Daily Podcast: Fording the River

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

In between long stints behind the keyboard and the wheel of an Audi, I’ve been reading Robert Lacey’s epic Ford: The Men and the Machine

. Catching up on the story of Ford, one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Crazy Henry had somehow cheated death and was still around to witness the recent travails of his company. Ford’s deep commitment to basic transportation may have been a liability in the heyday of the American automobile, but things seem to be coming full circle. The decades of glamor and expression in automotive design and marketing launched GM to dizzying heights and threatened to leave stolid old Ford behind. But Ford never completely embraced the planned obsolescence and marketing-heavy development patterns that defined GM’s success. The Blue Oval’s best products always had a certain affordable and rugged charm that seems to be coming back in style. Ford now finds itself positioned to become the first American automaker with a lineup weighted towards competitive small and mid-sized cars. If it can succeed with this strategy and stay focused, Ford has a chance to reinterpret its original brand appeal and vindicate Henry Ford’s philosophy in a thoroughly 21st Century fashion.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Packard Packard on Jul 21, 2009

    If Henry had been around, the company would have gone out of business long ago. He nearly ran it into the ground in the late 1940's. One may have forgotten that the U.S. government released Henry Ford II from the Navy early, so that he could take over Ford after a family revolt got Henry I to relinquish control - the government didn't want to let Ford go under, because it was such a major defense contractor at the time. Had the company survived, it would probably now still be trying to make cars out of soybeans. In fact, didn't Ford just use soybeans for the fabric in a Mustang interior?

  • Venator Venator on Jul 21, 2009

    What is so wrong about making cars out of soybeans? I would rather have that than eating them!

  • Jerome10 Jerome10 on Jul 22, 2009

    Hahahahahahaha. I thought that was Oregon Trail! Ah the memories of HS sophomore computer class. Don't monkey around, get work done in 10-15 minutes, play Oregon Trail and Chip's Challenge for the remaining 45. Lol. Easiest class of my life.

  • 50merc 50merc on Jul 22, 2009

    bumpy ii: "ome TV movie-of-the-week a while back, which had an amusing scene where Henry & Co. built a car, then had to knock down part of the garage to get it out." That actually happened. Henry and Clara's landlord wasn't happy. Old Henry was eccentric, to say the least, and certainly senile in his later years. As someone noted, the famous $5/day wage wasn't altruism; it was to reduce the horrendous turnover rate. And in practice, neither was it a simple $5/day. Old Henry's Sociology Department acted to uplift the working class in accordance with hypocritical Henry's moral code, with an intrusiveness no one would believe today. FoMoCo was better than most companies in hiring blacks, but they got the most unpleasant jobs, such as in the foundry. Old Henry might have thought his workers were contented, but Sorensen ran the plants like Soviet gulags, and a small army of goons were employed to crush UAW organizing efforts. Henry II had an abiding loathing of his grandfather because of the humiliations and abuse inflicted on Edsel. That said, FoMoCo could do worse than to keep Henry's 1907 mission statement in mind: “I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one-and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.” Amen.