Another Thought

Henry Ford grew up on a farm in Dearborn Michigan and founded the Ford motor company in 1901. His ambition was to make car that everyone could afford believing that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to cars would be a great class leveller.  He realized his ambition in 1908 with the Model T which was cheap, durable and simple to drive.

Alfred Sloan grew up in New Haven CT. At age 26 he became President of GM.  In the early 1920’s GM faced the threat of a growing used car market and the cheaper Model T.  It was then that he noticed how the fashion industry changed its designs every year. He reckoned if he changed the style of his cars people would buy them. He restyled the body of his car using the same engine and this did the trick. Chevrolet became a big hit and change for change’s sake was born. GM’s strategy became ‘choreographed cosmetic ‘upgrades’  to keep the consumer dissatisfied.’

For 15 years Henry Ford held out sticking the original Model T design. In 1922 he proclaimed, ‘we have been told …that the object of business ought to be to get people to buy frequently and it is a bad business to try to make anything that will last forever. …our principle is precisely the opposite….we never make an improvement that renders any previous model obsolete.’

Ford continued to compete by reducing costs.  But by 1927 GM’s continual design ‘improvements and the rumblings of the Great Depression meant his strategy began to fail. After the 15 millionth Model T rolled off the assembly line, production stopped and new models such as the Model A and V8 with different styles emerged. Henry Ford had lost his battle with obsolescence.

Today we are involved in the same battle….the battle for longevity. Longevity does not mean just designing using durable materials it also means making goods that can be seamlessly updated as well as easily broken down for future reuse resale or repair. Building in a capacity for disassembly is critical to environmental efficiency – currently 80% of all products are one-way products and 99% of the material contents of goods will become waste within six weeks!