41 Years Ago Henry Ford II, president of Ford Motor Co., refuses to confirm reports that his company plans to introduce a new small car in October 1959, saying Ford will do so "when the demand is strong enough for such a vehicle." But he confirms that Ford has been developing a compact car for some time.

At the same time, American Motors Corp. officials, in a letter to shareholders, say the development of Big Three compact cars "signals the end of big-car domination in the U.S." They predict small-car sales may reach 3 million units by 1963. In accordance with the prediction, AMC announces that it is spend-ing $10 million to expand its Kenosha, WI, complex to increase annual straight-time capacity to 440,000 cars from 300,000. (AMC built 401,446 cars in 1959, up from 217,332 in 1958.)

27 Years Ago American Motors Corp., on Feb. 3, signs a licensing agreement with Curtiss-Wright Corp., co-owner of the Wankel engine patent rights, allowing the smallest U.S. automaker to build rotary engines. The license, covering both passenger cars and Jeep vehicles, calls for an initial $1.5 million payment spread over four years and gives AMC access to rotary engine know-how of licensees worldwide. It also gives AMC the right to sell any rotary engines it produces to other companies. Says AMC Chairman Roy D. Chapin Jr., "We believe that the rotary engine will play an important role as a powerplant for cars and trucks of the future."

At the same time, Ward's Automotive Reports says the U.S. Big Three automakers are installing skid-control devices (i.e. first generation rear-wheel antilock brake systems) on 1.1% of '73-model cars, up from 0.8% in model year '72. The single biggest user is the Lincoln Continental (Town Car), where the $191.83 option is installed at a rate of 8.6%. At GM, the highest rate is 6.5% on the Buick Riviera. Overall Ford has 3.1% usage rate vs. 0.5% for GM and 0.1% for Chrysler. Meanwhile, Volvo reports that it is conducting a large-scale test of its new 4-wheel ABS that allows the driver to retain steering control.

17 Years Ago In February 1983, General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. announce a 12-year agreement to jointly produce a new subcompact car at GM's shuttered Fremont, CA, assembly plant. Each automaker will invest $150 million and own 50% of the new joint-venture company.

The agreement calls for production of 200,000 cars annually beginning in model year '85, based on a Toyota platform and using Toyota-supplied engines and transmissions.

Although the United Auto Workers union backs the plan, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. indicate they will file a petition with the Federal Trade Commission to deny the merger because it violates anti-trust laws. The Japanese auto industry also raises concerns that other automakers will follow the GM-Toyota lead and establish U.S. production operations, cutting back exports from Japan and hurting Japanese workers.