This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Globalization and the Auto Industry in the U.S. South




Mohr, John

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation




Since the early 1980s, numerous foreign automakers have built plants to manufacture motor vehicles in the American South. Mercedes, Honda, and Hyundai in Alabama and Kia Motors in Georgia are some examples of this phenomenon. These so called “transplant factories” are now an important part of the American auto industry. State and local governments have competed for the investment of these automakers by providing incentives packages worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This new auto industry has become interwoven into the fabric of Southern political, economic, and social life. Previous studies of the Southern auto industry have tended towards quantitative economic analyses, and have ignored the deep social and political history that presaged its development. In the early twentieth century, Southern populists articulated a vision of regional progress tied to industrial employment, economic diversification, and technological progressivism. These populists clashed with conservatives, who wished to maintain the South’s rural, agricultural, and highly stratified society. In the post-World War II era, state economic incentivization emerged as a key tool of populist leaders who wished to expand the number of available industrial jobs. The constant desire to improve the South’s image through the strategic deployment of technology was another factor that drove the recruitment of new industry. The arrival of foreign automakers represented an intersection of globalization and the South’s politics of development. Southern politicians aggressively courted foreign automakers because they believed they would increase the technological credibility of their region. Unfortunately, this strategy has done little to alleviate the chronic underdevelopment of the South’s human resources, and to improve its quality of life relative to the rest of the United States. The South remains trapped in a cycle of underdevelopment, forever chasing the “next big thing” via quick fix industrialization schemes.