It’s been a while and I apologize for not writing. The burning issues of the day are so divisive and I’ve not felt I could add anything useful. The advent of electric automobiles (though it also has been politicized) may be something we can discuss courteously. It seems to me that we are missing something important in the conversation.
Much has been said about reducing our carbon footprint. Opponents of the rush to save our planet can inform you of the hidden costs of an electric vehicle. I’m just an old country boy so I don’t know, but you can probably find arguments for both sides in a gazillion places on that internet thing. In the meantime, here’s a little common sense. Here are some known facts. Here is something on which, perhaps, we can all agree.
Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile. He didn’t invent the “moving assembly line” either. He put the two together and was able to lower the cost of his Model T from about $850 to a record low price of $326. That price put the Model T within our grasp and changed the world.
It didn’t change overnight. Decades of road-building, mechanical breakdowns and manufacturing errors in a storm of ever-improving infrastructure were to follow. It took a while. I was raised in the 1950s, when a coast-to-coast vacation or even a twenty-mile trip from the farm to a small town could be a dicey proposition at best. It’s fair to say that it took us at least 60 years before a family could drive to town—or California– in reasonable comfort and without fear of heat stroke, hypothermia or mechanical breakdown.
To a farmer with a horse and buggy, thirty miles from town, repairing a broken plowshare or finding more barbed wire usually meant the loss of at least several days productive work. That’s a considerable loss if one’s livelihood depended on weather and luck and backbreaking labor. The loss of time was often a week. Farmers tended to go to town on Saturdays, mostly.
To a Missouri family considering a trip to the coast—east or west—it was about the same as thinking about a trip to the moon and back, assuming you lived through it. An expedition to California was a months-long proposition; most folks simply didn’t have the time. New York was as mysterious to them as the lunar surface.
With the Model T and its offspring, the farmer’s trip to town could be accomplished in hours rather than days. The California trip might be accomplished in weeks rather than months.
What caused us to buy a Model T? Certainly, it reduced our need for harnesses, oats and buggy whips. The price was right. But the alluring element was magical. Henry Ford offered us time itself for three hundred and twenty-six dollars. That is why it changed the world and that is why we spent sixty years trying to perfect it.
For all its sizzle, the electric vehicle offers me no steak, no overwhelming, world-changing and profound transformation—at least not on the level of Henry Ford.
Ford, for all his faults, understood his customer. Do the proponents of electric vehicles understand theirs? I’m very much afraid they do. I’m very much afraid the electric car is nothing more than a shiny object being dangled in front of my attention deficit disorder.
I know I’m old and stuck in my ways. But I’ll sign up when Scotty can actually beam me up.