Ford chose a 100-year-old image to kick off their Digital Summit in advance of this week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and if you’ll look closely you’ll see why. Aside from the electric trolley near the middle and the tiny electric car tooling around at the bottom, 1903’s “Dawn of the Century” sums up the 21st century connectivity trend in a nutshell: in the midst of a swirling storm of technology, the artfully draped lady in the center of the photo is casually, and effortlessly, tapping out messages on a telegraph while balancing on a flying wheel.
So, what to make of all this? The early auto industry was dominated by electric cars, but they soon got the beat-down from gasoline and diesel, and trolley tracks were torn up to make room for more gasmobiles. Now that electric vehicles are finally making a comeback, is the oil crash price going to make them irrelevant again?
Electric Vehicles Will Rule the 21st Century
This is the second in a weeklong series spotlighting the Detroit auto show, and once again we’re zeroing in on Ford, partly because the company made it possible for us to get here and also because Ford’s history over the past 100+ years is a strong indication of where the personal mobility market is heading for the next 100 years.
The key takeaway is that mass market demand for mobility can drive foundational supportive trends in infrastructure, manufacturing, and technology, so phooey on all those folks who say that electric vehicles will never make it on account of no EV charging infrastructure.
While cheap gasoline could crimp EV demand around the edges (at least until oil prices spike again), the over-arching trend is that the retail gasoline market is consolidating into fewer and fewer locations, while EV charging opportunities are skyrocketing at homes, businesses, and workplaces in addition to other locations. This convenience factor is a huge plus for EVs moving forward. Add fast charging to the mix, and gasmobiles just can’t compete in that field.
In addition, taking a quick look back at the Model T, we all know that when it first rolled out in 1908, cars were still seen as pricey playthings for playboys, and the Model T broke through because it was cheap.
As Ford was happy to enlighten us, though, price was only part of the reason why the T was a success. This 20th century conveyance was built to be rugged enough to handle the “19th century wagon tracks” that characterized most of America’s roadways back then.
The result: more cars on the roads, and more demand for better roads.
By mid-century, Ford had also figured out a new way to manufacture V-8 engines, making the formerly expensive pieces of hardware lighter and more accessible to the average customer, then it introduced an affordable, highly customizable “fun” car for 1960’s consumers (that would be the 1964 Mustang), and more recently the first affordable bluetooth connectivity for vehicles (the 2007 SYNC).
This year, Ford has launched a whole series connectivity experiments on the Smart Mobility platform, including one that combines EV car sharing and fast charging. That’s yet another example of a car manufacturer responding to changing times and changing demands on mobility services.
When you mosh connectivity together with the powerful energy storage capacity of EV batteries, you get a whole new level of demand fulfillment in terms of convenience and flexibility.
We’re also noting that some commenters are noting that the emergence of microscale distributed energy (solar and wind, too) is molding suburban living into a more sustainable model, which means that you’re going to see more EVs at least as second cars, perhaps with next-generation fuel cell EVs filling in the gaps when more power is demanded.
But There’s Still Room For Gasmobiles
We’ve noted before that Ford has recast itself as a “personal mobility company” rather than focusing exclusively on selling autos, and while we’re convinced that EVs will dominate, there will still be some room for gasmobiles in the sustainable personal mobility world of the future.
With that in mind, let’s not forget that the real showstoppers at Ford’s showcase press conference this morning were not EVs. They were this:
…and this honey, the “all-new Shelby GT350R Mustang is the most track-capable, street-legal Mustang ever:
…and a new off-roader, the new F-150 Raptor.
Later today, Ford is going give us some more details about their other personal mobility solutions and other fun green tech stuff, so we’ll be sure to bring you all the latest.
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