Why Michigan Became the Heart of the Auto Industry

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Lisa Steuer McArdle
Updated on Apr 27, 2022 · 5 min read
According to a recent study we did here at
, residents in
own the most American cars per capita. In fact, the data reveals that almost 70 out of 100 drivers in the state own American brand cars.
It’s no surprise the data came to this conclusion. After all, Michigan is, and always was, the heart of the American automotive industry. Let’s take a look at this research and the
of the automotive industry in Michigan. 
Detroit isn't called the 'Motor City' for nothing.

What the data revealed

Jerry analyzed over 1 million car insurance quotes from September 2020-September 2021. American car brands include: Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Pontiac, Buick, GMC, Lincoln, Cadillac, Saturn, Ram, Mercury, Oldsmobile, and Hummer.
This revealed that the states with the most American car brands span from the Midwest to the Southwest. Not a single Northeast state made the list of top states with American cars.
After Michigan, Montana and Nebraska came in at a close second and third. On the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey is the state with the fewest proportion of drivers driving American car brands. Connecticut and Massachusetts are a close second and third.
Another interesting note from the study is that it is overwhelmingly coastal. Eight of the bottom 10 states are on the East Coast, and the other bottom two are on the West Coast. So it seems that states in the middle of the country tend to buy more American cars. 

Why it all started in Michigan

As many people know, the “Big Three” automakers—Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (now Stellantis)—are headquartered in Michigan, and also have a very rich history in the state, confirms
Around Michigan
It goes back to 1886 when
Ransom E. Olds
received a patent for the first gasoline-run car. Eleven years later, he founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company, in Lansing, Michigan. Then in 1899, Olds sold the company and opened Olds Motor Works in Detroit.
Then there was the Pontiac Buggy Company, founded by Edward Murphy in Pontiac, Michigan in 1893. Fourteen years later, he was producing cars under a subsidiary called Oakland Motor Car Company.
In 1899, Henry Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company in Detroit, but the company was failing only a few years in. So Ford, along with financial backers, founded the Henry Ford Company in 1901, and it proved successful—in just five years, the company produced the Model T, which was the first affordable car in America.
From there, Michigan’s role in the automobile industry only seemed to grow. Cadillac was founded in 
shortly after the turn of the century, and the company soon became known as a luxury brand.
The company also produced the first-ever self-starting engine, and also was the first automaker to include power steering and windshield wipers in every car, according to Around Michigan. 

A growing automotive market

When many people think of Flint, Michigan, cars come to mind—even if today, plants have closed and the city is not what it once was, according to the
Arizona Daily Star
Flint, Michigan first made a name for itself way back in the 1880s, when it was known as “The Vehicle City” for its abundant production of horse-drawn carriages.
In fact, in 1886, William Durant founded the Flint Road Cart Company. It was later renamed the Durant-Dort Carriage Company and would go on to become the largest producer of horse-drawn carriages in the country.
David Buik incorporated the Buick Motor Company in Detroit in 1903—which was later purchased by Flint Wagon Works and moved to Flint. That same year, the company launched the Model B Buick, but had financial troubles and was forced to turn to Durant—who became the head of the company.
The car industry in Michigan continued to grow, until meeting some challenges in the 1970s. During that time, the gasoline crisis made it difficult for American cars to compete against smaller and more fuel-efficient cars made in Germany and Japan.
Years after that, the loss of market share also took a toll on automakers in Michigan. In 2008, the government loaned $17.4 billion to GM and Chrysler, and the next year, the companies declared bankruptcy anyway. The government loaned Ford $5.9 million in order to restructure and implement fuel-efficient technology.
In addition, Italian automaker Fiat rescued Chryslerrom from being liquidated by Italian, and the company was renamed Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (later becoming Stellantis).

The auto industry in Michigan today

Despite any financial woes in recent history, the auto industry in Michigan is alive and well.
Almost 2.1 million vehicles were produced in Michigan in 2017 alone, which accounted for 18.5% of all U.S. production that year, according to the
Detroit Regional Chamber
In addition, automotive-related jobs in the state grew by 11.3% over the past five years, and are expected to grow another 3% by next year.
It’s no wonder that so many Michigan residents drive American-made cars.

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