Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

Pigment Panic! A Lack of Tuxedo Black! Or, Any Color BUT Black!

By Shlomo Maital


 Tuxedo Black Ford..


In his famous 17th C. sermon, John Donne warned,  “never ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  On Friday March 11, a powerful 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck northern Japan, wreaking destruction and death and threatening a catastrophic meltdown of five nuclear plants in Fukushima.  The bell tolls out a message: A crisis in even the remotest parts of the world affects us all, and not just emotionally.

    Henry Ford once said famously that Model T buyers could have any color they wanted, provided it was black.  Today, Ford Motor Co. announces buyers can have any color they wish, provided it is NOT “Tuxedo Black”.  Why?   Pigment and paint factories in the northern prefectures of Japan have shut down, causing a global pigment panic and shortage of some key pigments. 

    Many car factories have told their buyers their orders will be delayed, or shipment of parts will be delayed, because of the northern Japan disaster.  

    A major culprit is the “just in time” philosophy of Japanese manufacturing.  In normal times, the idea is great – instead of warehousing huge stockpiles of parts, at high cost, organize the supply chain so the parts are delivered  ‘just in time’ – just as the hand of the assembler reaches out to grab them, and install them on the vehicle.  But when the delicate  ‘just in time’ system is disrupted, anywhere, the whole mechanism breaks down.

    Supply chain managers all know that ‘second sourcing’ is vital (having more than one source for key parts).  But not all of them practice it. 

     We are just now learning from Japan how loudly the bell tolls for all of us, everywhere, anywhere, when the bell tolls in any remote place in the world.  And the message is not just one of how humanity must care for everyone, but that globalization has created a highly delicate, sensitive system that easily breaks down.

     We can survive without Tuxedo Black Fords.  But China’s imposed scarcity of rare earth products is another more serious example.  In future, a breakdown of the complex delicate global ecosystem will wreak far greater damage.