This means that the automotive industry, broadly defined on a worldwide scale, is larger than the entire U.S. economy.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was fashionable to demonstrate the automotive industry’s importance by citing the consumption of the industry’s staple materials diet—steel, glass, plastics, and rubber. These figures demonstrated that the 25 million jobs at the tip of the auto industry iceberg support another 6 million jobs directly in manufacturing alone.
A new dimension to the traditional importance of the automotive industry is now becoming apparent. The industry is a major consumer and producer of new technology hardware and software. It is the biggest manufacturing meeting place or crossroads for innovation and application of design, development, process, product, and distribution technologies:
Half of the world’s robot population works for the automotive industry.
Auto companies (General Motors, Fiat, Volkswagen, Volvo) are among the major producers of automated production hardware and software. Worldwide, the tip-of-the-iceberg auto companies also carry out about 10 percent of the world’s aircraft business.
The auto industry claims a 50 percent share of all of today’s installed flexible manufacturing systems.
General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are IBM’s major U.S. customers after the U.S. Department of Defense.
In Western Europe, the auto industry is the dominant customer for new materials (special steels, superplastics, and composites).
In Japan, the annual combined research and development budget of the automotive industry comfortably exceeds the European Economic Community’s funding of collaborative research plus the budget of the European Space Agency.
Cars and trucks lead all other manufacturing industries in cost and product utility per pound of weight. This lead is threatened only by the computer business, whose products are—as yet—remote from widespread consumer ownership and use. However, the potential for further technological advance in the automotive industry is vast.
Workers were exploited during 50 years of manufacturing development, from Henry Ford’s assembly line up to similar assembly lines that have not yet been deserted. Today assembly operations can be carried out differently by eliminating heavy and monotonous tasks.