75 Years Ago (March 1939): Ward’s Forecast Raised; Studebaker Preps Champion; UAW Splits; GM Expansion Planned

In its Mar. 4, 1939, issue, Ward’s Automotive Reports says it is increasing its March car production forecast by 5.7% to 370,000 units from 350,000.

The increase, which WAR says “may yet prove conservative,” comes in response to evidence that some manufacturers “are planning to advance their production rates somewhat earlier than had been anticipated for the spring upturn.”

A sales increase in “the past week, that promises to continue, may find auto executives surprised at the strength of the March market.”

Studebaker is preparing to commence production of its new lighter-weight “economy” car in a price class below the auto maker’s Commander and President.

The Champion has minimal parts commonality with Studebaker’s larger models and weighs some 2,500 lbs. (1,134 kg), or about 500 lbs. (227 kg) less than “Big Three competition it will engage.”

It features 20%-25% better fuel economy than standard Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth cars it is priced against. WAR notes Studebaker is departing from the standard practice of maximizing parts interchangeability, “philosophizing that over interchangeability becomes a ‘Frankenstein’ which ultimately overbalances its advantages with efficiency disadvantages.”

Following this week’s action by the UAW’s Martin branch in divorcing itself from the CIO-backed faction has effectively established two unions in the auto industry, Ward’s says in its Mar. 11, 1939, issue.

Aligned with the Martin faction are “most General Motors plants in Michigan, outside of Detroit, most of the Ohio locals, outside of Cleveland and much of the East Coast from Baltimore northward, comprising approximate membership of 100,000 adherents.” Aligned with the CIO are locals in Detroit, Cleveland, Wisconsin, the West Coast, Indiana and Illinois, portions of the deep-South and Mississippi valley, as well as Canada.

The CIO group encompasses about 250,000 members. While Martin forces will seek to organize Ford, CIO operatives will attempt to establish a presence in the Martin stronghold of Flint, WAR notes. Who will control the UAW headquarters building, funds and name will be “decided later, by court action.”

In the coming year, GM plans to embark on a “substantial” program of plant expansion. It reportedly plans a 100,000-sq.-ft. (9,290-sq.-m) addition to its Buffalo, NY, Chevrolet-Fisher operation at a cost of $2 million.

Construction of a new $5 million plant near the Indianapolis airport to manufacture airplane motors and parts also is included in the program, as is a doubling in size of the Grand Rapids, MI, Fisher stamping facility.