Overdrive Extra

Jack Roberts

Staying in the race

| October 30, 2012

Ford gets credit for establishing the first modern assembly line and other progressive innovations. But as forward-thinking as he was at the turn of the 20th Century, he quickly lost momentum in the years that followed.

The Model T was the first truly successful automobile design. It had taken Ford countless efforts to perfect the design: practical, dependable, economical, rugged, affordable — you name it, the Model T was it.

The problem was that once the Model T was perfected, Ford decided that was it. As far as he was concerned, there would never be a more perfect automobile design produced — ever. The Model T, in his eyes, was the absolute final word in automotive design. There was no need to tweak it. There was certainly no need to replace it. All that needed to be done was produce it — in mass quantities — and sit back and count the money coming in the door.

The Model T had a 20-year-plus run with remarkably few upgrades during that time — which is quite a feat and a strong testament as to the brilliance of the design. But, like the Wrights, Ford failed to recognize that his competitors weren’t just going to throw in the towel and call it quits.

Ford engineers nervously watched as innovation after innovation began appearing on Chevrolets, Dodges, Cadillacs and other marques — but never on Fords. Things like electric starters, windshield wipers, turn signals, power brakes and other innovations began to slowly, but surely, erode the Model T’s market share.

Unlike the Wrights, Ford finally woke up and saw the threat. He realized his designs were outdated and began a rapid catch-up program to get back in the game. Such a move would be unthinkable today. But Ford had the deep pockets and the reputation to pull it off. Still, it wasn’t until 1933, when Ford introduced the first practical V-8 gas engine, that the company could finally put the ghost of the Model T behind it and claim technical dominance in the automotive world once again.

And that’s where we stand in the trucking industry today. The pace of change and rate of technological adoption is astounding to behold. Don’t look for that to change any time in the near future.

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