Government forces carmakers to be more Henry Ford – and it will be good for them

Things are looking up for people’s lungs and the climate after the government moved to bring the most significant change to motoring since the invention of the car itself, writes Chris Large, Co-CEO of charity Global Action Plan. 

Petrol and diesel cars will no longer be sold in the UK come 2030, with hybrid sales eliminated from 2035. The welcome end of burning fossil fuels inside cars is in sight, with a huge step towards clean air.

We at Global Action Plan warmly welcome this government intervention, as do many in the industry and among the public at large.

This can be an incredible success for all – especially carmakers – if the spirit of Henry Ford is rediscovered across the whole automotive sector.

There has been staunch opposition to the 2030 date by the car lobby of the long-time largest vehicle manufacturers, and in response to the 2030/35 announcements the SMMT industry group has stated that it will ‘look to others’ to be ‘reassuring consumers’ that electric vehicles ‘will deliver their mobility need’.

This is not at all how Henry Ford operated. Henry may not have actually made the often-quoted remark, ‘if I asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse’, but it has stuck as a quote because it encapsulates his approach perfectly.

He could see that a motor car would offer personal mobility and commercial transport options that would improve lives and industry immeasurably, even if his customers couldn’t even picture a car.

Ford heard what people said they wanted, but gave them something that would be beyond their wildest dreams, even if it meant convincing them of its merits.

Many households would undoubtedly be served better by having an electric car right now. By ‘better’ I mean, having a family car without breathing in exhaust gases, home charging instead of petrol station visits, and avoiding petrol price increases.

This summer, we surveyed 1,000 households that have two cars and at least one child. 59% of them have a petrol or diesel second car, which they drive under 50 miles a day, park off-road, whilst also having a first car for all the long trips they need to make.

Nationally, that means that about 5.7m cars are already perfectly suited to being fully electric, with the technology that was used to build the first Nissan Leaf in 2010.

The automotive industry seems to be obsessed with producing electric cars that can do 300 miles on a single charge, at which point people will ‘accept’ trading in their old polluting diesels.

If the automotive industry had thought like Henry Ford 10 years ago, they would have identified that fully electric cars were the perfect about-town car for 5.7m families DESPITE what drivers think.

Ford would have set about convincing drivers that what they really need in their lives is something like a Nissan Leaf with 60-mile battery range, and set about mass-producing millions of them as cheaply as possible.

Instead, we have waited ten years for long-range EVs that are out of the price bracket of the vast majority, and we only have 0.1m fully electric cars on UK roads.

Meanwhile, 5.7m families drive kids around in diesel and petrol cars, 23m petrol and diesel cars have been sold in the UK in a decade, and the car industry has pumped over $35bn a year into advertising them.

The situation is actually much more promising for major manufacturers than they might think.

Many drivers are already convinced, and the ‘sell’ is nowhere near as new and complicated as Ford faced in the horse-to-car conversion market.

There is an enormous unserved demand for electric vehicles. In our same survey quoted earlier, 69% of households said that they wish for manufacturer-led technology to stop exhaust emissions from all cars, and half believed that manufacturers are not providing the right cars to meet their needs.

One way to make electric cars affordable is to have a much smaller battery. We wouldn’t sell a 2-bed homeowner a gas boiler large enough to heat a hospital, so why make short-range drivers pay for a 300-mile battery they will never use?

Looking to another innovation, perhaps embracing a service delivery model (as opposed to selling a product), with longer term financing models can also help to reduce the annual or up-front cost of buying an electric car.

The government has given the right signal – for people’s health and the planet – and the established carmakers can make a success of meeting the 2030 target if they embrace their inner Henry Ford.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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