Continuing Insurance Education – History-Development of the Auto Industry

Americans have always loved their automo­bile. Whether an individual used the shining mode of transportation as a status symbol to impress neighbors or value its safety and reliability, the auto industry has been one important economic foundation of our society. Throughout this book we will not only focus on the elements of the Personal Auto Policy but also the history, devel­opment and impact the automobile had on our society. We will also discuss the legal nature of automobile insur­ance, along with the rating of automo­bile drivers. We will conclude our discussion with ways to navigate the car insurance waters and how to be sure such Personal Auto Policies are best for our clients.

When John Frank and Charles Durye pro­duced their gas-powered auto in Spring­field, Massachusetts in 1896 they could not have envisioned the industry they gave “birth” to. Before 1886, the horse was the transportation mode of most. Like all good ideas, the new­ness of the new form of transporta­tion would take awhile for total accep­tance. After all, the horse was used for years and had a loyal following.

A Detroit pioneer, Ransom E. Olds, real­ized that mass production was the key. By 1904, he was mass-producing 4,000 cars a year using hundreds of skilled craftsmen.

Finally, in 1913, Henry Ford adapted the moving assembly line from other industries (basically, the meat packing industry). Mr. Ford insisted that engine blocks and other complex parts be cut to precise dimensions in order that the parts are inter­changeable,

thus making it much easier to install such parts. This was a tremendous breakthrough because it elimi­nated the need for many skilled craftsmen. This was also critically important as Mr. Ford mass-produced 321,000 “tin Lizzies” at his Highland Park, Michigan Plant. He was mass-producing autos at an efficient, afford­able price that the masses could afford, $290 per vehicle! Now for the first time, the aver­age individual could af­ford a Model T.

Before Mr. Ford, the auto was marketed to doctors, farmers, businessmen and the police. This group was more likely to try a new in­vention that would make life simpler. The initial purchasers of these “horse­less car­riages” were a purveyor of public transporta­tion. The U.S. Postal Service began using cars in 1899 in large cities to speed up mail delivery and three years later the first bus was introduced, which enlarged travel routes beyond trolley lines and railroads. Of course, the popularity of the railroads and streetcars suffered.

By the “roaring 20′s”, middle class America was able to purchase an auto. Soon, the auto became a symbol of status, sex appeal, health and wealth. Many people believed the two most important days in a person’s life was the wedding day and the day one pur­chased their first car!

In the 1920′s General Motors Corpora­tion, under the leadership of Alfred R. Sloan, fur­ther revolutionized the indus­try by offering choice to the consumers. GM’s Car Division assembled a differ­ent model in different price ranges. This was truly a “style for every purse and purpose”. GM also allowed car buyers to use an easy installment plan called “Drive Now, Pay Later” to make purchasing that much more simple. The result was that GM replaced Ford as the leader in auto sales, a position that it still maintains.

Automakers stopped building cars during the war years (1942-46) but by the 1950′s busi­ness was again booming in the United States. The 1960′s and 70′s saw new foreign competi­tion, particularly from the German and the Japanese. These foreign cars were much smaller than the large, lumbering vehicles built by the U.S. automakers. The first shock wave came from West Germany’s Volkswagen Beetle, which encouraged the U.S. consumer to think “small”. Another big wave arrived from Asia with Toyota Motor Corps, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co., all taking market shares from the American big three.

As we move to­ward the new century, the auto industry is attempting to revamp the car. The weight of the vehicle will become lighter; today’s average vehicle weighs 3,200 pounds but the goal is to reduce its weight to 2,000 pounds. Also, the car of the future will em­ploy a form of energy storage to recapture expended energy and recycle it. “The car of the future is not going to have an internal combustion as we know it today”, says Bob Chapman, Chairman of the PNGU Technical Task Force at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Styling, which has become rounder and sleeker over the last 100 years, contin­ues to evolve. The cars likely will be shorter and more aerodynamic in design. Vehicles will also act different­ly. The car of the future will have as standard equipment: obstacle detec­tion on the road, collision warning and traffic information devices. Also stan­dard will be sophisticated technology that will allow driv­ers to summon help in an emergency. Voice-activated instrum­ent panels will replace con­ventional buttons and knobs. In addition, the “heads-up-display”, a technology primar­ily used in aircraft will expand to au­tos project­ing information such as speed and fuel levels in the driver’s line-of-vision.

By 2021, experts predict automated highways will guide cars to their desti­nations. Some auto designers are aban­doning all traditional concepts of the vehicle. Some are looking at develop­ing a basic car body that auto buyers themselves can alter to fit their life­styles.

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