Henry Ford's Model-T

Ford Déjà Vu

Aug 3, 2012 • Businesses, Demand, Supply, and Markets, Economic History, Innovation, Labor, Regulation, Thinking Economically, Uncategorized • 193 Views    No Comments

Responding to very different incentives, in 1908 and in 2012 Ford designed a lighter car.

The first Model-T had a unique chassis. Made of a steel alloy that no other US car maker used, the Model-T was inexpensive, relatively powerful, sturdy and user friendly. At a Florida car race, Henry Ford had seen a French racing car that was made from a vanadium steel alloy. Copying the idea in his own steel mill, he developed a durable chassis that was stronger and lighter than any on the market.

Fast forward to 2012. Ford will again market a lighter car. By using aluminum in their F-150, they expect the pickup to lose 700 pounds. The goal? Use less gasoline and maybe even a smaller engine. The reason? New fuel economy standards from the federal government. The downside? The car is more expensive and trickier to produce.

A graphic from WSJ.com estimates the weight savings:

  • Hood and fenders: 32 lbs.
  • Control arms and steering knuckles: 92 lbs.
  • Cab/passenger compartment: 190 lbs.
  • Cargo box: 114 lbs.
  • Doors and tailgate: 118 lbs.


Responding to the market, Henry Ford designed an affordable car that weighed less. Reacting to regulation, Ford has made a lighter F-150 pickup.

Your opinion of each incentive and the response?

Perfect for a discussion of opportunity cost, this WSJ.com article presents a wonderfully detailed discussion of Ford’s switch to aluminum for its F-150 pickups and the above mentioned graphic. And you can go here for more about Henry Ford’s cost saving innovations.

The content of this post has been slightly edited.

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