Ford CEO Jim Farley recently commented that Elon Musk’s strategy of lowering electric vehicle prices to maintain sales volume over profit margins is actually quite reminiscent of Henry Ford’s approach with the Model T.
Farley noted that Musk’s aggressive pricing strategy for Tesla’s all-electric vehicle lineup has historical roots. Amidst Tesla’s ambitious delivery and production targets, Musk has opted to protect volume over profit margins. Musk highlighted this during the Q1 2023 earnings call, when he noted that Tesla could sell its cars at low profits if needed since the company could profit in the future with products like Full Self-Driving.
This, as per Farley, was something right out of Henry Ford’s Model T playbook. The Ford CEO noted that the automotive trailblazer’s strategies were outlined in the book “1913,” which takes a close look at the year Ford became a mass producer of automobiles. “This has all happened before,” Farley said, as noted in an Insider report.
Similar to Musk, Henry Ford reportedly slashed the prices of the Model T to boost sales in 1913. This was around the time when Ford started using a conveyor belt on the Model T assembly line, which allowed the automaker to build more units of the ubiquitous vehicle at greater volumes.
In a way, Tesla is quite a bit on its own “Model T moment.” The company has all but mastered the mass production of its mainstream vehicles, the Model 3 sedan and Model Y crossover. Tesla is also busy with its preparations for the buildout of its most affordable car yet, which will be produced at Gigafactory Mexico. For now, however, Tesla’s focus has been to sell as many vehicles as possible.
As of 2023, Musk has decreased the prices of Tesla’s most popular models multiple times to achieve a production goal of 1.8 million, or perhaps even 2 million, vehicles for the year. This strategy has impacted Tesla’s profit margins and raised concerns among investors, but Musk believes it is laying the groundwork for future gains.
But while Musk’s pricing strategy is very similar to Henry Ford, Farley also offered some cautionary advice to his fellow CEO. “I think what he’s going to learn is product freshness means a lot. The product gets commoditized, and then you lose your pricing premium. That’s a really dangerous thing,” Farley said.
Henry Ford eventually learned this lesson, and he proceeded to roll out new colors and the Model A. At the time, however, Chevrolet had already become the top car brand in the US.
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