Racing sedan or telemobile?

A history of automotive visions of the future: From the Trends of Manufacturing to the End of the Pleasure of Driving in Accident-Free Traffic with Auto-Mobiles

With the contradictory "The future of the automobile" was the subject of a recent conference at the Mannheim State Museum of Technology and Labor. The conference dealt on the one hand with the current restructuring in automobile production, on the other hand with the chance of an alternative use of the automobile and finally with the future of automobile utopias. The conference took place on the occasion of the exhibition Lust am Auto at the Mannheim State Museum, which was on display until 1 January 2009. The book was published in May 2005 and deals lovingly and in detail with the emotions surrounding the automobile.

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Fordist automobile production – continuity or rupture?

Right at the beginning of the conference the topic "Fordist Automobile Production" a very rough barrel opened. The question was discussed whether Fordism is still a forward-looking model for the globalized automotive industry or whether it is nearing its end.

Industrial sociologist Gert Schmidt lamented the post- and neo-fashions in sociological theorizing. He prefers to speak of Varieties of Fordism instead of postfordism. In his view, the new qualities of today’s production structures should be analyzed as a change in existing Fordist principles. After all, the factories were still Fordist in logic and design. Schmidt also emphasized that Fordism was not only a form of production, but also a cultural way of life. With aerial photographs of highway intersections and home settlements from various decades, he tried to prove the continuity and stability of the Fordist way of life to this day. From Dadaism to Warhols "Cars" all cultural currents quote the "Fliebband".

Crisis of Taylorist Fordism – Toyotism as a New Model

It certainly stands to reason that a specific division of labor and assembly line production have remained central elements of automobile production throughout. On the other hand, certain characteristics can be used to describe very precisely how modern car factories differ from earlier Fordist production concepts. A brief look at history shows this:

In the mid-1970s, the Japanese car company Toyota established for the first time the lean production. This form of production continues certain elements of Fordism (conveyor belt, cycle time, standardization, work schedules), but also differs significantly from the old industrial model. Firstly Just-in-Time The production process is lean, so the right components are in the right place at the right time, eliminating storage costs. Secondly, teamwork is introduced, which leads to mutual control and self-control of employees and at the same time enables participation. Thirdly, continuous improvement of operations through employee suggestions is introduced (Kaizen principle), fourthly, automation is extended.

This Toyotism Japanese production system established itself as a new model in the wake of the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s, as it allowed for much faster development cycles. This still ongoing transformation phase is called post-Fordism by regulation theory.

Return of Taylorism? The crisis of the automotive industry

In the meantime, the times are over when a job in the automotive industry was as secure as a civil service job. Today the 770.000 employees in the German automotive industry are dominated by white-collar workers and academics, while workers with simple skills are increasingly outsourced.

However, Ulrich Jurgens from the Science Center Berlin (WZB) expressed his concern that this would mean that the automotive industry would have to cope with less labor productivity and higher coordination costs. The organization of work and production had been neglected in favor of the organization of industry. Many automotive companies are now questioning whether they are on the right track "postfordist" way of effectively solving their productivity problems.

Since the mid-1990s, there has been a massive renaissance of Taylorism, said Christian Sandig, a sociologist from Erlangen. In the traditional model of the "scientific management" the worker is reduced to a hand movement, thinking is not desired. Exporting and ordering activities are strictly separated. Iconological status has this form of production in Chaplin’s film Modern Times attains. In fact, many companies are now restandardizing assembly work in particular. The Rastatt assembly plant of the DaimlerChrysler Group is a symbol of the trend toward revitalizing Tayloristic structures. The separation of assembly line and assembly boxes was reversed there. However, since toyotist elements such as group work and direct participation opportunities are maintained, a simple retaylorization thesis seems inappropriate.

According to Ulrich Jurgens, these restructuring problems are compounded by the fact that many companies – such as Fiat – are in a bad situation today because they have primarily trusted consulting agencies and pursued shareholder value. The term "shareholder value" refers to the value of the company for the shareholders. A corporate policy based on shareholder value pursues the goal of achieving an increase in the stock price and thus maximizing the company value in the long run. The increasing influence of consultants’ studies is dangerous, as they operate on an unverifiable data basis and symbolize a de-scientification of management consulting, Jurgens criticized.

Globalization of the Fordist model?

More explosive than the academic debate about whether current production conditions can be understood as a late-toyotistic version of Fordism or a neo-Taylorist variant of post-Fordism is surely the question of how Fordism as a form of production and life is asserting itself in other countries under the conditions of neoliberal globalization. What does the Chinese variant of the U.S.-European Fordism model look like??

In a low-cost country like China, no more than ten percent of the population achieves a level of consumption comparable to that in Western Europe. Moreover, welfare state safeguards are largely absent. Therefore, this development can best be described with Alain Lipietz as a "dirty Fordism" can be called. Professor Willi Dietz of the Institute of Automotive Economics (IFA) at the Nurtingen University of Applied Sciences pointed out, however, that in the long run a transfer of Western consumption patterns to China is to be expected. According to the IFA, there are currently 650 million automobiles worldwide; in five years, there will be 720 million. Even though Weert Canzler from the Science Center Berlin clearly stated that the Western mobility model "not transferable worldwide" While it is clear that the only barriers to Fordism at present are climate change and dwindling energy resources, it is also clear that the German automotive industry is becoming increasingly outsourced.

Racing sedan or telemobile?

Altar mural: veneration, glorification, canonization. Image: LTA

Reinterpretation of the car as a collective commodity without a chance

Meanwhile, in the western metropolises, the focus is on the prospects for a different kind of automobility and the question of new ways of using the automobile. The view that the car is not primarily a means of transportation, but rather fulfills secondary functions, has also gained acceptance in social science research on mobility.

The chances of the reinterpretation into a collective commodity are bad. The car is a self-propelling mobility machine that creates its own purposes.

Weert Canzler

From 1999 to 2003, the WZB accompanied a crude field experiment centered on the CashCar model: when the user returns the vehicle he leased, it is used in a car-sharing operation and the leasing customer is credited with the revenue generated:

The car becomes more attractive for the customer, the more often he does not use it, but returns it.

The hope was that a "Change in the attribution of meaning to the automobile from a private car to a common good of use" was held. The cash car principle did not work, however, because users had a lot of planning to do, Canzler said: first they had to plan whether and when they would not need their car, then they had to turn it in, later choose another vehicle and then pick it up again. The principle "Use without thinking" has learned a lot about the principle of car sharing "Use without possessing" won. Also a "emotional variant of car sharing" – with sports cars to be selected – would therefore not work. Canzler thus concluded that a reinterpretation of the private car is almost impossible in modern societies.

It is indeed clear from the admission figures that one can ame a "Triumph of the racing sedan" must speak: Whereas in 1990 about one in seven passenger cars was capable of covering 180 to 200 kilometers per hour, in 2003 one in four already managed to do so. Of the newly registered passenger cars, 60 percent can already drive faster than 180 km/h.

In addition to this attraction of the lawn, the dominant principle in Japan is the "Owning instead of using" also becoming a trend in Europe. Instead of becoming a collective good, the car is moving ever closer to its extreme form, the very expensive and seldom used pleasure boat. Perhaps in the future the car will share the fate of the horse, which today is relegated to the trotting tracks as a luxury commodity?

Racing sedan or telemobile?

The driving school model: manageable car technology – nowadays superfluous, around 1955. Image: LTA

On the history of automotive visions of the future

Cultures are constituted on the one hand by practices of memory, and on the other hand by practices of planning, forecasting and foresight. The term "Future" never refers only to the time yet to come.

In the Middle Ages, the concept of the future also had a religious dimension. The Middle High German word zuokunft meant "the coming and going", "the arrival", but also "the descent of God". If from the "The future of the automobile" When we speak of an epiphany, the expectation of an appearance of God on earth also resonates here. Automobile visions of the future have always been linked with the desire for self-divinization, for omnipotence. Hovercrafts and flying cars testify to the numinous store of meaning of these fantasies.

In the 1950s, automobile utopias exploded in Europe, putting the car in competition with the airplane, emphasized organizer Kurt Moser of the State Museum of Technology and Labor. This can be seen in the design: With the design language of the jet age, many cars had their wheel arches hidden in order to visually simulate gliding. The flight fantasies went so far that companies such as Borgward planned to build a three-seater people’s helicopter called the "Hummingbird" planned. In the early 1970s, however, the ecological debate and the oil crisis led to a break with this first phase of automotive visions of the future. The utopian designs now focused on accident safety and new interior concepts.

The function of many future utopias, however, was not their concrete implementation, emphasized Klaus Moser and Gijs Mom of the Technical University of Eindhoven. It was not a question of whether the fantasies would become reality or not. Instead, they were intended to explore the technical and aesthetic potential of the car. For example, the de-exchange about the electric vehicle had referred only to the overall artifact: However, details designed for the electric car, such as a smooth-running engine or belt tires, have been taken over into normal production.

Conversely, many futuristic innovations were initially invented for other purposes. The hydropneumatic suspension of the legendary Citroen DS from 1955, for example, was originally developed by the military for cannons, Moser explained. There was also a transfer of the Amphicar swimming car from military to civilian use.

DaimlerChrysler’s technology positivism

Bernd Pletschen, head of the vehicle concepts department at DaimlerChrysler, presented a contemporary utopia. Under the somewhat tired title "Innovation and Fascination" he presented the numerous electronic assistance systems that are intended to spare the driver every critical situation in the future. The goal was to realize accident-free traffic with massive use of electronics. Furthermore, an inflation of new comfort functions must be expected.

In order to be able to drive a convertible in winter, the Airscarf was developed, which blows hot air into the back of your neck. In addition, DaimlerChrysler has found out in studies that artificial leather feels better than real leather. But since customers want high-quality materials in their vehicles, research is now being conducted into how genuine leather can be modified so that it feels as good as artificial leather. Since artificiality is now more natural than nature itself, nature must be made even more natural artificially.

Furthermore, the de-tactilization of the user interface is progressing: when the fingers are close to a "capacitive proximity switch" If the user is advised to do so, a display automatically goes up, which is also completely individually configurable. So you can decide whether you want the speedometer in the middle or on the side. Everything is aimed at being able to move a car using only your thoughts. Until it is so far, Mercedes contributes to the car of the future still force-sensitive gas pedal pedals, which move no longer mechanically, but whose sensors measure the prere of the Fubes. The trend of turning every possible hardware surface into digitally programmable software is evident here. Henry Ford’s motto: "The buyer can have any color as long as it is black" will be radicalized in the opposite way: In the future, the buyer will not only have to choose the paint and seat color of his car, but also program it himself.

Racing sedan or telemobile?

NavLab11. The latest model of a self-propelled robotic vehicle from the Field Robotic Center at Carnegie Mellon University. Image: FRC

From automobile to telemobile

Only tentatively was the fundamental conflict addressed at the Mannheim conference, on which the promise "Automobile" Given the future of electronic assistance systems, the tendency today is to automate driving and traffic participation itself.

When the first freeway was opened in the Netherlands in 1938, it was based on concepts from the railroad, said Gijs Mom from the Technical University of Eindhoven. The highway would have offered better controllability to bandage the traffic that was perceived as anarchic. This tendency is coming to a head today, as the rail fantasies are now coming to a head: with the installation of electronic distance warning systems and lane departure warning systems, regulated high speeds and automatic emergency braking, the hegemony of the self-controlled automobile is being replaced by the remote-controlled telemobile.

The mythology of the automobile collides with the utopia of accident-free traffic. With the slogan "The pleasure of safe driving" DaimlerChrysler has already intuitively grasped the problem of its safety utopia: What makes Spab on the car is the risk. A completely accident-resistant vehicle is therefore completely boring. The lack of social control in self-driving is what makes the automobile so appealing. That’s why developers are still making sure that sensitive technologies – such as ESP, which prevents the vehicle from skidding – can be switched off if necessary.

The question is, however, how long the more or less useful electronic features will still be adjustable by the driver. However, some technologies can also be turned on against the grain: For example, some commuters who drive the same route every day use the navigation system for entertainment. A total refusal of the telematic reorganization operates in a playful way at the most still the old-timer scene.

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