Last week, we talked about the arduous trail that led me to purchase our first electric car, a Tesla Model 3, a practical and economical machine. But I think the far more interesting discussion is how we as a society got here in the first place.
Electric cars are nothing new. In fact, they existed before Henry Ford began churning out the mass-produced Model T over 100 years ago. Ford lowered the cost of automobiles to make them affordable to the common person. However, there were drawbacks. Like customization.
Ford was famously quoted as saying “you can have any color you want so long as it is black.” Ford made no attempt to paint cars different colors. Interestingly, Tesla’s base car is painted black with other colors (white, red, blue, gray) coming at a slight premium, perhaps in homage to the Model T?
Another drawback was gasoline, the fuel that the internal combustion engine utilizes to make it go. Gas is a shortened hydrocarbon chain made by shortening much longer hydrocarbon chains obtained naturally by pumping crude oil out of the ground.
A gasoline engine burns this hydrocarbon to make energy, water and carbon monoxide (the latter being a poisonous gas).
As early as the late 1800s, world leaders began to realize that this emerging technology was critical to the future of nation-states. So, they sent out scouts, emissaries, engineers, diplomats, and soldiers to find and secure this oil, often creating colonies to protect their holdings.
Surely, there were other raw materials involved other than oil but crude was definitely at the top of the list. And while colonization existed before oil, this raw material significantly increased the urgency of securing its supply.
Wars were often fought over this resource. The discovery of oil in an area often made the region highly desirable to other nations who would think nothing of moving in and setting up shop.
A clear example of this was Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. An industrialized powerhouse, Japan’s politicians realized that their resource-poor island could not support a modern economy. They looked to China, Korea and the South Pacific region as the solution. The armies they built ravaged and killed to acquire the resources needed.
And one of these was oil. By the end of the war, Japan was so low on oil that the great battleship Yamato was sent on a one-way suicide mission to Okinawa with only enough fuel for a one-way trip. Petroleum was more valuable than the crown jewel of the Japanese navy.
Look at the Middle East. Of course, wars have been fought for 2,000 years in this region due to its central location as the “crossroads of the world” and its epicenter for three world religions. But, over the last 100 years, crude oil has become a key political issue.
The world depends on Mideast oil. Tankers carrying millions of barrels of crude oil sail from regional ports daily. The world economy rises and falls depending on events there that may threaten the world’s oil supply.
Somali pirates, with their little inflatable boats and AK-47’s, have done much to stress the mightiest nations on Earth who are worried that their tankers can’t slip past this poor and impoverished African nation.
One may argue that much of the history we have seen in the 20th century was influenced or dictated by this dependence on oil, created by Henry Ford and his Model T.
And it was all entirely avoidable.
What if Ford had decided to mass produce an electric car and not a gasoline-powered vehicle? How would the world look today? Probably far different.
And why have American auto manufacturers been so resistant to creating a viable electric car? Sure, there have been half-hearted attempts over the years but nothing ever stuck. Ford, GM and Chrysler hide behind the mantra that “the public won’t buy it, so we won’t make it.”
That’s just dumb business. Nissan, Tesla, and Mitsubishi are proving that, with viable technology, the American public is willing to buy an electric car. The future will be in the hands of innovative companies like these while the dinosaurs of the 20th century will slowly fade into oblivion.
We may now be seeing a realization that electricity is the far better energy source for many things in life. It is renewable, storable and costs nothing to obtain. That is, if we can beat back government entities that try to regulate our ability to gather in what is free from the sun.
I thought I could do this in two parts. Nope. Next week we’ll look at what the future holds for electric technology and the changes to our society.
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and thinks that we could be driving flying cars like the Jetsons in a few years. He can be reached at [email protected].