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Car Production in the 30's


TAKerry
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What year/s would general automotive production have peaked and declined during the very late 20's through the start of the war? Seems that some year cars are everywhere (thinking 1932) and some you seldom see (1939). I was wondering if this was purely an aesthetic thing or because more cars were available?

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The Great depression that hit the $ availability for everyone didn't really take affect until the very end of 1930. Everyone was under the impression recovery would be eminent and the largest production year for cars was 1929. Production declined further of course as years progressed despite car companies continuing to advertise, pay to have sales material produced etc. By 1932 , especially the independent makes, saw sales not recover and you can look at sales catalogs of that era and see how "minimal" they became  as costs to produce them were trimmed back.

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If the peak was in '29, how long did the decline last? Was it clear up to the war thus booming post war sales?

I wasnt alive then, but have read about a recession in '58 maybe and that car sales were extremely low then as well?

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Not an expert but I have read that 1932 was actually the worst year of the depression. All the car makers kept hoping and trying to make their offerings stand out, we see a lot of 1932 cars because they were almost all beautiful and therefore saved, not because of production numbers. 

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2 hours ago, TAKerry said:

Seems that some year cars are everywhere (thinking 1932) and some you seldom see (1939). I was wondering if this was purely an aesthetic thing or because more cars were available?

Remember that production numbers does not correlate with survival.  

Maybe they made a lot, but many were junked.

Maybe they made a few, but they all survived. 

Survival is based on popularity. 

 

Example:

1940-1941 Lincolns - How many Zephyr sedans have you seen and how many Continentals?

1940 Sedan = 15,000 Continental (coupe & convertible)  = 404

1941 Sedan = 14,000  Continental (coupe & convertible) = 1251 (850 coupe 400 cv) 

Total production of about 1600 Continentals (40 & 41) and they are not rare, you see them everywhere.  Very high percentage of survival. They were popular and people saved them. 

 

Most 1929 cars were bland and had predictable styling. Most 1932 cars were really attractive. Add in the years of use and neglect and for a similar condition, the 1929 would be scrapped and the 1932 would be saved (in some form) 

Compare the popularity between a 1929 and 1932 - Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth and collectors consistently choose the 1932. 

 

The 1937-40ish cars didnt look bad. . . but like the 1929s few really stood out as a distinctively striking automobile that someone would want to save. (even by just pushing into the backyard)

 

Certainly the Fords were ALWAYS popular, (thinking 1940) and those Continentals that were never scrapped, but all the many, Nashes, Hudsons, Buicks, Studebakers, Chevrolets, etc. etc. etc. became rather dull, rather quickly. Especially when they were 10 years old and were compared to the new styling available in the 1950s. Their value was derived solely from the transportation they could provide, and by the 1950s the postwar technological improvements were making them less attractive for even that. 

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To give some perspective not from a auto historian but from a regular history standpoint. The war production work for WWII is what put the USA economy really back to where it sort of was, factories were busy, before the USA entered the war because goods etc were being bought by European countries.

WWI was even more so, the USA did not get into that conflict until the war had been going on for years. Truck sales and manufacture in the USA soared because of the orders from Europe - trucks all being shipped by boats mostly out of the Port of New York ( arrival from the west via freight train) Packard truck sales were incredible for what was in demand in orders from Europe. Packard had  a separate division for truck sales in their NY Branch office at 61st street and Broadway on the west side of Central Park. . One has to put the era in perspective. There was no major highway system like we now take for granted - that happened post WWII under Eisenhower. Major highways for cars/trucks pre WWII were the Lincoln highway, Route 66, and a privately owned  banked concrete highway owned by William K. Vanderbilt called the Long Island Motor Parkway. there is a great website about the latter run by my good friend Howard Kroplick who has also penned a book on the subject. 
We have a tendency to judge the past by current standards, knowledge, and rational - not by looking at it in the perspective of what really things were like at the time. Perfect example - a new Plymouth sedan in 1931 was $635 - seems like cheap money, BUT people were making maybe $10 per week and a full course meal from soup to dessert was in the $.75 to $1.25 range.  Things had a different "pace" then - if you wanted to know what was going on anyplace you read a newspaper or if you had the $ to buy a radio then would hear it there - no TV, no computers, no nothing, information was found by reading an encyclopedia not typing on plastic keys to an internet information site. With my many hats  and capacity as a historian beyond the cars it can give you a broader perspective of what was happening.

Edited by Walt G (see edit history)
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Stock market crash occurred in October 29 when the year was almost over. The economy held up pretty well through 1930 but began to slide in 1931. 1932 was the bottom.  Things began to recover in 1933. By 1934 many people thought of the depression was over. The economy was not back to boom time levels but had largely recovered. By 1936 the economy was doing so well the government got scared of another boom and bust cycle so they pulled back on the economy causing the "Roosevelt recession" of 1937 -38.

This is a lot more detailed and nuanced than most peoples impressions of the depression. It galls me that a lot of people think everyone was starving to death from 1929 to 1942. Not true at all.

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I might add that after WW1 the US adopted an easy money, low interest rate policy to help Britain. There was a short lived depression in 1920 -21 but after that a sustained boom that lasted until 1929. The 1920s is when production exploded, especially things like radios and cars, and the idea of selling on time payments became really popular. A lot of peoples lives got better between 1920 and 1930 in ways they could not have imagined.

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Walt G can probably add more to this thought, but the people who were still buying new cars through the depression years were likely taking better care of them as well, either through necessity or because they still had the means to do so leading to possibly a higher survival rate.  That's also the time period when all steel construction was really taking hold and those large body panels were able to be stamped.   I'd have to do more digging (those economic classes are too many years ago now) but I believe that in pretty much every decade there has been a recession/depression followed by another boom cycle.  

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One other thing to consider-when times are good, terms like "conspicuous consumption" and the "throw away society", really began to take on real meaning. The Roaring Twenties and post,WWll, boom are prime examples. Anyone having or maintaining, old anything, was stigmatized. From 1929 through the early post-war was a time of survival with what you have.

Edited by Buffalowed Bill (see edit history)
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The OP question was "What year/s would general automotive production have peaked and declined during the very late 20's through the start of the war?" Automobile Quarterly\s book  The American Car since 1876", has a good summary of auto production by make (Ford, Chev, Buick, Dodge, Plymouth, Studebaker etc) and by year 1905-1970. For a rough year to year comparison, here are annual totals (rounded off) for the top 14 produced  models in each year 1920-1949. For some years there would likely be another 50K-300K autos in other (small production) models not counted here. With a little over 1M in 1920, the first peak was in 1929 at over 4M cars and biggest initial dip was 3 years later in 1932 at 1M, essentially back to the 1920 level. The depression dip stretched 1931-1934 and the rebound from the depression peaked at 3.75M in 1937, and remained somewhat steady for 5 years with 1941 production at 3.55M. Post WWII, it took until 1949 for production among the top 14 models to pass the 1929 level, with production at 5M. Hope this answers the initial question. As for the reasons for any significant year to year increases or decreases (depression and WWII aside)(1937-1938 for example), most likely supply/demand related, with a lot of pent up demand in 1936/37 having been satisfied and so 1938 was an off year. AQ has same numbers for 1950-1970, but that will be for someone else to do the math!

1920 - 1.2M

1921 - 1.4M

1922 - 2.25M

1923 - 3.6M

1924 - 3.15M

1925 - 3.65M

1926 - 3.55M

1927 -3.8M

1928 - 3.4M

1929 - 4.2M HIGH

1930 - 3.6M

1931 - 1.8M

1932 - 1.0M LOW

1933 - 1.25M

1934 - 2.15M

1935 - 3.3M

1936 - 3.7M

1937 - 3.75M

1938 - 2.0M

1939 - 2.8M

1940 - 3.6M

1941 - 3.6M

1942 - 0.22M LOW

1945 - 0.075M LOW

1946 - 2.05M

1947 - 3.2M

1948 - 3.6M

1949 - 5.0M HIGH

 

 

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Note the 1920 to 1925 figures/totals. This was because the USA servicemen got back to the USA and reestablished themselves as a work force, had some $ and wanted to buy transportation - much of which prior to WWII they didn't have the cash they eared in that experience. Used cars at that time were some what "ancient" in design and power and most were not maintained well during the war years. ( low maintenance in the WWII era years was the same)

The sales of new cars in 1949 was high because the automobile manufacturers finally were able to reconvert their factorys back to car production from production of war material/parts etc.

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13 hours ago, Buffalowed Bill said:

One other thing to consider-when times are good, terms like "conspicuous consumption" and the "throw away society", really began to take on real meaning. The Roaring Twenties and post,WWll, boom are prime examples. Anyone having or maintaining, old anything, was stigmatized. From 1929 through the early post-war was a time of survival with what you have.

Yep.  My grandfather drove a ‘34 Dodge sedan he had bought used all throughout WWII and up to 1952.  

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