|"OVER A BARREL" is an oft-used but not-quite-accurate way of describing the situation of the misnamed "independents" (Ford is the only real independent because he owns his own company) as it exists today. A better cliche would be "over the hump."
WALL STREET recently has not adequately reflected the remarkable comeback of at least the Packard end of the S-P Corp. in the short 3 years of Nance management. It has not reacted at all, one way or the other, to the efforts of George Romney and his American Motors. Perhaps it is because stockbrokers, in general, do not know the difference between a sparkplug and a piston.
S-P STOCK DROPPED from $16 to $10 per share almost coincidentally with the invention of the guaranteed annual wage. Owners of American Motors, eyeing that company's bigger bank balance, remain temporarily unperturbed. The outcome of the current battle between man-of-principle Romney and man-of-just-as-much-principle Walter Reuther remains unpredictable at the moment, but the labor problems of both Nance and Romney are the key to a potential 10 per cent of the market -- 600,000 vehicles. That isn't alfalfa, but unless concessions are forthcoming quickly, the Big 3 are going to find themselves in the embarrassing position of being the only 3. In other words, there are hurdles still to be hurdled.
AMERICAN MOTORS has already produced twice as many Hudsons and Nashes as it did during the calendar year 1954. The Studebaker-Packard combine has done about as well. Of course, not all of these cars are sold to the ultimate consumer, but at least they are being produced on dealer order -- a fact that neither Ford nor Chevrolet can claim at the moment.
VAST DIFFERENCES EXIST on the surface between the operating philosophies of the 2 companies. S-P's Jim Nance aims at having a miniature General Motors (miniature in this case meaning multi-million instead of multibillion) with a full line of autos, whereas Romney is taking every advantage of common tooling, also a leaf out of GM's book. Boiling out the press releases, very little difference exists; Nance wishes he had the common tooling, but would design around Romney and his problem, which is product confusion between the outwardly similar Hudson and Nash.
IT CAN BE SEEN that the case for merger is rather dim, not so much because of the basic rivalry between the 2 men, but because merger would mean total product realignment, a problem not yet solved within the separate companies. Both have already doubled their purchasing power, which is a matter not so much of advantage as survival. Both are fundamentally basing their sales efforts on originality of engineering and styling.
PACKARD'S EMERGENCE once again as a truly fine car is balanced by A-M's emphasis on the Rambler, which could ultimately develop as the fine car of the low-price field. Tremendous efforts by both in these separate directions have resulted in substantial increases in the secondhand (or "Blue Book" ) value of both products. This, of course, is why we say that each is over the hump.
THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE for these companies is satisfyingly bright. They will solve their labor problems despite themselves, primarily because Walter Reuther is a very rational man. He knows that GM could produce, for example, American Motors' share of the market by adding only slightly to the GM hourly wage roll. Certainly that is no substitute for a flourishing and separate company employing more than 10,000 CIO members in Kenosha, Wis. The same applies to Utica, Mich., and South Bend, Ind., where Packard and Studebaker employees, respectively, and in even greater numbers, are located.
THE COVETED 10 PER CENT of the market is a tough goal, mostly because of our bounding economy. A healthy sign is the fact that the independents' share is up over last year by a healthy 1.07 per cent, exactly the same as that dropped by the Big 3. Within the latter group, both Ford and Chevrolet have dropped nearly 4 per cent each, despite the highest sales in their history. Confusing, Perhaps, except that more people are buying more cars.
FOR YOU IT MEANS that you can buy a car that is different at an ever-diminishing premium, taking into account the overall cost from initial purchase price to ultimate depreciation. Despite the fact that the independents dislike our calling them by that name, we will continue to do so. It is a real honor.
EQUALLY HEARTENING are reports from all quarters on the upsurge of interest in safety. Ford has joined Chrysler in making safety belts an option on all models. Practically all 1956 cars will have a new doorlatch designed to resist flying open even under stress from severe, head-on collisions or roll-overs. In addition, Ford is carrying on extensive experiments with instrumented dummies mounted in driverless cars that are crashed into a solid timber barrier (below).
TRUE--We understand that this Spohnbodied gem has been styled by Brooks Stevens, which is gilt-edged security for good looks and craftsmanship. Best U.S. mechanical components will be used for case of servicing, but the car will contain many engineering innovations, including a retractable metal top. Incidentally, "Mad Man" Muntz has nothing to do with it.
"The 'Mexican Road Race has been cancelled . . ."
FALSE-For the moment anyway, the race is still on, although postponed to around December 2. Expect factory-supported teams of Chryslers, Chevrolets, Dodges, Buicks, Mercurys (only Merc officially).
"Air-conditioning may soon be standard equipment in the high-priced field . . ."
TRUE-Expect Cadillac to lead the way with this, but not on 1956 models. For the coming year, you'll have minor goodies, such as a power-operated decklid.
"Hydra-Matic will undergo its 2nd major change in 1956 . . ."
TRUE-New design will change gears by valving instead of bands. Expect it 1st on the new Cadillac (if you will remember, Cad had 1st lien on the other major change-dual range).
"Cadillac will have either double fins or Eldorado tail treatment for '56 . . ."
FALSE-'56 Cadillac tail treatment will unmistakably perpetuate their 6-year-old trademark, with no radical departure.
"Plymouths will be sold by separate dealerships before the end of '56 . . ."
FALSE-This is another one of those rumors that 12 months from now might be labeled - "true," but meanwhile Chrysler Corp. will struggle along with their current split setup.
"Pushbutton transmissions will he available in 1956 . . ."
TRUE-One of the Big 3 (and it is not the one who dreamed up the Futura) will have them thruout their new line.
"The Chrysler '300' will he dropped..."
FALSE-This luxury powerpack has sold beyond expectations and will therefore be continued next year.