The automobile industry stands for modern industry all over the globe. It is to the twentieth century what the Lancashire cotton mills were to the early nineteenth century: the industry of industries.
(Drucker, 1946, p. 149)
Ambiguous development can be defined as a process of development that has been uneven, leaving some sectors of the economy more developed while others are less so (p. xvi). Cardoso and Faletto suggested in their study of dependency in Latin America that while economic development had taken place in these peripheral economies, this development was uneven and concentrated in specific sectors of industry. Furthermore, such societies were ultimately restricted from achieving autonomous industrialisation because the capitalist-industrial mode of production would invariably be constrained by a capitalist development that originated in the core centres of international capitalism (1979, pp. 163-71). In this chapter the automotive industries in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are analysed in order to determine whether such conclusions can be drawn.
Organisationally automotive manufacturing is one of the most global of all manufacturing industries. It is an industry of giant corporations, many of which are increasingly organising their activities on internationally integrated lines. Some 4 million workers are employed directly in the manufacture of automobiles throughout the world and a further 16 million in the automotive industry as a whole (manufacturing parts and components, and employed in sales and servicing (Dicken, 1992, p. 268)). In Europe alone, production is responsible for 9 per cent of the continent's GDP (ibid.). In order to demonstrate that despite undergoing rapid economic development, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand remain ambiguously developed, this study examines the case of the automotive industry in the three countries under investigation. In particular it examines respective government policies toward the industry, details the way in which these have changed, and assesses the impact of the Asian financial crisis of 1997.