1960s Classic Cars
“The auto industry had its biggest sales year in history in 1968. New car sales were estimated at more than 9.6 million, about 300,000 more than in the previous record year of 1965. Truck sales were estimated at 1.8 million, about 300,000 ahead of the old high set in 1966.
Imports played a major role in the sales race, making up about 10per cent of the total volume, or about 960,000 cars. This was the highest number of imported cars ever sold in the United States, topping the previous 1967 high of 766,99.
Making Minicars. One of the major developmentsin the American auto industry in 1968 was its decision to come upwith a new small car.
Ford Motor Company gave its new minicar program the name Delta, and the company will put the new vehicle on sale about April, 1969, under the name of Maverick. General Motors Corporation (GM) gave its new small car the code name XP 887, assigned the project to its Chevrolet division, and said the car will be in production in the spring of 1970. American Motors Corporation (AMC) also has a somewhat smaller car ready for possible production as a 1970 model.
Chrysler Corporation officials also had a minicar or subcompact car on the drawing board, but, as late as December, said it still thought its Rootes and Simca imports adequately represented Chrysler in thef ight for the small car market.
Lower Production. While 1968 went down in auto industry history as its best sales year, it was the second best year for production.
GM, Chrysler, Ford, and AMC built 8,128,366 cars in the first 11 months of 1968. With December production pegged at 760,000 cars, that set the calendar year total at 8,848,000 cars–second only to the 9,306,561 cars assembled in 1965.
There were no company-wide labor problems in 1968, but a few work stoppages–mostly due to disputes over work standards–developed,notably at Buick and Cadillac plants.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) union and the companies worked out the problems at the local level. Under terms of the UAW contracts, wage sof a typical auto production worker, such as an assembler, went up 10 cents an hour in November. The pay reached $3.49 per hour plus a 13-cent-an-hour additional cost-of-living allowance that brought the base pay to $3.6.
Length and Luxury were the keynotes in the 1969 car line as the auto companies sought the customer with big-car tastes and a pocketbook to match. In 1967, the so-called personalized cars such as the Mustang and Camaro got big attention. In 1968, it was the intermediate-sized cars. In 1969, it was the big cars’ turn.The big Chevrolet, for example, was 5 inches longer than 1968 models and was the longest Chevy ever built. Much of the estimated $1 billion the auto companies spent in bringing their new cars to market went for such items as longer, flowing bodies, longer hoods, and jazzed-up interiors. Among new optional items that attracted attention were heated rear-window devices and self-adjusting, anti skid brake systems.
Several new cars showed a trend toward including an airplane-style cluster of instruments on the dashboard. Headrests were the big safety item since they were required on all cars sold after Jan. 1, 196.
Strong Sales Reports surprised many auto company executives, who had predicted the new federal income surtax, coupled with higher prices for 1969 models, would probably keep sales at about 9.3 million cars.
Customers were in a buying mood, however, and sales reports led Henry Ford II, chairman of the board of Ford, to predict on December 11,that the industry would exceed 9.6 million sales. M. S. McLaughlin,one of Ford’s top aides, said earlier that the industry “just might reach 9.7 million.
The truck market also had its healthiest sales year, with Henry Ford predicting 1968 would wind up with 1.8 million truck sales, smashing the old mark of 1,526,664 set in 1966. Truck sales had dipped to 1,011,504 in 1967 because of labor disputes that affected production in the auto industry.
Prices on the 1969 models went up, with industry sources and industry observers offering various estimates on the size of the hike.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the price of new 1969 cars went up 2.7 per cent at wholesale and 4.5 per cent at retail.
The trade publication Automotive News figured the increase on 337 comparable 1969 and 1968 models at 1.83 per cent or $60.33. This was after Chrysler, for the third year in a row, became the first company to announce its new car prices and then roll them back after the other automakers came up with smaller increases. President Lyndon B. Johnson and his economic advisers had urged Chrysler to trim its prices, and Chrysler did so.
According to Automotive News figures, the AMC boost averaged 2.02 per cent or $50 a car; Ford’s 1.6 per cent or $53.62 a car; GM’s, 2.1 per cent or $67.94 a car; and Chrysler’s came to 1.72 per cent or $59.89 a ca.
Safety Costs. The auto industry said much oft he price boost was due to government-required safety items, and the BLS report appeared to support the argument. BLS said the average increase in the suggested retail price of new cars over two years was $180. BLS said safety features accounted for $83.40 or about 47 per cent of this. A breakdown showed the government-required safety items cost $73.65 while safety standards volunteered by the manufacturers cost $9.75. Non-safety quality improvements by the auto makers were evaluated by BLS at $7.6.
Warranties Cut. The BLS report said the auto industry saved itself $23.15 per car by one of its most controversial decisions of the year–cutting new car warranties. These are the legal assurances that auto firms give owners that their new cars are as defect free as possible, and that free replacements will be made for some of the parts if they should happen to prove defective.
In general, the auto firms cut the warranty on most parts of the car to 12,000 miles or 12 months, just half of the old warranty of 24,000 miles or 24 months. The warranty covering the power train– the transmission, drive shaft, and related parts– remained covered by a five-year or 50,000-mile warranty. To comply with conditions imposed by the warranty, the car owner was required to take his car in for periodic inspections and to have repair work done at approved shops.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the “reduced warranty coverage will cost the car owner, who must pay for repairs at retail prices, approximately $100.” It scheduled public hearings in Washington, D.C., in early January, 1969, to hear from car owners and the auto companies.
Ralph Nader remained one of the auto industry’s severest critics in 1968.Nader released a copy of the FTC report weeks in advance of the commission’sown official release.
The federal government continued its goal of safer cars to cut down on the nation’s highway death toll of some 50,000 a year.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) announced in late November that it was considering a series of federal safety standards for used cars covering such items as lights, brakes, suspension systems, and windshield wipers. FHA administrator Lowell K. Bridwell conceded that the problem of standards for used cars was probably more complicated than for new cars, and he invited public comment.
On the personnel side, the big surprise in the auto industry came in February when Semon E. Knudsen, who had resigned as executive vice-president of GM, became president of Ford Motor Company. Knudsen’s father,the late Brigadier General William S. Knudsen, was a former president of GM.
AMC made financial news when it reported a profit of $11,761,828 for fiscal 1968, compared with a loss of $75,814,962 the preceding year.The firm’s auto sales were up 13 per cent over 1967, AMC said.
Electric Cars continued to get some attention as possible future means of transportation although auto firms generally conceded they had not yet solved the problem of an economical, long-life battery needed to propel such a car. Chrysler continued its research with a fifth generation turbine engine, but an electrically propelled car appeared a long way from being a practical reality on American highways.”
“Automobile (1968).” Online Table. World Book Advanced. World Book, 2015. Web. 9 June 2015..