Henry Ford made a now-famous statement that the Model T "could be had in any color as long as it was black." Explain what you think he meant by this statement.

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Henry Ford took mass production to an art form. He was able to produce many cars that were the exact same and market them at lower prices than his competitors. Ford's cars were quite easy to repair as the parts of one Model T could be used on another. By selling as many cars as possible, not only did Ford make a fortune, he also made the Model T a cultural icon for the United States.

Ford's statement proved that he believed that standardization could also be applied to paint jobs as well as the make of the car. Ford could save money by buying black paint in bulk; black paint was also relatively inexpensive, and it allowed Ford to keep overhead low. Many people considered black a stylish color for their car, and it meant that a color difference would not enter into people's decision on whether or not to buy a vehicle. Ford also did not have to worry about cleaning the painting departments of the factories in order to create a car in a different color; this saved valuable time that could be used to make more cars.

Ford knew that his buying public demanded a reliable car at the lowest possible price. Most car buyers were more interested in the car's function over its form. Ford was open about only producing black cars; the public viewed this as a sign of efficiency and eagerly signed up to buy Ford's reliable black Model T's.

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There are certain apocryphal comments which become widely accepted in the absence of evidence because they seem to express an essential truth even if they were never uttered. We do not much care whether Voltaire ever said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to your death the right to say it." The sentence, which does not appear in his works, clearly sums up a vital liberal attitude that we connect to Voltaire.

The same is true of Henry Ford on consumer choice. His comment, whether he ever said it or not, that you could have any color so long as it was black, meant first and foremost that he was confident in his product. Ford did not feel the need to indulge in eloquent salesmanship. His message was simple: "Here is the product, cheaper and better than you can get it elsewhere. If you don't want it on my terms, there are plenty of people who do." Of course, this is in itself a style of salesmanship, still used very effectively by brands like Apple today.

Another point was Ford's commitment to standardization, which lowered costs by a greater amount than he thought he could raise prices by offering the Model T Ford in a variety of colors. Black is a stylish and practical choice of color for a car. Many people would presumably have chosen black anyway and others were probably relieved not to have to choose. Ford chose standardization over variety, and the choice paid off.

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This statement, perhaps apocryphal, illustrates a major principle of what became "Fordism": standardization. The Model T was produced using interchangeable parts on assembly lines. The cars that were produced were more or less identical, marketed for the first time to ordinary Americans at prices they could afford.

While there were, in fact, multiple colors of the Model T, the idea that they were completely standardized is indicative of the no-frills approach that characterized Ford's business model. Ford Motor Company sought to produce as many cars as possible at the lowest price and employed the principles of scientific management to accomplish this goal. He also took the extraordinary step of marketing the cars to his own employees and paid wages sufficient to purchase them.

For more than a decade, the Model T remained unchanged—Ford continued to produce the identical model, and consumers continued to buy it. Due to the success of the Model T, Ford actually abandoned other models, including the Model R and Model S. Whether or not Ford ever made the statement in question, and even though it may have not been factually true, it illustrates the commitment to efficiency and standardization that made Ford a very wealthy man, put the Model T in the driveways of millions of Americans, and helped shape American corporate culture for almost a century.

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What Ford meant by this is not hard to understand.  He meant that he was making the car in one color only.  What is more interesting is why he said that and why he was able to say it.

Ford was able to get people to buy a car that came in one color only because it was a good car at a superior price.  Ford was basing his strategy on the idea that a car that was affordable to the masses would be competitive on its own, regardless of whether it came in colors or had other of what he called "trimmings."

So this is a statement of the power of price.  It is a statement of how important it is to move a product from a price point where it is available only to select consumers to a point where it is affordable to the masses.

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