The Changing Auto Industry


Grade Level & Subject: 9-12; Civics, Social Studies

Length: 1 Class Period


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe career opportunities related to the auto industry
  • Discuss the future of the auto industry
  • Understand the impact that automobiles have on the environment

National Standards Addressed:[1]

This lesson addresses the following National Standards for Civics and Government from the Center for Civic Education:

What are the Role of the Citizen in American Democracy?

How does the government established by the Constitution embody the purposed, values and principles of American Democracy?

  • How does the American political system provide for choice and opportunities for participation?

This lesson addresses the following National Standards for History from the National Center for History in the Schools

Materials Needed:

  • Reproducible #1– Automobile Industry Investigation: List of Careers
  • Reproducible #2 – Automobile Career Investigation
  • Access to Computers with Internet and/or library and/or other research materials

Students will be assessed through the following activities:

  • Participation in class discussion
  • Completion of career pathway report
  • Completion of letter to a Congressperson



Relevant Vocabulary:

  • Alternative Fuel: A fuel other than gasoline for powering motor vehicles, such as natural gas, methanol, or electricity.[2]
  • Biodiesel:A clean-burning, non-toxic, non-petroleum based fuel that is produced from any vegetable oil or animal fat. Biodiesel dramatically reduces air pollution and is less hazardous to human health.[3]
  • Fossil Fuels: Anatural fuel such as coal, oil or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.[4]

Background Information:

For nearly a century, the automobile was a stable of American life. Though it did not reach omnipresent status until the 1950s and 1960s, the presence of the car was almost ubiquitous. Not only did profits soar for the automobile industry for decades, but Americans generally adapted their way of life to include the new found freedom and design of the automobile. Furthermore, many Americans were gainfully employed by the various entities of the automobile industry. As a result, the success of the automobile industry became synonymous with the economic success of the country as a whole. At one point, a General Motors (GM) executive even argued that “what’s good for GM is good for America.” In 2008, all of this changed with the onset of the great recession. The industry lost nearly one in four jobs, dumped multiple brands and several prominent automotive companies, including GM, eventually collapsed into bankruptcy. A federal government bailout – something unthinkable even a few years prior – was offered as a form of assistance to keep the industry afloat in tough economic times. Now, the tide has turned again, except this time it is favoring the burgeoning recovery and even renewed prosperity of the American automobile industry. According to a recent Washington Post article, “it’s growing faster than airplane manufacturers, shipbuilders, health care providers and the federal government.”[5] Though several factors have contributed to this incredible recovery, a key ingredient for renewed success has been the growing development and reliance on more efficient or sustainable vehicles, such as Chevy’s “Volt.” This development in particular, and its influence on the overall industry, will likely be one of the most critical for assessing the long-term stability and sustainability of the automobile industry and its ramifications for American economy and environment.


  • Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • Automotive Mechanic Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center U.S.Department of Energy



Warm-up: Place in History

  1. Tell students that today you’ll be talking about the automobile industry.
  2. Ask students to think of ways that the auto industry has changed over the last 100 years. Answers may include the rise in popularity and abundance, the change of technology, speed increase, the movement into fuel efficiency.

Activity One: Automobile Career Investigation

  1. Use information from the Background Information and Resources sections of this lesson plan to start a discussion with students about the auto industry in the 21st century. Mention the directions in which this field has already begun to grow and expand, not only in terms of environmental savings but also technological advancement. Lead students through a 5 minute discussion of the various economic, environmental, technological and other opportunities related to this evolving 21st century industry.
  2. What technology is being explored that could positively affect the environment? Different types of fuels – biodiesel, ethanol, solar power, electric, hybrid, etc.
  3. How can these help the environment? Answers will vary; alternative fuels can reduce reliance on fossil fuels, reduce or eliminate various forms of air pollution, etc.
  4. How might the economy be affected by continued energy efficient advancements? Answers will vary but investment in different fuel types and engines would result in new career opportunities.
  5. What careers can you name that are currently related to the auto industry? Auto Technician/ Mechanic, Manufacturer, Engineers, Test Driver, etc.
  6. Hand out Reproducible #1– Automobile Industry Investigation: List of Careersand Reproducible #2 – Automobile Career Investigation to continue the examination of the auto industry and the careers and job opportunities associated with this field.
  7. Ask each student to choose one of the careers listed that interest them and would like to research further. 
  8. Tell students that they may use Internet research, library materials or any other available resources to individually complete Reproducible #2 – Automobile Career Investigation.
  9. If students do not have enough time to complete this activity in class, allow them to finish the worksheet as homework to turn in the following day.

Wrap Up: Title

  1. Ask students about the conclusions they’ve come to during their investigation of auto careers.
    1. How will the auto industry continue to evolve? Answers will vary.
    2. In your opinion, what is the most promising form of alternative fuel? Why? Answers will vary.
  2. Have students write a letter to their Congressperson detailing their thoughts on the future of the auto industry. You can find your Congress person here - Congress from your area.[6]

Extension Activity #1: Exploring the Future of Solar Power

Explain to students that over the last few years, the cogs of the auto industry have slowly been turning in response to certain environmental realizations by the public. With reports released that hold the transportation industry responsible for a significant amount of environmental degradation, including the “primary cause of air pollution in many urban areas,”[7] people have started to realize the importance of alternative fuels. For example, in the last few years there has been large-scale discussion about biodiesel, ethanol and electric and solar powered cars. More and more manufacturer’s are also releasing hybrid alternatives alongside their usual cars. The recent rise in popularity of these alternatives is much due to the state of the economy. As gas prices and unemployment levels soar, the public is searching for cheaper alternatives. This has brought alternative fuel discussions into the spotlight. Students should research alternative fuel sources and write a report and then present to class their findings with a special focus on their area of research and its chances for broader development in the years to come.



After completion of this lesson plan, students will understand the careers associated with the auto industry in the twenty-first century. After an in-depth analysis of these careers students will be able to describe not only the skills involved with each job but how this job is changing for the future. Students also familiarized themselves with alternative fuel types and how this will affect the economy and the environment. Students also strengthened their writing skills by putting together a letter for their Congressperson with their arguments on the important of investment in alternative fuels.



Sean S. Miller – Author, Editor

Education Director, Earth Day Network

Maggie Ollove – Author, Editor

            Education Associate, Earth Day Network


[2]“Alternative Fuel Entry.” OxfordDictionaries Online. Retrieved July 6, 2011 from

[3]“Emission Controls and Bio-Diesel to Reduce School-Bus Pollution.” Department of Ecology. Retrieved 1 April 2011 from

[4]Fossil Fuels Entry. Oxford University Press Online Dictionary. Retrieved May 23, 2011 from <>.

[5]“In 2 years since brush with death, auto industry has added jobs faster than rest of economy,” July 6, 2011. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 13, 2011 from

[6]United States House of Representatives,

[7]“Pollutants.” Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved July 11, 2011 from