- Historic Sites
The Emperor’s Pierce-arrow
When American cars ruled the world
November 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 7
Despite British rule, about half of Egypt’s automobiles were American. The country avoided the worst of the Depression with help from relatively stable cotton prices, and independent and luxury names sold well. At the other end of the continent, the Union of South Africa had an automobile market many times the size of Egypt’s, and half the cars sold were American, although luxury cars were virtually nonexistent.
Brazil was another important market for American cars. Studebaker, said to have the most attractive showroom in Rio de Janeiro, had the highest total registrations in the city until Chrysler and Buick began to take its customers away in the late 1920s, just as they were doing in the United States. Auburn, Graham, Willys, Marmon, and Hupmobile all sold hundreds of cars per year in Brazil. The collapse of coffee prices in mid-1929 and a revolution in 1930 destroyed the market; total 1930 sales were not 5 percent of the 29,399 of 1929.
By the mid-1930s the Brazilian automobile market came back, and so did the markets in most other countries. But many of the cars did not: The Depression had forced their manufacturers out of business. And the idea of American cars being a truly international product is still just barely recovering.