American author and astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, once said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” So, as we thrust forward into a science fiction like world of autonomous cars and emission free vehicles, it’s time to take a look back at one of the earliest and most influential vehicle types: the Model T Ford. Historically, the Model T will be remembered in both positive and negative lights, but its impact on the world and today’s automotive scene can never be doubted.
From 1908 to 1927, the Model T dominated the American streets, comprising as much as 40 percent of the cars on the road at one point. Popularly referred to at the time as “Tin Lizzie” and “flivver”, the Model T was made affordable to the common man with an asking price of just $300 in 1925. Of course, most people realize that this was made possible by Henry Ford’s development of the cheap assembly line work style, which went down as Ford’s most recognized innovation. However, it wasn’t the only innovation brought about by the Model T Ford. Some others include:
- Being the first company to use left hand drive, which is still popular here in America. Across the pond, however, they do like their steering wheel to be on the right side of the vehicle.
- Being the first to have a separate head and block. In a recent article from Popular Mechanics, author Lindsay Brooke says, “The Model T’s engine pioneered the use of a removable cylinder head, and cylinders that were cast integrally with the engine block. Both are mainstays of modern auto engines.”
But with the innovation and progress brought about by the Model T, many historians and critics like to point out the often forgotten negatives. In a recent Time magazine article entitled “The 50 Worst Cars of All-Time,” the 1909 Ford Model T actually came in as the 2nd worst car ever! Some of this had to do with a poorly put together product, but the main complaint with this Model T is that it was given to too many people too soon.
According to the article, “The Model T- whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse’s ‘disassembly line’- conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers’ boots.”
For current automakers, there is a lot to learn from the successes and failures of the Model T. Over the next few decades, automakers will be attempting to transform the roads into one that is dominated with autonomous cars. According to a recent IHS report, “In all, there should be nearly 54 million self-driving cars in global use by 2035.” By 2050, it is expected that nearly all cars will have some sort of self-driving component. Fortunately, it seems that many environmental issues have been shored up and that there are a lot of positives going on. But will automakers lead us into potential, unforeseen dangers (as seen with the Model T) by forcing change at too fast a rate? Hopefully, the answer is no because we have already learned from the past and are moving forward in a progressive way. Only time will tell.