The Changing US Auto Industry: A Geographical Analysis

The Decline and Resurgence of the U.S. Auto Industry
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Cuneo has extensive site selection experience, having headed up site selection for Toyota and some of its affiliates for over 15 years. He has continued his site selection activities since he left Toyota. He also serves on the boards of the Center for Automotive Research, and SSOE, which has performed design work for most of the auto assembly plants build over the last decade.

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It includes a plant scheduled to open in ; it also incorporates a closure scheduled for the same year. Between and companies like Volkswagen, Fiat, Renault and Daewoo set up operations with the intent of opening up local markets.

The main recipient countries of the investments were the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. It turned out that the expectations for local demand growth were overly optimistic at the time.

The assembly companies subsequently focused on being able to produce with a lower cost-structure. The second investment phase extended from to During that time GM built a new assembly plant in Poland, Renault took over a former Dacia plant in Romania and turned it into a crucial site for its small car strategy The main recipients of investment during that phase were Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

This phase also saw a wave of supplier plants following the assembly investments. Yet, upon closer inspection, some fundamental differences emerge between the industry evolution in Europe and North America. While in North America the industry footprint was re-shaped in rather dramatic fashion, resulting in the disappearance of all coastal plants at the same time as the north-south oriented auto alley emerged, in Europe the industry footprint expanded, primarily to the east.

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Consistent with that, there was much less turnover among individual assembly plants in Europe than in North America during those three decades. Indicative of the difference in industry restructuring is the relative share of Asian- headquartered producers in both regions. In Europe, on the other hand, Asian-headquartered vehicle assemblers play a much smaller role. Nissan was first to start production in Europe among Asian-headquartered car producers; it opened a plant in the UK in and one in Spain the following year.

Four of these plants were structured as joint ventures with European carmakers. It is possible that the expansion of the last decade and a half presages a future consolidation. Noteworthy as well is the substantially smaller role that Asian-headquartered vehicle producers play in Europe. The geography of motor vehicle parts production in North America has been little changed over many decades Klier and McMillen, Because it was cheaper to ship parts than finished vehicles across the country, parts production facilities tended to stay in the historic center of the North American automobile industry, in the Midwest.

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Over time, a number of factors pulled locations further apart, both within North America as well as globally. Klier and Rubenstein detail some of the centrifugal forces on the distribution of parts production by discussing in great detail the distribution of locations by major automobile subsystem.

Many electronics parts in fact are being imported from overseas. Finally, as foreign-headquartered motor vehicle assemblers extended the southern end of auto alley further south, especially during the s, suppliers followed as needed to cover distance-sensitive operations. A disproportionate number of the suppliers that located in the southern half of auto alley are foreign-headquartered, consistent with the major presence of foreign-headquartered assemblers in that region.

The third quartile extends out noticeably further due to the impact of the locations in Mexico. Figure 6. Several papers address the evolving footprint of motor vehicle parts production in Europe see Sadler , Frigant and Layan , and Frigant He suggests that the pull of lower cost locations has been one of the dominant influences. The authors identify three phases of development for the parts sector: During the mids production locations were established for labor intensive parts.

Production of parts often served local markets. During that time qualified local suppliers were scarce. At that time exports from eastern to western Europe grew rapidly, particularly to Germany. Later on some locations were taking on functions within the corporate structure of a company, e. IT services for all of central Europe. Again we add quartile circles, drawn around the centroid of the plant locations. Figure 7. The paper summarizes changes in industry footprint for both North America and Europe between and The last three decades have seen a dramatic shift in the footprint of vehicle assembly in North America.

In Europe, the assembly footprint expanded by a similar distance as subsequent to the fall of the iron curtain the industry expanded eastward to enter those local markets. The prime beneficiaries seem to have been locations in the core of the auto region, noticeably Germany.

The geographical restructuring of the European automobile industry in the 2000s

Yet these similarities are driven by fundamental differences in underlying trends. In North America the restructuring of the industry was part and parcel of a major reallocation of market share and associated plant closings and openings. In Europe, on the other hand, there have been far fewer plant closings during the last three decades.

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In Europe, on the other hand, there was very little reduction of assembly capacity in response to the crisis. The locations of parts producers are closely tied to assembly locations in both regions in support of just-in-time production. Yet, the supply base is noticeably more concentrated in Europe.

Going forward it seems if the eastward expansion in Europe will continue into the Ukraine and especially Russia that might result in the addition of further production capacity in Europe. By the same token, plants under construction in are included in the count e. Toyota Mississippi and VW Tennessee. In addition, Fiat announced the closure of its Termini Imerese plant for The relatively small capacity adjustment in Europe is consistent with the fact the eleven European countries instituted short-term stimulus programs to promote motor vehicle sales.

North American light vehicle sales rose from about For Europe a direct comparison is harder to come by due to the absence of data for the then Eastern Bloc countries. Light vehicle registrations for the seven E. We base this estimate on a comparison with a our full database of parts production plants see Klier and Rubenstein for a description of the data. We chose to restrict the presentation of North America to a set of data comparable to what is available to us for Europe.

Incidentally, that is nearly coincident with the population centroid of Europe. Automotive News.

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Domanski Boleslaw and Lung Yannick. The changing face of the European periphery in the automotive industry, European Urban and Regional Studies , Domanski Boleslaw and Gwosdz Krysztof. Toward a more embedded production system? Automotive supply networks and localized capabilities in Poland, Growth and Change , 40 3 : Estall R. Stock control in manufacturing: The just-in-time system and its locational implications, Area , Frigant Vincent and Layan Jean-Bernard.

Modular production and the new division of labour within Europe: the perspective of French automotive parts suppliers, European Urban and Regional Studies , 16 1 : Frigant Vincent. Die neue Ost-West-Arbeitsteilung , Campus. Klier Thomas and McMillen Dan. The geographic evolution of the U.

Klier Thomas and Rubenstein Jim. Who really made your car? Restructuring and geographic change in the auto industry , The Upjohn Institute. Evolving Agglomeration of U. What role did regional policy play in addressing the U.

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Lung Yannick. The automotive industry crisis and regional unemployment in Central Europe, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society , 48 1 : Rubenstein Jim. The Changing U. Sadler David. Internationalization and specialization in the European automotive components sector: Implications for the hollowing-out thesis, Regional Studies , 33 2 : Configuration of the North American and European a Introduction The evolving structure and geography of the auto sector in both North America and Europe has been a topic of steady interest over the years.