The truth about “any color so long as it is black”

Henry Ford (1863-1947) documented that he made the “any color so long as it is black” comment during a meeting in 1909 (Henry Ford in collaboration with Samuel Crowther in My Life and Work. 1922. Page 72).

My Life and Work by Henry Ford in collaboration with Samuel Crowther. 1922

My Life and Work by Henry Ford in collaboration with Samuel Crowther. 1922.

Henry Ford had a different perspective than the salesmen attending the meeting.

This season demonstrated conclusively to me that it was time to put the new policy in force. The salesmen, before I had announced the policy, were spurred by the great sales to think that even greater sales might be had if only we had more models. It is strange how, just as soon as an article becomes successful, somebody starts to think that it would be more successful if only it were different. There is a tendency to keep monkeying with styles and to spoil a good thing by changing it. The salesmen were insistent on increasing the line. They listened to the 5 percent, the special customers who could say what they wanted, and forgot all about the 95 percent, who just bought without making any fuss. No business can improve unless it pays the closest possible attention to complaints and suggestions. If there is any defect in service then that must be instantly and rigorously investigated, but when the suggestion is only as to style, one has to make sure whether it is not merely a personal whim that is being voiced. Salesmen always want to cater to whims instead of acquiring sufficient knowledge of their product to be able to explain to the customer with the whim that what they have will satisfy his every requirement – that is, of course, provided what they have does satisfy these requirements.” (Ford. Page 71)

The first Model T left the factory  in September of 1908. In the 1909 fiscal year, 10,660 units were produced. Ford considered that their offering was good enough. The Model T had product-market fit.

In the language common to product development, the Model T was a platform product. Over the next 18 years, there were numerous body styles that included 2-door and 4-door touring, roadsters, town cars, pickups, and sedans.

Platform Product: The design and components that are shared by a set of products in a product family. From this platform, numerous derivative products can be designed. [Definition from the PDMA glossary]

Henry Ford provided his vision for the Model T:

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.” (Ford. Page 73)

The Model T was designed by Henry Ford, Childe Harolde Wills, József Galamb, and Eugene Farkas.

In 1909, Henry Ford had a vision to scale production. He believed the the Model T platform was the best strategy to produce an affordable car for the world.

Therefore in 1909 I announced one morning, without any previous warning, that in the future we were going to build only one model, that the model was going to “Model T,” and that the chassis would be exactly the same for all cars, and I remarked:

Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.’

I cannot say that any one agreed with me. The selling people could not of course see the advantages that a single model would bring about in production. More than that, they did not particularly care.” (Ford. Page 72)

Fortunately, there is production data for 18 years. Production went from thousands per year in 1909 to millions per year.

Ford Model T Production 1909-1927

Ford Model T production numbers derived from http://www.mtfca.com/encyclo/fdprod.htm
Worldwide production except for Canada.
Model T production ended 25 May 1927. 15 million were produced.
The 1920.5 data discontinuity reflects the transition from a fiscal year to a calendar year.
The Model A was launched at the end of the 1927.

Development Experience

Because the Model T chassis that did not change much in 18 years, the designers could devote more effort to the passenger related parameters.

Henry Ford’s resolve set the focus and direction of the project. He was not detracted by the reports from the salesmen. He monitored development to minimize unvalidated additions to the product backlog which is also known as product feature creep.

Feature Creep: The tendency for designers or engineers to add more capability, functions and features to a product as development proceeds than were originally intended. These additions frequently cause schedule slip, development cost increases, and product cost increases. [Definition from the PDMA glossary]

Any Color So Long As It Is Black

Ford’s first prototypes and production models were designated by the letters A to T. They came in many colors. For example:

  • The original Model A 1903-1904 was sold ‘only in red by the factory.’
  • The Model F was ‘rich dark green, yellow running gear’
  • The Model K was ‘Royal Blue’
  • The Model R was red
  • 15 million Model Ts were produced by 1927. This car is green with black trim (fenders and running boards).
The Fifteen Millionth Ford Model T

The Fifteen Millionth Ford Model T. Henry Ford is the passenger in the front seat.

In late 1927, Henry Ford had the replacement for the Model T. The new Model A was produced from 1927-1931. Nearly 5 million were produced.

Success

Henry Ford’s resolve was consistent with the comment he made in 1909. Henry Ford was able to scale production to produce over 2 million cars per year by:

  • Minimizing changes to the Model T platform. Many components of the chassis were the same for every body style.
  • Reducing the number of factory hours required to produce each car. This included minimizing the number of body colors.
  • Setting aggressive target prices then finding ways to achieve those prices
  • Producing cars with standard parts in factories all over the world

Henry Ford disrupted the way people moved from one place to another by designing and manufacturing an affordable car to anyone making a decent salary. One of the color choices was black.

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