Handbook of Industry Studies and Economic Geography
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Handbook of Industry Studies and Economic Geography

Edited by Frank Giarratani, Geoffrey J.D. Hewings and Philip McCann

This unique Handbook examines the impacts on, and responses to, economic geography explicitly from the perspective of the behaviour, mechanics, systems and experiences of different firms in various types of industries. The industry studies approach allows the authors to explain why the economic geography of these different industries exhibits such particular and diverse characteristics.
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Chapter 2: The evolving geography of the US motor vehicle industry

Thomas Klier and James M. Rubenstein


Motor vehicle production involves two types of activity: the production of parts and the assembly of the finished vehicle. Several thousand parts makers supply the roughly 15,000 parts that go into a vehicle. The parts, some of which are already aggregated into modules or systems, are put together at the carmakers’ assembly plants. The subsequent analysis of the industry’s geography in turn considers assembly and parts plants, as well as how they relate to each other. The motor vehicle industry in North America is highly clustered, as we see in Figure 2.1. In 2010 almost all assembly and most of the vehicle parts plants in the US and Canada were located in a region known as ‘auto alley’, as depicted in Figure 2.2. Auto alley is a narrow corridor, approximately 700 miles long and 100 miles wide, located in the interior of the United States between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, extending northeast into Canada. The spine of the corridor is formed by two north–south interstate highways, I-65 and I-75. East–west interstate highways, including I-40, I-64, and I-70, connect the two north–south routes like rungs on a ladder. Outside auto alley, the principal clustering of motor vehicle parts and assembly plants in North America is in Mexico. Some of these plants are in the interior of the country, centered on Mexico City, whereas others known as maquiladoras are strung out along the Mexico–US border.

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