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BERA - Business & Economics Research Advisor - A Quarterly Guide to Business & Economics Topics

Issue 2: Fall 2004: The Automotive Industry
Updated: March 2014

Automobile Manufacturing

Research on Modern Automobile Manufacturing    
Automobile Technology & Innovation    

While the automobile is a commonly used product, it is an extremely complex and technologically sophisticated one. Manufacturing new cars requires state-of-the-art technological methods and processes. In addition, supplier industries of the automotive manufacturing industry, such as steel and other parts as well as electronic instrumentation, are vital in providing the necessary supplies and components for assembling motor vehicles.

To improve product quality and efficiency in production, automakers invest a large amount of time and money into developing and improving the manufacturing process, and rely heavily on research and technological innovation. Over the last 75 years, significant technological development has taken place, changing and reinventing how motor vehicles are produced.

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Table of Contents

Automotive History
Global Automobile Industry
    North American Market
    European & Russian Market
    East Asian Market
Automobile Manufacturing
Company Research
Industry News and Analysis
Electronic Resources

Technology has increasingly altered the manufacturing process for motor vehicles. While cars are produced at faster rates, automakers must continue to balance increased productivity and efficiency with quality and innovation. Modern technologies used in advancing manufacturing for the automotive industry include:

  • Programmable machines and tools;
  • Near-Net Castry;
  • High speed data communication and data management;
  • Supercomputing;
  • Virtual manufacturing and complex visualization techniques;
  • Advanced forging techniques.1

Over the last 25 years, automation technology has become an essential part of automobile assembly plants. A typical assembly plant uses several hundred robots to build and paint the vehicle frame. 2 While robotic technology continues to grow in assembly plants, the technology does have limitations, especially in performing more delicate tasks. The advent of Intelligent Assist Devices, in particular Cobots (Collaboratiave robots), aided in reducing ergonomic concerns, while also improving safety, quality and productivity. Cobots, developed by Northwestern University and General Motors Corporation, are designed to work in collaboration with human operators to move objects and perform physically demanding tasks on vehicle assembly lines.

Automobile manufacturing firms compete based on a set of established commercial practices which are conveyed in business and industrial engineering literature.3 These practices make up the process of automobile manufacturing, which are depicted in the following list of elements:

Elements of Automobile Manufacturing
CostTechnology and Process
Durability Workforce and Organization
Product DevelopmentLogistics and Supply Chain
Process Development Research and Engineering

In looking at trends in global automobile manufacturing, Japanese automakers have been leaders in stream-lined manufacturing process systems. These methods have been adopted by manufacturing plants worldwide. These efforts were pursued in order to increase productivity and product quality. U.S. and European automakers initially showed considerable gaps in manufacturing plant productivity, however the gap in productivity with Japanese automakers' assembly plants have been narrowed substantially in the last several years.

Research on Modern Automobile Manufacturing

Akella, Prasad, and Peshkin, Michael. Cobots for the Automobile Assembly Line. IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation 1999. External Link [PDF format: 1.59 MB/6 p.]

This paper describes the broad design principles for human-machine interaction in industrial settings. The creation and use of Cobots (Collaborative robots), were designed for assisting assembly line workers. The paper indicates that commercial use of these technologies in industrial settings are currently underway.

Fine, Charles H., and St. Claire, Richard. The U.S. Automobile Manufacturing Industry. Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Industry Faces the 21st Century. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Technology Policy, 1996. External Link [PDF format: 861 KB/94 p.]

This report on the U.S. automobile manufacturing industry concentrates on the Big 3 firms (General Motors, Ford, DaimlerChrysler) and discusses the condition of the industry, product and production strategies, the importance of the supply chain, distribution and retailing, conclusions, and possible future directions.

Landham, Ralf. The Future of the Automobile Industry: Challenge and Concepts for the 21st Century. Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers, 2001.
LC Call Number: HD9710.A2 Z8513
LC Catalog Record: 00045810

This updated edition examines issues currently facing the automotive industry. Fifteen contributions from consultants and other automotive industry professionals discuss factors such as emerging markets, globalization, technological innovation, environmental demands, and e-business, as well as offer approaches for meeting these challenges. Synopsis by Book News, Inc.

Maxton, Graeme P. Time for a Model Change: Re-engineering the Global Automobile Industry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
LC Call Number: HD9710.A2 M3863 2004 (in process as of November 2004)
LC Catalog Record: 2004045634
Table of Contents
Publisher Description

This work examines the automotive industry, making recommendations for change and improved industry performance.

The road to 2020 and beyond: What's driving the global automotive industry? McKinsey & Company, August 2013. External Link [PDF format: 395 MB/24 p.]

This title looks at where the automotive industry is headed and is based on many discussions and interviews with the top management of leading automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and an analysis of data from the top global OEMs. Specifically looking at how are the industry and the market evolving as well as future challenges and opportunities and the benefits and implications of the changes.

"The U.S. Automotive Market and Industry in 2025." Center for Automotive Research, June 2011. External Link [PDF format: 1.06 MB/67 p.]

There is information on the general overall outlook with specific attention to fuel economy standards what they are and what impact that may have on the industry in terms of the market, production, and industry employment.

Van Biesebroeck, Johannes. Measuring Productivity Dynamics with Endogenous Choice of Technology and Capacity Utilization: An Application to Automobile Assembly. SIEPR Discussion Paper No. 00-26. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 2000. External Link

This study examines North American and Japanese automobile assembly plants comparing production processes by utilizing a model that allows for heterogeneity in technology and productivity.

Van Biesebroeck, Johannes. "The Effect of Technology Choice on Automobile Assembly Plant Productivity." The Economic and Social Review, Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring, 2002.

This Paper examines the effects of technology on U.S. assembly plants productivity from 1963 to 1996, and evaluates the determinants off aggregate productivity growth.

Winter, Drew. "Future Auto Industry to Have Fewer Platforms, New Growth Markets." WardsAuto, September 12, 2013. External Link

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Automobile Technology & Innovation

Electric Powered Vehicles    |  Hybrid Powered Vehicles   |   Fuel Cell Vehicles
    Advanced Product Design and Vehicle Operating Systems  
  Research on Automobile Technology & Innovation

The product life-cycle for automobiles continues to shorten due to competitive market pressures. Competitive market forces have caused automakers to dramatically redesign car models every four to five years.4

New technological developments have led to unique and innovative designs for future automobiles. Automobile manufacturers use the development of new technologies to enhance performance capability, as well as to create innovative designs. Alternative fuel technologies, such as electric hybrids and fuel cell cars, have received considerable attention, and demonstrate attempts to design vehicles that are more energy efficient and greatly reduce engine propulsion reliance upon fossil fuels.

With the increased production and usage of the various electric, hybrid automobiles there are many new public and public/private initiatives. The Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI) is a multi-government policy forum was launched in 2010 under the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM).External Link In the United States several states and localities including Rhode Island, Virginia, Massachusetts, Baltimore-Washington, Baltimore, Illinois, REVI (New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts) have set up initiatives.

Electric Powered Vehicles

The movement towards electric powered vehicles began as a result of the 1973 Oil Embargo, in which efforts were made to utilize electric battery technology to power engine propulsion. However, problems and limitations regarding driving range, speed and a very small market, all led to automakers GM, Ford, Honda and Toyota discontinuing their electric vehicle programs during the late 1990's.

Hybrid Powered Vehicles

Hybrid vehicles combine two or more sources of power, which are able to operate using a rechargeable battery and gasoline. Production of gas-electric hybrids signifies the first significant move away from total reliance on the internal-combustion engine in nearly a century.5

Hybrid vehicles are highly fuel efficient and presents the first major step toward fuel cell vehicles, according to industry specialists. Japanese automaker Toyota, is one of the auto industries leaders in hybrid vehicle research and production with its Prius model. General Motors, also involved in producing hybrid vehicles, began manufacturing several models of hybrids in passenger cars like the Volts as well as pick-ups. Most major automakers have either brought hybrid vehicles to the market or have plans to do so.

Fuel Cell Vehicles

Another automobile technology that is presently viewed as the latest catalyst in future automobile technology, is fuel cell powered vehicles, in particular hydrogen fuel cell powered engines. Fuel cell systems operate by compressing hydrogen made from natural gas and gasoline, which is then converted to hydrogen by on-board systems. 6

Automakers and suppliers worldwide are investing substantially in the development of fuel cell systems. General Motors (GM), Ford and DaimlerChrysler have invested billions of dollars in a collaborative project to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology. GM is perhaps the most active in investing, as well as researching and developing fuel cell technology. However, many industry specialists indicate that fuel cell technology will not be available on the commercial market until the next 10 to 15 years.

There are, however, problems associated with hydrogen fuel systems which consist of:

  • Fuel cell vehicles will be more expensive
  • Fuel cell cars will require a new infrastructure for vehicle manufacturing and maintenance
  • Developing a system for producing and distributing hydrogen fuel

Many uncertainties remain regarding the development and use of hydrogen fuel cell technology, as well as addressing the major question on how to create a viable infrastructure that supports the use of fuel cell vehicles.

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Advanced Product Design and Vehicle Operating Systems

Modern automobiles are increasingly relying upon more advanced electronics, computer, and wireless communication systems to assist drivers and enhance safety. These technologies replace mechanical systems that power, steer and brake the vehicle. Most vehicles have several computers, with high-end models having a half dozen or more that control functions, which range from shifting gears to operating GPS navigational systems.

GM has introduced the Autonomy concept model, which uses hydrogen fuel cell technology that powers electric motors in each wheel. The vehicle uses a chassis and replaceable body, allowing greater flexibility and freedom in designing the interior. Internally, the vehicle operates without pedals or dashboard, using sophisticated computer and electronic systems to operate the vehicle.

Voice activation is another technology being developed for use in future vehicles. Voice activation systems are expected to operate internal climate controls, open doors, and respond to navigational request by the driver.

The next step in automobile electronic and communications technology is vehicle sensor technology. Sensor technologies use radar or laser technology to control systems that detect vehicles in front which then automatically slow down the vehicle. Companies are using sensor technology to serve as collision-avoidance systems that operate and control vehicle safety systems and on-board equipment.

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Research on Automobile Technology & Innovation

Auto Innovation. Auto Alliance Driving Innovation, Alliance of Automobile Manufactures. External Link

"This website will take you inside the laboratories, onto the proving grounds and behind the scenes to see the work of scientists, engineers and other technical staff who spend years working toward a better future."

Automobile, Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia External Link

This website provides an general overview discussing the automobile. The contents includes the History, Innovation; Regulations and Safety; Renewable energy; Major subsystems; Related articles; and automobile images.

Borroni-Bird, Christopher E. "Vehicle of Change." Scientific American, October 2002, Vol. 287 Issue 4.

Discusses hydrogen fuel cell cars, and advantages of hydrogen fuel cell systems; Implications of hydrogen fuel cells for personal transportation and for the automotive industry business model; and discusses the new GM Autonomy design concept, and explains how the vehicle operates using fuel cell and other advanced technologies.

Brandon, John. "Faster forward: Imagining the future car of 2050." Digital Trends, December 25, 2011. External Link

This is a look at what well-known auto analysts, futurists, and other experts to offer their opinion on what the car might look like and even do in 2050.

Electric Vehicles Initiative External Link

The Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI) is a multi-government policy forum dedicated to accelerating the introduction and adoption of electric vehicles worldwide. EVI is one of several initiatives launched in 2010 under the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM),External Link a high-level dialogue among energy ministers from the world's major economies.

Fairley, Peter. "Hybrids' Rising Sun." Technology Review, April 2004. External Link

This article examines the development and production of hybrid vehicles, primarily looking at Toyota's pioneering efforts in being the leading industry producer hybrid cars with its Prius model. The article also discusses efforts by made by GM and other U.S. automakers to produce hybrid vehicles.

Fletcher, Seth. Bottled lightning : superbatteries, electric cars, and the new lithium economy. 1st ed. New York : Hill and Wang, 2011.
LC Call Number: TK2945.L58 F58 2011
LC Catalog Record: 2010047695

Introduces readers to the key players and ideas in an industry with the power to reshape the world.

This is a website from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. The overall website looks at all issues related to fuel economy in automobiles but this particular link is devoted to informing those interested in the fuel cell.

Global EV Outlook: Understanding the Electric Vehicle Landscape to 2020. International Energy Administration, April 2013. External Link [PDF format: 7.37 MB/41 p.]

This title represents two years of primary data gathering and analysis from the Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI) and IEA. It is an overview of the state of electric vehicles today and to the year 2020.

Harrop, Dr. Peter and Raghu Das. Car Traction Batteries - the New Gold Rush 2010-2020. IDTechEx, 2010. External Link

This is intended for those interested in the large new market now being created for batteries that propel hybrid and pure electric cars along the road.

Jerome, Marty. "Smart Cars.", April 2001. External Link

This article discusses the latest advances in automobile technologies consisting of the increased use in computer technology in vehicles, digital and wireless communication systems, and advanced digital controlled vehicle operating systems.

Landmann, Ralf. The Future of the Automotive Industry: Challenges and Concepts for the 21st Century. Warrensdale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers, 2001.
LC Call Number: HD9710.A2 Z8513 2001
LC Catalog Record: 00045810

This publication examines issues currently facing the automotive industry. Fifteen contributions from consultants and other automotive industry professionals discuss factors such as emerging markets, globalization, technological innovation, environmental demands e-business, and approaches for meeting these challenges. Synopsis by Book News, Inc.

Motavalli , Jim. High voltage : the fast track to plug in the auto industry. [Emmaus, PA] : Rodale, c2011.
LC Call Number: HD9710.A2 M635 2011
LC Catalog Record: 2011014675

This book looks at the competitive race to dominate the market for electric cars and the changes that are transforming the auto industry. It incorporates some history of the car from the internal combustion engine to electric power.

Polle, Bruno G., Iain Staffell, and Jin Lei Shang "Current Status of Hybrid, Battery and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles: from Electrochemistry to Market Prospects." Electrochimica Acta, Volume 84, 1 December 2012, Pages 235–249. External Link

This articles aims to highlight the current status of Hybrid, Battery and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles from an electrochemical and market point of view. It discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using battery, hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the automotive industry and the impact of these technologies on consumers.

William J. Mitchell, Christopher E. Borroni-Bird, and Lawrence D. Burns. Reinventing the Automobile : personal urban mobility for the 21st century. Cambridge, Mass. : Massachusetts Institute of Technology, c2010.
LC Call Number: TL220 .M58 2010
LC Catalog Record: 2009024970

This book is a complete re-imagining of the car from its design and how it operates as well as what technologies will be incorporated.

Sage, Lee A. Winning the Innovation Race: Lessons from the Automotive Industry's Best Companies. New York: Wiley, 2000.
LC Call Number: TL240 .S246 2000.
LC Catalog Record: 99048040
Table of Contents
Publisher Description
Contributor biographical information

A comprehensive book that describes the process for innovation that takes place in industrial organizations and how successful companies manage to sustain innovation through effective management. Most of these practices are drawn from the automotive supply industry. Review by Books In Print.

Science Tracer Bullet - Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Combustion Processes

This guide lists relevant sources of information on alternative fuel vehicles and includes electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and personal transportation vehicles, as well as the technology of fuel economy and alternative fuels. It also includes advanced auto ignition and lean-burn combustion processes for improving engine fuel economy.

"Concept Vehicles", Gajitz External Link

Gajitz is a science & technology portal, which includes a section on concept vehicles, as well as other automobile technology links.

Union of Concerned Scientists External Link

Information on various aspects of Clean vehicle and fuel technologies.

Weiss, Malcolm A., and Heywood, John B. Comparative Assessment of Fuel Cell Cars. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, 2003-001 RP. External Link [PDF format: 254 KB/34 p.]

This study examines advances in fuel cell technology and analyzes the use of competitive fuel cell vehicles with present day vehicles driven by internal combustion engines.

Westbrook, Michael. H. The electric car : development and future of battery, hybrid, and fuel-cell cars. London : Institution of Electrical Engineers; Warrendale, PA : Society of Automotive Engineers, [2001].
LC Call Number: TL220 .W4723 2001
LC Catalog Record: 2003389152

This book covers the development of electric cars, from their early days, to new hybrid models in production, but the majority of the book deals with the very latest technological issues faced by automotive engineers working on electric cars, as well as the key business factors vital for the successful transfer of electric cars into the mass market.


1. Fine, Charles H., Lafrance, John C. and Hillebrand, Don. "Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Industry Faces the 21st Century." The U.S. Manufacturing Industry, December 1996. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Commerce Office of Technology Policy, p. 44.
2. "Robotics and Machine Perception. Cobots: A New Generation of Assembly Tools for the Line Worker." SPIEWeb OE Reports, May 1997.
Internet: External Link Accessed: 02/18/2014.
3. Automotive Supply Chain: Global Trends and Asian Perspectives. Manila: Asian Development Bank, January 2002, p. 36.
4. Industry and Trade Summary: Motor Vehicles. U.S. ITC Publication 3545, September 2002. Washington, D.C.: U.S. International Trade Commission, p. 37. 1.2.
Internet: [PDF format: 1.77 MB/82 p.] Accessed: 02/18/2014.
5. Farley, Peter. "Hybrids' Rising Sun." Technology Review, April 2004, p. 36.
6. Weiss, Malcom A., and Heywood, John B. Comparative Assessment of Fuel Cell Cars, February 2003. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, p. 1.
Internet: External Link [PDF format: 254 KB/34 p.] Accessed: 02/18/2014.

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