Anybody who has been in the automobile business for a while remembers periods when business was really bad. They remember the recessions and the dramatic drops in retail sales and bad times for automakers and their suppliers.
Well, this is no recession. What's happening today is permanent change, and it won't suddenly go away and return to the way it was.
This time, the change is transforming all segments of this industry.
Whatever else we want to call it, the change is a result of the improvements of the economies and industrial bases of other nations. Those countries started to build cars and export them. The United States is almost always the target of such countries.
Now the people of those countries are buying their own cars and using lots of petroleum. The world's refining capacity hasn't increased to satisfy every nation's consumers, so we face more competition for gasoline.
During the past 50 years, America has lost a few car companies, such as Studebaker and Packard. We've gained many new ones, such as Toyota, BMW and Hyundai. Globally, new companies and dealerships have sprouted up to sell tens of millions of cars and trucks to customers who are happy to purchase newer, cheaper, better vehicles.
It happened in France. It happened in Italy and Great Britain. And it's happening in Germany.
And it's forever. The landscape is permanently different, and there will be even more competition for the world's oil and for America's customers.
It has had an impact on the car industry. It has had an impact on home entertainment. What happened to TVs made by DuMont? Today we have different choices, and they come from different lands.
The automobile industry is in the middle of a sea change. Only this may not be the middle.
If there were plenty of oil, we'd see a different face on this American industry. But oil changes the battleground just as much as new economies, so the American industry is being buffeted by two powerful forces.
There will always be a strong demand for personal transportation in the United States. And there will always be a strong demand for commercial vehicles to move products.
Although we're not certain today how those vehicles will be powered or who will make them, the American consumer will still buy them through dealerships and get them serviced and trade in their old vehicles.
The players are changing and the game is changing, but the game remains.