Duryea Speaks - 1910

This article with automobile pioneer Charles Duryea's byline was published in the Sunday, March 20, 1910 Indianapolis Star. The fact that Duryea wrote the article is probably its most significant quality. He wrote the piece in anticipation of the upcoming (March 28) Indianapolis Auto Show. Duryea, with his brother Frank, were the first to build an automobile in the United States and subsequently won the country's first auto race, the Chicago Herald-Times Chicago to Evanston run.
While Duryea's knowledge of car construction is unquestioned his ability to analyze market trends is suspect based on his commentary and the benefits of the rearview mirror of history we enjoy but was the future to him. He cites the resurgence of the American economy after the lingering effects of a general recession and the panic of 1907 as the genesis for a resurgence in market demand not just for automobiles but the luxiury segment within it.
He observed: "Instead of striving to get the product down to the market, as seemed to be necessary a year ago, the market now looks so different that the product is being pushed upward both in quality and price. Even many of the makers who were building or looking with covetous eyes on the motor buggy as a product for the lowered market have now abandoned it and are marketing the conventional automobile."
While no doubt there is always a high-end, luxury segment to assume that it would account for volume sales is inherently flawed. Henry Ford was by this time hard at work producing a reliable, affordable, basic car that appealed to the masses - the sweetest part of the market for return on investment. Those companies who hung their fortunes on carving out a space for pricey, luxurious models faced stiff competition and thin margins. Over time most of those businesses would fail.
On another interesting point Duryea observes that France was losing its grip on a reputation as the world leader in the automobile industry and as a nation was better positioned in the nascent arena of airplanes. He credits England with improving its position and reputation as a country of viable automobile factories.
Where Duryea dealt with facts his information is irrefutable. To this point it is not to say that observing that many manufacturers were pursuing luxury was patently wrong as an observation, but it is just that to do so was not wise which is where Duryea was wrong. He also says that engineers were designing lighter weight cars largely to improve tire wear in light of how precious rubber had become. He notes too that wheel bases were lengthening. Some specific examples:

An important development he notes in engine technology is the move to casting cylinders "en bloc" instead of individually. Apparently this made for lighter engines. This meant the motors could be smaller and allowed engineers to extend wheel bases to provide increased leg room for comfort. This also meant wider doors for ease of entry and exit. An additional benefit was the ability to introduce longer springs for a smoother ride. This no doubt was done with at least some consideration to the increased recognition that the opinions of women in families influenced purchase decisions.
Duryea reports on another trend to larger diameter wheels. Again he provides examples:

Tires, too, grew wider with the Premier his largest example at five inches. The 1909 model offered 4.5 inch wide tires. The changes in tires and wheels and indeed all the alterations for a smoother, more comfortable ride were deemed important in the face of still unimproved roads. Duryea expresses the opinion that the cars needed to be constructed the state of roads as they were at the time without anticipating paving and other improvements in the near term.

AutoIndustry032010.pdf1.5 MB