While a large number of consumers had to make lifestyle changes, the American auto industry was hit especially hard by the economic decline. Detroit, the U.S. hub for car manufacturing, filed for bankruptcy and had to be partially bailed out by federal and private financial aid nearly nine months ago. However, when all seemed lost for U.S. vehicle manufacturing, a handful of industry innovators introduced ideas that just may reinstate domestic automobiles as key players.
Market leaders emerge
Although prominent automotive markets have emerged overseas due to low labor and manufacturing costs, domestic ingenuity may be the engine underneath the hood of a full-swing American comeback.
A few traditional motor vehicle manufacturers are changing the way they approach car design, and new industry players are pushing the status quo. In recent years, automotive companies have introduced hybrid cars aimed at saving gas and reducing overall emissions that the vehicles give off. More recently, domestic manufacturers have introduced innovations that are aimed at consumer needs. For example, improved gas mileage in new vehicles has practically become an industry standard, especially with the federal goal of meeting an average fuel economy of 45 miles per gallon by 2025.
Newer models are taking alternative routes as companies begin to further introduce innovative designs. According to The Associated Press, domestic auto manufacturers have been toying with the concept of “lightweighting”, or the use of lightweight materials to improve gas mileage, boost safety and reduce production costs. Concepts like carbon fiber roofs, plastic windshields and bumpers made out of aluminum foam have all surfaced as potential ideas for new-age automobiles.
Safety is a major concern among skeptics, but cars with these new materials have made the grade on government crash tests, The AP added. Nearly one-third of new vehicles already have front hoods made of aluminum, which is as effective in impact absorption as steel. Car manufacturers are also consulting with airplane manufacturers due to the high volume of lightweight material crash stimulation data they’ve amassed over the years. More specifically, American pioneer Ford Motor Company recently introduced a lightweight concept car model of the Fusion, one of its most popular sedans. The new-age car is nearly 800 lbs. lighter than its predecessors due to changes in parts and materials.
Automotive trailblazers making a comeback
Although the future looks bright for domestic automotive manufacturers, the past few years did not bode well for major American firms. The government had to restructure both General Motors and Chrysler. Ford, along with its Detroit counterparts, previously relied on the light truck category for profitability, but the recession debunked any gains with decreased demand and rising gas prices.
However, even after an economic collapse that nearly sunk all three auto giants, the domestic reemergence of automotive manufacturers completely embodies American resilience. Less than five years ago, Chrysler was fighting to keep its head above water, and now it’s floating in a sea of green thanks in part to its Jeep division. The company radically restructured itself and the car’s design, which led to $1.8 billion in profits in 2013, the company’s highest since 2009, according to Bloomberg. Jeep was a large part of that success, as sales rose 21 percent for the new model last year. Developments in fuel efficiency have made the newly-designed SUV a hot commodity in the global marketplace. The Grand Cherokee is manufactured domestically and shipped to 126 countries, including China, where a fully loaded model sells for $250,000, a separate Bloomberg report noted.
Innovators pushing the envelope
While traditional industry players are working on the resurgence of American-made cars, newcomers to the marketplace are also relying on innovative designs to gain traction in the shifting automotive sector.
Tesla Motors was founded in 2003, but it took the better part of a decade for the Palo Alto, California,-based company to establish a foothold in the domestic automobile market. In the past few years, though, Tesla has emerged as one of the most promising companies to come out of the U.S., especially since its growth was congruent with rising consumer interest in fuel efficiency and renewable energy alternatives.
The company’s first model, the Tesla Roadster, was the first fully electric sports car, and its flagship model, the Model S, is also a first of its kind: A full-sized, five-door luxury sedan that is primarily electric as well.
Taking things a step further, Chief Executive Elon Musk is building further infrastructure to support his existing motor vehicle business. While skeptics argue that electric models aren’t sustainable due to the lack of charging stations, Musk recently announced an idea to build a series of charging stations across the country so Tesla owners can drive their electric cars from coast to coast for free for life, according to U.S. News & World Report. Musk has already boasted that he’s taken advantage of existing charging stations and successfully completed a trip from Los Angeles to Mount Rushmore without hassle.
In an effort to incentivize Tesla owners and the overall electric car market growth, the company plans to share its “Supercharger” network with automakers interested in the same sentiment. Musk is fully open to the idea of other manufactures producing electric vehicles as long as they meet industry standards of free, fast-paced charging. In fact, Tesla is so fixated on creating a niche in the domestic auto industry that it recently announced it will share its patents with any and all competitors, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Musk admitted that his company has several hundreds of proprietary patents related to all areas of its electric vehicles but is more than willing to share the wealth to any manufacturer interested in producing another renewable automobile. Although his idea was met with internal skepticism, Musk hopes to spread collaboration among industry innovators and engineers instead of bottling up their ideas into one company.
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