Cover image for Taking the Wheel: Auto Parts Firms and the Political Economy of Industrialization in Brazil By Caren Addis

Taking the Wheel

Auto Parts Firms and the Political Economy of Industrialization in Brazil

Caren Addis

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272 pages
6" × 9"
4 b&w illustrations
1999

Taking the Wheel

Auto Parts Firms and the Political Economy of Industrialization in Brazil

Caren Addis

“In this carefully crafted and documented investigation, Addis demonstrates that the Brazilian automobile industry departed considerably from the mass-production Fordist prototype, reveals an unexpected story of suppliers to the vehicle industry showing a great deal of political and economic clout, and contends that the development of the Brazilian automobile industry was anything but a pristine example of state-led industrialization. The book is of interest to those concerned with Latin American economic affairs, industrial organization, user-producer relations, and the global automobile industry.”

 

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The Brazilian auto industry has been a symbol of industrialization not only in that country but in Latin America in general. Although small autoparts suppliers have seldom been credited with a role in its success, Caren Addis now reveals how they participated in setting up the industry and creating a Brazilian export behemoth.

Taking the Wheel challenges traditional accounts emphasizing state-led development in Brazil by crediting the role of small companies. It tells how autoparts suppliers, working with state officials, were instrumental in shaping legislation, policies, and industrial practices from the 1950s to the present and how this alliance resulted in protectionist policies and legislation that helped form cooperative relationships between assembly operations and suppliers.

Highlighting the key role of parts firms in encouraging a “horizontal vision” of the industry, Addis reveals how common terminology—"mass production"—helped unite government and industry around a shared goal even though genuine mass production is not employed. She documents the hybrid form of organization that combines features of mass production and flexible production, tells how suppliers adapted to changing political and economic conditions, and shows how the most successful suppliers were able to organize into cartels to maintain leverage over assemblers.

This book demonstrates that there are important differences between how industry is thought to function and how it actually does—and that industrialization in Brazil is a constant process of negotiation among different kinds of firms and state officials. It redefines the study of industrialization in the automotive sector and makes a new contribution to development theory.

“In this carefully crafted and documented investigation, Addis demonstrates that the Brazilian automobile industry departed considerably from the mass-production Fordist prototype, reveals an unexpected story of suppliers to the vehicle industry showing a great deal of political and economic clout, and contends that the development of the Brazilian automobile industry was anything but a pristine example of state-led industrialization. The book is of interest to those concerned with Latin American economic affairs, industrial organization, user-producer relations, and the global automobile industry.”
“This book provides new empirical and theoretical elements to evaluate the various ways through which production systems operate within a context of economic restructuring. The quality of her work justifies attentive reading by all those interested in the history and development of industry in Latin America and the rest of the world.”
“This incredibly rich account demonstrates concretely how market outcomes emerge from a process of constant negotiation both among market actors as well as between market actors and the state. Thus, the logic driving the specific character of industrialization is not technologically determined but instead reflects an interaction between markets and politics and the historical choices that shape production as well as the subsequent political conflicts. One reason this is important is that it teaches a crucial lesson about the political economy of economic reform in this era of neoliberalism. Addis’s work is a crucial reminder that the current process of adjustment at the micro level reflects past conflicts, and future outcomes depend on how conflicts are resolved today. Among the many riches inside her book, this lesson alone makes Taking the Wheel valuable to students of development and political economy.”

Caren Addis is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, Camden.

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