Life With Cars by Henry Ford Jr.

Ford Coupelet ad from 1915The premier American industrialist knew a thing or two about cars. Writing nearly forty years ago, Mr. Ford was sufficiently wise to recognize the limitations of the automobile despite the freedom of mobility that it afforded. He cautioned that we would have to balance that freedom to move with the real-world constraints in a time very different from that of the Model T heyday.

Back when the Coupelet hit American streets, this two-door version of the country’s first affordable automobile must have signaled that new era of freedom. It was even more affordable than the sedan when it rolled off the line in 1915.

The uncertainties that cloud the future of the automobile today were becoming clear back in 1973 – nearly four decades ago – when Henry Ford penned this piece for the New York Times (published November 28, 1973).

“The trouble with cars, to adapt the old saying, is that you can’t live with them or without them. We in Detroit are told that we produce an extravagant luxury that can no longer be tolerated. We are admonished, on the other hand, not to push up the price of one of life’s necessities.

“Even before the Arab oil embargo, policymakers and editorial writers were concluding that one part of the solution to the energy crisis, the environmental crisis and the urban crisis is to build mass transit with highway funds and to persuade drivers to walk, ride bicycles or take a train.

“New car sales in the United States, on the other hand, have increased by more than a million a year during the past two model years. Nearly one-third of all American families now own at least two cars, and 95 percent of all urban traveling is done by car.

“Cars and mass transit are both here to stay, but neither one is the best possible answer to the important travel needs of today’s cities. For all its flexibility, the car is not the most efficient way to get to or move around in very busy places. For all its efficiency in carrying large numbers of people along busy corridors, mass transit is not flexible enough.

“What we need are new kinds of vehicles and systems designed to carry people quickly, conveniently and efficiently where neither cars nor conventional transit can do the job as well. As these new systems are developed and built, cars will become more useful than ever because they will be used where they work best.”

How little has changed since then. Indeed new volatility in commodity markets, together with trepidation about climate change, suggest we would do well to reconsider our relationship with the automobile.  See the original [PDF] for the full text.