‘The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty — a fad.’ — American banker to potential investor in 1903
Even at the dawn of the 20th century, your crazy uncle was spouting off nonsense about things he didn’t know anything about.
I guess back in those days, social media rants took place at the local church, tavern or letter to the editor. New technologies have always brought out the doubters and naysayers, I guess.
One hundred years ago. Sarah T. Bushnell published a biography called “The Truth About Henry Ford” in which she told the story of the banker who advised the attorney that drew up incorporation papers in 1903 for Ford’s automotive company.
The attorney had been asked to invest in the Ford Motor Co., but was hesitant and sought out advice from his banker.
“My advice is not to buy the stock,” the banker said. “You might make money for a year or two, but in the end you would lose everything you put in. The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty — a fad.”
We all know how that turned out.
Read more on the turn-of-the-20th-century opposition to the horseless carriage in “Get a Horse!”, an article written in the 1920s by one of the inventors of the automobile, Alexander Winton.
Fast forward 100 years.
We’re at the beginning of a revolutionary transition in which electric vehicles will replace gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. Auto manufacturers are building more EVs each year with commitments to make electric vehicles the vast majority of their production by the 2030s.
There seem to be an incredible number of Teslas already on Oklahoma roads.
Despite the upward trajectory and inevitable march of technology, I’m seeing rants against EVs every day on the social media platforms where I hang out. A lot of ‘crazy uncles’ are poo-pooing the potential of electric vehicles, along with alternative power generation from wind and solar energy.
I’ve seen photos and graphs and charts that allege that electric energy is just as harmful to the environment as fossil fuels because of the mining for minerals and the ultimate disposal of batteries.
If you Google “electric vehicles” and “scam,” you get dozens of articles showing that the world is being played.
I’m no expert, but I choose to believe that scientists and innovators have taken all of that into consideration.
So, I assume a lot of folks — especially Oklahomans — are feeling threatened by alternative power and transportation because of our long-standing ties to the oil and gas industry.
It’s sort of ironic that oil and gas-dominated Oklahoma is home to one of the world’s first large scale electric vehicle battery remanufacturing and recycling ventures, Spiers New Technologies.
Founded less than a decade ago by Dirk Spiers, the company has shown phenomenal growth, quickly outgrowing its original 23,000 square feet of manufacturing space to now occupying its current 200,000 square feet in its operations center along SE 89th Street just east of I-35.
Spiers also operates a European location and provides battery lifecycle services to virtually every automaker with the exception of Tesla. The company showed such potential that it was acquired in 2021 by Cox Automotive.
I’ve had the opportunity to interview Dirk on several occasions and hear his views on the future of electric vehicles. You can read an earlier post with Dirk here.
But I want to share some of his perspective again in this post, because I think it’s both worthy and accurate.
“In the next five years, the cost of an electric vehicle will be cheaper than a combustion engine,” Spiers said. “So, we are only at the beginning of where we are going.
“The Devon tower — and I think it is a great building — is now more than 50 percent empty. That shows you how they (and Oklahoma City) misread the future. And now the Devon tower stands there as a symbol of Oklahoma City prosperity, but it is half empty. A relic of an industry in decline.
“The good thing is that you know eventually that everyone will drive an electric car. Those cards have been played. So, we are on the right side of history”
Although he added that the transition is not going to happen all at once, we’re watching Dirk’s predictions playing out every day.
Meanwhile, I’ll end this with the long-ago perspective of another futurist, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice H.B. Brown in a 1908 article entitled “The Horseless Carriage Means Trouble.”
“The automobile is doubtless a most useful vehicle, but one is not likely to lavish upon it the fond attention he bestows upon his horse or dog. A man may admire his own carriage, but his affections are reserved for the horse that draws it and the dog that follows it. Whatever the outcome may be, every true admirer of the horse will pray that it may not be the extinction or dethronement of the noblest of all domestic animals.”
Now there’s your crazy uncle.