Auto industry back in business
DETROIT - War's end on Aug. 14 brought the signal for full speed ahead on new-car production.
However, the auto industry had been gearing for limited output, and it is expected to take a few months to get into volume production.
New machine tools must be ordered; old ones must be rehabilitated; new lines and new buildings must be constructed; orders for materials must be changed; and labor must be retrained.
Production of a half-million units is expected this year, with the industry hitting a 1,000,000-a-year pace by spring.
The war was over, and a car-hungry nation was ready to indulge in one of its favorite activities: buying new cars. The postwar auto boom had begun.
How long does an auto sales boom last? This one lasted 28 years, until the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries halted oil shipments to the United States in fall of 1973.
To be sure, not every one of those years was a winner, but sales topped the previous year 19 times, and 'milestone' years became common.
Sales reached 6 million for the first time in 1950. The Korean War began that June, and Americans feared a production cutoff as in World War II. Buyers stormed the showrooms.
The figure rose to 7 million in 1955, 8 million in 1964 and 9 million the following year. U.S. dealers sold 10 million cars for the first time in 1972. The 1973 total of 11,220,470 is second only to 1986 on the all-time car sales list.
Those numbers refer only to cars. Trucks were not an important part of industry sales jargon until the minivan burst on the scene in the 1984 model year. Earlier, when industry people spoke of a 10-million year, they meant 10 million cars.
Car sales totaled 1.8 million in the startup year of 1946 and climbed to 3.1 million the following year. In 1973 it was 11.2 million.
There were a few bad years: In 1958 there was a collapse to 4.6 million cars, down 22 percent from the previous year, and 1961 and 1970 were no prizes either.
But the good far outweighed the bad in a boisterous period that included the dawn of government regulation and the proliferation of nameplates, which was the most important product innovation of the postwar period.
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.