Henry Ford and Elon Musk Embody the Difference Between the Old and New America - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Henry Ford and Elon Musk Embody the Difference Between the Old and New America
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Elon Musk in Vancouver, Canada, on April 14, 2022 (YouTube/TED)

Henry Ford was the antithesis of Elon Musk. The latter uses government to force people into cars that are more expensive and less practical, thereby diminishing personal mobility. The former designed and built a car that cost less (each successive model year), was far more versatile and practical than a horse and buggy, and freed people from being largely stuck where they were.

Ford did not use the power of the government to compel his rivals to subsidize his operations, as Musk has done (via the selling of what are styled “carbon credits” to other car companies, who are under regulatory duress to either build a certain number of EeeeeeeeeVeeeeees or buy “credit” — from Elon — for having built them).

The Model T was the antithesis of Tesla’s cars. The latter are designed to be high-performance and for that reason are very consumptive of both power and raw materials. They are not designed for longevity or owner serviceability. They are operationally fragile in that extreme conditions — such as high heat and extreme cold — greatly diminish their functionality.

The Model T was specifically designed to be as simple and practical as possible. It had no fuel or water pump. It did not even need a small starter battery in order to run, as the engine was designed to be turned over by hand and kept running by magnetos.

It was not “ludicrously” fast or even moderately quick. But — unlike a Tesla — it could and did go almost anywhere, anytime. Ford built it with more ground clearance than a modern SUV and fitted it with skinny rather than steamroller tires; the latter are perfect for getting stuck in snow and mud; the former for fording through them. The Model T was built specifically for the terrible (and usually unpaved) roads of early 20th-century America.

A Tesla is designed for the “perfect” roads of urban hipster 21st-century America. It is terrible for the conditions outside the urban perimeter because there are few to none of the “fast” chargers on which Teslas and other EeeeeeeeeVeeeees depend to get going again in anything less than several hours.

Teslas — and all other EeeeeeeeVeeeeees — use just one fuel, in limited supply. This limits the EeeeeeeeVeeeeeee owner’s options and tethers him to a centralized power generation and distribution grid. There is no other way to power an EeeeeeeVeeee, which means if the power is turned off or rationed, an EeeeeeeeeVeeeee goes nowhere.

The Model T’s engine could easily be modified to operate on a variety of fuels, such as home-brewed alcohol and even kerosene (Fordson tractors, closely related to the Model T were “dual fuel” from the factory). Henry Ford, who grew up on a farm, understood that being dependent on a single type of fuel controlled by a centralized distribution system would limit rather than increase mobility.

Almost anyone could fix — not just service — a Model T. There wasn’t much to go wrong but if it did, a very basic tool set could usually deal with it. When a Tesla needs service, a Tesla Authorized Service Center may be able to deal with it. And you — if you’re the owner — will pay dearly for it.

Even more so for its battery — without which it does not move.

Ford and Musk. The Model T — and the EeeeeeeeeeeVeeeee. Two oppositional archetypes, each embodying the differences between the America that was and the America that’s replacing it.

And not because Americans want it to be replaced.

Ford’s America was organic and voluntary. No one was forced to buy his cars, nor to subsidize their manufacturing. But people — more than 15 million of them — clamorously bought his car and not one of them had to be paid to buy it, either. The Model T dramatically improved the lives of ordinary Americans who — for the first time in history — were free to travel on their own, in their own vehicle, and on no one else’s schedule.

Ford raised the standard of living for average Americans, tens of thousands of whom worked at the Ford plants where Ford cars were made. He paid them more and charged them less for the cars they helped to make. Ford became very rich. But Americans got richer, too.

Elon Musk is richer than Ford ever was by several orders of magnitude. But his riches have come at the expense of average Americans, who have been impoverished by the push to force simple, affordable cars off the market so that government-mandated EeeeeeeeeVeeeeees can own the market.

Ford said:

I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one — and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.

One of the great and terrible ironies of this tale is that Ford reversed the situation that existed before the Model T did, when cars were the expensive toys of the affluent. Tesla — and “electrification,” generally — are reversing that, returning cars to what they were before the introduction of the Model T.

That is to say, Musk is making them once again the expensive toys of the affluent. With the one difference being that this time, ordinary Americans are paying for it.

Eric Peters
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