Cars. If it weren’t for cars, our society wouldn’t be what it is. There is far more to that statement, however, than just the obvious.
Cars have made a significant impact in our society, far more than we ever may have realized. Aside from transportation and the convenience we often take for granted, the existence of cars has positively affected our society’s economy in ways no other single device or industry ever has, or may ever do.
Manufacturing creates more direct and indirect employment than any other sector.
For every direct manufacturing job, there are said to be up to seven more indirect jobs.
Every one of those jobs creates personal wealth and income. And automotive manufacturing is the largest sector within manufacturing, as well as being one of the best paying.
But automobile manufacturing benefits our economy in far more ways than just the seven-times employment factor of the major factories. Steel companies produce the steel needed by the suppliers and assembly operations; mining companies mine and deliver the raw material for the steel industries; rail systems are operated and built to support the mining industries. From the mining of ore to its conveyance to the steel plant and its subsequent transport to the automobile factory, many hard working people receive a fair remuneration for their daily efforts.
Beyond that, the economic contributions of the car continue. Dealerships and service centres abound, each one employing several dozen people to sell and service them. Fuel stations outnumber service centres, and each of them employs people and provides a convenient refilling service. Refineries work 24/7 turning crude into useable fuel to keep the gas stations supplied, and oil drilling operations offer many lucrative employment opportunities to keep the supply of crude flowing to the refineries. From the harvesting and conversion of natural resources, turning oil and ore into fuel and metals, the automobile industry creates an enormous amount of society’s wealth. Converting the raw materials into finished products then increases that value exponentially. Add to that the ongoing economic benefit of the automotive support industries, and it’s hard to imagine where we would be without the car.
Our roads and highway systems would not be what they are if we didn’t have cars to use on them. Infrastructure projects include more than just roads and bridges, but it’s easy for me to believe that building and maintaining our car-related infrastructure employs more people than all the other public infrastructure projects combined.
Our middle class is eroding, and so is our government’s ability to fund the social safety nets that our society enjoyed for what may soon seem like a historical anomaly.
Public education and healthcare, transportation and public infrastructure, ample clean water and sanitation, pensions for the old and safety nets for those unable—all of those wonderful things may have been created by inspired leaders and put into place by motivated governments, but they were paid for by the wealth created in our society by industry. And the biggest among these is—or was—our automotive industry.
As I sit in the driver’s seat of my car, comfortably traveling from point A to point B, I think about these things. We passively watched our once great industries leave our shores, and we educated our kids to believe many of these jobs were below them. Now we wonder why we can’t afford what it is we have come to expect.
If there is another industry out there that can generate the kind of individual and collective wealth that the car did for the last hundred years, I say “bring it on!” But until one emerges, let’s hold on a little tighter to the industries we have. They are what brought us here, and it was the car, more than anything else.
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.