A Trip Through a Century of Ford History
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Bob Casey is curator of transportation for the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Now, this is not the first time Ford has had to reinvent itself, but has it ever had to do anything on this scale?
Mr. BOB CASEY (Curator of Transportation, Henry Ford Museum): Actually, Ford has had at least three rebirths in its history and they've often been very big. The first one came in 1928 when they shut down production of the Model T, which they pushed three or four years too long, and they had to come up with a new car, which they called the Model A.
In 1949, their first new car after World War II was another restructuring. They did away with any hint of an individual fender and the body completely enveloped the car structure. And so it came along. It fit perfectly with a buying public that had survived the Depression, had won the war, and was really looking for something new. And the '49 Ford just screamed, I'm new, I'm modern, buy me.
And then in 1986 they were in serious, serious trouble, and the product that revived them was the Ford Taurus.
ELLIOTT: You know, I recall a time when people were just fiercely aligned with a certain carmaker. They'd settle for nothing less than a Ford pickup, for example. Do you think that the company can reclaim that kind of customer loyalty or are those days just gone?
Mr. CASEY: I suspect that those days are gone for every company. I recall those days too. But people are going to go out and look for the vehicle that best meets their needs and their wants, and if it's a Nissan, they'll do that. If it's a Chevrolet, they'll do that. They don't much care anymore. And it means that every company has got to go out and fight for every customer every day.
ELLIOTT: Mr. Casey, how do you think Henry Ford would have reacted to what's become of the American auto industry and the company that he started?
Mr. CASEY: Boy, that's hard to say, because Henry himself didn't react well to the changing market. He stuck with his Model T way too long. The record indicates that he was not terribly happy with the sort of consumerist way that the market had gone, where people were buying cars because of styling and comfort.
ELLIOTT: How did he think people should be buying cars?
Mr. CASEY: He thought they should be buying cars on the basis of what they needed. And he thought that a Model T pretty much delivered what you needed and that was good enough, thank you very much. And so he was - he was actually - he'd fallen out of touch with the car buying public by the mid 1920s, and that's one reason that his company had slipped to third place by the time of World War II.
So I'm not sure that Henry Ford's model is one that offers very much except a cautionary tale for Ford's current management.
ELLIOTT: Bob Casey is curator of transportation for the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Thank you for talking with us.
Mr. CASEY: Been my pleasure.
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