What Killed the Packard Motor Car Company?

The Packard Motor Car Company closed its doors and its great manufacturing plant on East Grand River Boulevard in Detroit drew silent in 1956 after more than a century of producing high quality American automobiles. Packard was not an anomily. Over 2,700 American automobiles folded sooner or later, mostly sooner. What led to Packard’s demise? James A. Ward in his 1995 book, The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company, explores Packard’s collapse in infinate detail.

Fundamentally, Packard was a high price, high quality producer that lost its identity and its market while trying to weather an unfortunate series of external events that conspired against it. Packard’s early styling and engineering was the ne plus ultra of the industry. The Cadillac was its principal competitor. Packard failed to keep up with the competition, which were pouring more of its profits into modernization and techical improvements in the post World War II market.

In 1947, its offerings were referred to as “bathtubs” and when the majors, Ford, G.M. and Chrysler raised their game and began yearly styling and performance changes, Packard struggled to keep pace. It lowered both price and quality to remain afloat in a highly competitive market and squandered its image for style and technical superiority, which further depressed its market share.

A sloppy merger with the also struggling Studebaker Corporation, exacerbated its cash drain and the refusal of the Eisenhower Administration to advance a Chrysler or G.M. style bailout during a mid-decade recession provided the coup de grace for what was once a  great American company.


Gregory R. Piche’s new book, The Four Trials of Henry Ford, will be published on October 15, 2019. Pre-order: http://www.open-bks.com/library/moderns/the-four-trials-of-henry-ford/order.html


2 comments on “What Killed the Packard Motor Car Company?

  1. Check your spelling on Eisenhower not Eisenhauer. I just picked up your book at the Beaver Creek forum, started to read but now see your references to Trump. Don’t ruin your audience by being political, Jon Meacham did it to his with his daily rants on Morning Joe

    • Thank you Paul for your comment and correction. There are several corrections that need to be made in a second edition. The similarities between Trump and Ford are eerie and inescapable. That said, the focus of the book is on Ford, not Trump. Personally I don’t think it is political to raise a concern about the effect of ignorance of history on the qualification for public office, then or now. Trump’s fourth of July speech last year about our revolutionary war army securing “the airfields” and the the attack on Ft. McHenry by the British being in the Revolutionary War rather than in the War of 1812 should give people in both parties some cause for thought and concern.

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