Once upon a time the Ford Motor Company changed the way the automobile was made and sold. Before Henry Ford applied the concept of assembly line to car manufacturing, the automobile was more of a trophy for the elite. Automobiles were few and far between and roads had not yet been built to accommodate them. Henry Ford’s automobile, and the way they were built, brought the automobile to the masses. Anyone could afford a Model-T, and by 1914 the Ford Motor Company was producing more cars per year than every other automaker combined. Recently, shareholders in the company and potential investors in the company learned Ford would be announcing a dismal 39 percent loss in first quarter earnings. Ford claims it can turn this around but the company may learn more from looking to its past than its future.
Ford is asking for investors to stay patient because the company plans to launch 23 new products this year, including the first aluminum body pickup truck. In the early part of the twentieth century Ford’s success and profitability depended on its streamline production and low-cost to the consumer. Parts were interchangeable between models and production was so streamlined the cars and trucks only came in one color; black. Obviously, Ford will not revert to only offering cars in one color to keep production costs low, but considering the steady increase in industry-wide recalls, continued diversifying of the products the brand offers may not be the solution. It took Henry Ford twenty years to perfect the Model T. It only stands to reason that constant remaking of the line will continue to result in manufacturer error and recalls, and that means loss of consumer confidence.
There is already a trend in automobile counterculture that shows people believe they can build their own cars and make them just as reliable and cost-efficient, if not more so, than buying a new car from the dealership. Hot rodding has been around for almost three-quarters of a century and it does not seem the trend is going away. If anything, the number of young men and women seeking out rusted shells of Model A’s and Model T’s is only increasing as the younger generations are falling into the fold.
The new wave of hot rodding called “rat rodding” does not show any sign of slowing down. Thanks to the Internet making finding parts easier and the basic design of older cars, many of these young men and women are choosing to set aside the money they would be spending on a new car payment or lease and, instead, using it to build their own cars. Since the design is so basic, anyone can learn to work on a Ford from the past and rebuild and customize one for far less than purchasing or leasing its newer counterpart. These cars are more practical than show-quality classics, and many become daily drivers once built. What is more, a reincarnated Rat Rod retains its resale value better than a new car.
Many of these young men and women are drawn to the phenomenon of rat rodding because of the sense of self-reliance it brings and the fact that every dollar spent on rebuilding and customizing one of these cars will hold its value better. There are no complicated computer controlled electronics in a Rat Rod, unless the builder wants there to be, so car trouble does not entail being at the mercy of the dealership or an expensive service department. Many owners claim the greatest benefit of these homemade cars is that there is guaranteed to be no recall.
At present, all new manufactured parts for Model T’s and Model A’s are built by aftermarket, third-party companies. Ford does not offer any of these parts, nor do the other major car-makers for their popular classics. With past models seeming to uphold the brand name of just about every domestic manufacturer–with the possible exception of new trucks–it seems odd Ford and the other major auto companies of the US have not learned this, but they still can. They are simply not considering the market of hot rod and rat rod enthusiasts. Continuing to ignore these fiercely brand-loyal customers may cause the future of these companies to be not as bright as the past.
Opinion by Joseph Porter