Skill vs status

Carver in 1913:

Start where you are.
Work with what you have.
Make something of it.
Never give up.

Here’s a fable showing what happens when you disobey Carver.

Around 1915, Ford’s total mastery of high quantity at low price forced everyone else out of that position. Later, Cadillac’s total ownership of the luxury market forced everyone else out of that position.

Other carmakers couldn’t fight those two constraints. They had to find a different niche. They had to make something of what they had. Too often they didn’t realize what they had, didn’t notice their own UNIQUE SKILL.

While screwing around with Pierce’s air starter, I noticed an unexpected correlation.

Pierce and Packard and Peerless are well known as the three Ps of luxury. Before they were the three Ps of luxury, they were the three Ps of TRUCKS, but their earlier dominance has been forgotten.

Just for fun, here’s a 1915 Pierce truck in action:

In 1915 the major names in heavy trucks were:

Autocar, Brockway, Duplex, Federal, FWD, GMC, IH, Mack, Packard, Peerless, Pierce, White.

The three Ps abandoned trucks in the ’20s. The others never tried to split their energy and stayed with trucks. GMC and IH are still around, and the others died in the ’70s when Nixon donated America to China.

In 1915 the major names in light low-priced cars were Ford and Willys and Dodge. All of them are still around. They were NOT making trucks in 1915. Each made some car-based pickups as a minimal variation on their regular light cars. Ford and Dodge moved into heavy trucks later, but gradually abandoned the field by 1980.

What’s the main difference between those categories? Heavy trucks seem more like mass-market cars in terms of status and customers. You’d think that a Ford dealer selling to farmers would naturally carry heavy trucks, but he didn’t.

The important variable is SKILL, not status and price. The three Ps knew how to make HEAVY vehicles, and knew how to arrange production for a wide range of sizes and types in small quantities. They also made provision for an even wider range of custom types.

Those criteria apply to luxury cars AND heavy trucks.

Ford knew how to make LIGHT vehicles, and knew how to arrange production for huge quantities of ONE vehicle. One engine, one size, one color.

Weight is self-evident. Variety might not be so obvious.

Here’s a 1915 ad for White trucks:

Many sizes and types, not including the chassis and cowl units sold for special bodies. I wasn’t looking for the keyword PRESTIGE, but the ad made the point for me. Note also the pretentious and unnecessary subjunctive, that the discerning buyer know what a subjunctive be.

Here’s a page of Cadillac’s models in 1931:

Four sizes, 100 factory catalogued types, not including the chassis and cowl units sold for custom bodies.

Why did the three Ps leave the truck market? They were seduced by the siren song of STATUS.

The ultimate fate of the three Ps is sharply divided.

Pierce abandoned trucks around 1925 and tried to make it solely on prestige. Studie bought them in 1928, which only made things worse. After Studie bankrupted in ’34, Pierce was recapitalized by a group of businessmen in Buffalo, but quickly failed.

Packard abandoned trucks around 1920, after gaining a second string to its skill instrument in WW1. Packard continued making aircraft engines along with luxury cars, expanding into jets in WW2. Aircraft engines were Packard’s unique skill. They should have abandoned cars in 1945. Studie bought them in 1954, which only made things worse. After Studie bankrupted in ’56, Packard died.

Peerless also abandoned trucks in the ’20s, but then made the smartest niche switch ever. In 1932 luxury cars AND Prohibition ended. Peerless noticed the connection, switched to beer, and is still making Carling Black Label.

Moral of the fable: Cars are a luxury. Luxury cars are luxury squared. Trucks are a necessity. Beer is a necessity. The oldest companies in the world are breweries.

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