Any colour you like as long as it’s white?


My first electronic car was my brother-in-law’s Tesla. Unfortunately, he has now died and the Tesla now belongs to my niece.

It was because of this car – which was a luxurious maroon colour – that I first heard the name Elon Musk.

Musk appears to be losing influence as so many claims about e-cars are rapidly dislodged, but the latest Tesla model to go on the market, his Cybertruck – is pretty futuristic.

Musk was clearly channelling Henry Ford – who famously used the phrase “any colour you like as long as it’s black”.

Most Teslas now come in a standard white – although you can opt for other selected colours if you pay for them.

But the cybertruck is taking a leaf out of the playbook of the Back to the Future film series, which used a DeLorean car – which famously only came in no colour at all – with unpainted stainless steel.

It is strange that, at either end of the age of mass production (Fordism), which Ford ushered in in 1903, it has gone from compulsory to more or less compulsory, but also made the shift from black to white or stainless steel.

Two questions occur to me about this. First, what does it mean that we have gone from black to white or silver metallic? And second, what does it say about Musk that he aligns himself so much with Henry Ford?

I remember that when the government of Gordon Brown was voted out in 2010, I noticed that the colours of cars were also changing in the UK – from a time when a quarter of the cars on the roads were coloured metallic silver to a far more ubiquitous black.

It seemed to be partly a reflection of the public mood in those days – the nervousness that everything was unravelling, thanks to the banking collapse of 2007-8. It was also partly a kind of snobbery – as if those driving big black cars were somehow more serious than the rest of us

(And by the way, yesterday, I’m glad to say that the people of Paris voted to charge more to park big SUVs – a creation, in fact, primarily of the Ford Motor Company under BIll Ford, Henry’s great-grandson).

I don’t know if any of this was concious – my last two cars were both metallic silver. The black cars heralded the rise of the Tories back to government. Probably if I knew the predominant colour of new cars thees days, it would help me predict the next election (unfortunately, I don’t!).

Otherwise the car’s colours are shifting from cars with no colour (black) to ones with every colour  (white) and car which are left as steel – which are said to appear in a range of different colours when they are travelling at speed or in heat. Or so Musk claims.

Now, about the links between Musk and Henry Ford.

Ford was of course a genius who invented the production line in 1903, the same year that Frederick Window Taylor launched his ‘scientific’ method of measuring people’s efficiency at work, and arguably changed the world as much as he did (for more on Taylor and the strange story of time and motion study, see my book The Sum of Our Discontent.

Yet he was also a dangerous maverick: he was always an anti-semite – the only American to win a favourable mention in Mein Kampf. He also had such authoritarian obsession with control that he ran his own company into the ground. He refused to employ accountants. so that – during his period of control – Ford never filed accounts.

Now, I don’t know how many of these attributes remind you of Musk – not the anti-semitism, for example – but some of the others do.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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