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  • Ford was more than a pioneer

    Mass-produced quality

    Wim Oude Weernink
    Automotive News Europe

    Henry Ford made it possible for the average person to own a car. By building a moving assembly line at a plant in Highland Park, Michigan, Ford was able to increase the output of Model Ts while lowering the cost per unit dramatically.

    Ford's rise to greatness was slow. The Ford Motor Co. was not founded until 1903, when he was 40. The revolutionary Model T wasn't introduced until 1908.

    But the first car he built - the "quadricycle" in 1896 - showed signs of his ultimate greatness.

    "What was distinctive about the quadricycle," wrote historian John Rae, "was that it was the lightest of the pioneer American gasoline cars and may indicate that Ford was already thinking of a car for the great multitude."

    Ford was not the only auto industry pioneer with the idea to build a low-priced car. But he differed from his contemporaries in an important way. Others designed cars that could be built cheaply - the result being lightweight buggies that would not stand hard usage. Ford thought that the first requirement was to determine the qualities that a universal car must possess and design it accordingly. After that the problem of low-cost production could be addressed.

    Ford had other great qualities and insights. As Peter Collier and David Horowitz related in their 1986 book The Fords: "He liked to ramble through the assembly area. Sometimes he would see a new man struggling and take over his machine to show him how it was done. Occasionally the worker would not know it was Ford who had helped him."

    As one foreman later noted: "After Mr. Ford had shown how the process should be done he'd say, 'Now go ahead and try it.' Then: 'No, that ain't the way ... that's what they make these machines for ... to do the work. You don't want to work. When you go home you don't want to be tired. When you go home to your family you want to feel good.' After he had left the foreman would say, 'Do you know who that man was, John?' John would say he didn't. 'That was Henry Ford.'"

    Ford soon realized that the Model T would appeal to more than just Americans. A factory in Manchester, England, began making Model Ts in 1911. In 1912, Ford traveled to England to talk with Percival Perry about forming an English company. Ford would also eventually assemble cars in France, Italy and Germany.

    In 1928, Ford of Britain was formed. Ford also personally laid the cornerstone for Ford's Cologne factory in 1930. This created Ford's unique dual European strongholds in England and Germany.