The Rollercoaster Year of 1952 for the Detroit Auto Industry

A Year of Mixed Blessings

The year 1952 was a challenging one for the Detroit auto industry. Production and sales saw a sharp decline compared to the previous year, driven by factors largely beyond the industry’s control.

Strikes and Shortages

One of the significant disruptions was a national steel industry strike that lasted 53 days. Adding to the woes were shortages of essential materials like chromium and copper, exacerbated by the ongoing Korean War. The U.S. economy felt the strain of this conflict, with the defense budget temporarily quadrupling and federal regulations on wages and prices, including new cars, imposed by the Office of Price Stability.

The Sales Race: Chevrolet Takes the Lead

Despite the hurdles, Chevrolet emerged as the leader in 1952, producing over 818,000 vehicles. Ford followed closely with nearly 672,000 units. However, both had produced more than a million units the previous year. Chrysler’s Plymouth held a distant third place, while General Motors’ Buick, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile secured the fourth, fifth, and sixth positions, respectively.

Independent Automakers Struggle

The trend was clear: independent automakers were being squeezed out. Nash managed to produce only 154,000 units, and Packard fared even worse with just 62,000 units. Crosley, with a mere 6,614 vehicles, exited the automobile business on July 3, 1952.

Early Attempts at Small Cars

With imported cars not yet a significant threat, American automakers continued experimenting with the small car market. In 1951, Nash introduced the compact Rambler, while Kaiser Motors launched the basic Henry J. For 1952, Kaiser teamed up with Sears and Roebuck to create the Allstate, a Henry J with Sears branding and accessories. However, the Allstate failed to gain traction, leading to its discontinuation in 1953 after only 2,300 units were produced.

The Aero Willys: A New Contender

A truly new entry in the small car segment was the Aero Willys from Willys-Overland Motors. Built on a modern unitized body shell with a 108-inch wheelbase, the Aero came in various models, including the Lark, Wing, Ace, and the stylish Eagle two-door hardtop. Despite being praised for its agile handling and innovative engineering, the Aero faced tough competition from the Big Three automakers.



The 1952 model year was a turbulent time for the Detroit auto industry, marked by significant challenges and notable innovations. As automakers navigated strikes, material shortages, and economic pressures, they also laid the groundwork for future advancements and market trends. Explore all the Motor City players of 1952 in the photo gallery below.

Our mission is to take you on a thrilling ride down memory lane, exploring the history, design, and unforgettable moments that define the golden era of automobiles.

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