Commonilization — coupled with the differentiation of products based on regional tastes — is already practiced by Ford and Honda, and other automakers are also adopting this practice. There is no clear evidence, however, that automakers are converging on one comprehensive paradigm of production.
Economic growth in East and South Asia is also expected to influence the locational decisions of auto producers. For example, economic and political developments in China during the past decade have had considerable influences on global sourcing and production decisions of German, American, and Japanese automakers. Growing disposable income among middle-and upper-income citizens, burgeoning industrial development in coastal regions, and the periodic liberalization of personal finance markets are driving demand for passenger cars and commercial vehicles in China. Given these trends and the size of the market, automakers anticipate good returns from their productive capacity in the Far East. Yet, exuberance over the potentially hot auto market in China is tamed from time to time by the prospect that the underpinnings of that market rests importantly on government fiat.
The automobile industry will also need to continue to address a range of environmental concerns related to carbon dioxide levels and other health risks. While estimates vary widely as to the impact that vehicle emissions have on the global environment, automakers have made emissions and safety adjustments to their automobiles over time. In the United States, rules and guidelines that originated in the 1970s — such as the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards (CAFE) and federal safety regulations — have brought about significant emission reductions. Thirty years since CAFE standards were put in place, new cars in the United States emit approximately 1 percent of the smog-producing compounds emitted by new cars in the 1970s. This progress is not solely the result of government regulations, however. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — a trade association of nine automakers from the United States, Germany, and Japan — has identified clean energy technologies as a means to further economic growth in the industry. It is important to note, however, that increased use of vehicles and persistent use of vehicles with old technology mitigate some of these important strides.
Automakers around the globe are also engaged in developing new technologies and products, such as electronic fuel cells, navigational systems that manage congestion problems, and “ telematics ” (telecommunications capabilities). Information technology networks will be fully integrated into the R&D, procurement, manufacturing, and distribution functions of the enterprise structure. The Internet and Web-based communications are expected to drive the next transformation in the automobile industry. The next frontier in distribution channels is fully to implement a build-to-order system. While dealerships might not become obsolete, the efficiency of the pull system will reduce their inventories and associated costs. Implementing a system similar to the Dell Direct model could mean significant cost reductions in the distribution and purchasing functions of firms in the industry.
SEE ALSO Ford Motor Company; General Motors
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Kaye Husbands Fealing
International Directory of Company Histories
UAW (International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America)