Monday 19 March 2018

How Henry Ford drove second revolution in USA

Martin Brennan

HENRY Ford was ahead of his time in more ways than one. He is best remembered for pioneering assembly line low-cost car production, his Model T that put America on wheels and his famous "You can have any colour as long as it's black".

But Henry, who launched his company 100 years ago this month, was revolutionary in other areas and some of the ideas of the visionary industrialist are finding new favour in business today.

Now motor engineers are competing with each other to produce lightweight cars. Back then, Henry's mantra was to "to make objects as light as possible". "A great step forward" came with the invention of a steel alloy named vanadium which was stronger, lighter and easier to machine than nickel steel. It became the backbone of the Model T.

Henry, whose genius at engineering was obvious from an early age – by the time he was 12, he could take watches apart and put them together better – said: "The most beautiful things in the world are those from which all excess weight have been eliminated."

Ford was also to the forefront of cutting prices to boost sales. Parallel to his simple design philosophy was his belief that sales would go up, not so much by improving the product but by lowering the price. "Every time I reduce the charge of our car by one dollar I get a thousand new buyers," he said. (Dealers of today, please note!)

He also rightly believed that building a car and just selling it was not enough. He once said that a car was 75 per cent complete when it left the factory and the other 25 per cent was done by the dealers. The car needed fuel, tyres, repairs, tuning and washing.

He insisted that dealers keep a large amount of spare parts in stock, be willing to repair any Ford no matter where it was bought and that there be a new model in the showrooms at all times.

And Henry, like many businessmen today, was suspicious of banks. On at least one occasion he went to a teller in his bank and withdrew a $100,000, counted it, and banked it again with another teller. He was just checking to make sure that his money was there!

A new biography by historian Richard Snow, I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford, tells us a lot about the man who transformed America with his Model T.

Henry would be proud of the blue oval firm he founded because today the automotive side of the business has a US balance sheet of $10bn and the loss-making European operations are recovering, with sales up 4.6 per cent last month.

Martin Brennan

Sunday Independent

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