Finest hour pt 2: origins of the automobile

The Ford 1920s Model T

Two Frenchmen, Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor were the first to manufacture cars. They were the first to build whole cars in 1889.  They built cars and installed Daimler engines under licence.  Their work led to further improvements but they were not the “inventors” of the car.  There were other inventors as well or let me say that over the years, numerous inventions  of assorted car parts like  internal combustion engine etc took place. Subsequent innovations improved on earlier design.   Their key contributions to car manufacture was the Systeme Panhard. Rene and Levassor didn’t mass-produce their cars. It was American Ransome Eli Olds who first mass-produced cars and started the Olds motor company in Detroit. He was the pioneer of the assembly line production mode. The industrialist Henry Ford improved upon an earlier design and invented his own assembly line which relied on the conveyor belt and was the first commercially-successful mass-production car manufacturer. He sold millions of the ford model T in the 1920s. I will go back a little on Ford’s early days: He said; “i will build a car for the great multitude”. His ford  model T was very successful (approx. 15m of them sold during those days) with it’s production introducing the automobile to America and the world.  This led to the growth in other areas; roads, rapid urbanization and of course it must have influenced city planning for packing etc. Ford’s invention revolutionized transportation; it shortened the time taken to travel from one place to the next. The air was euphoric. Where i come from, old men still remember the days they sold so much coffee to buy their first car. What had not been foreseen was the effects on the general life of everyday people. The availability of the new form of transportation started the urbanization phenomena and ford himself became, in later years, nostalgic for the simpler farm life he had grown up living. So much for that. Several decades later the car has continued to improve in many ways, including the dizzying array of accessories they fit inside  cars nowadays.  However, in terms of performance and aesthetics, the cars of old were much more sturdier and efficient. I have seen many such cars and ridden in one or two and i also like to watch shows where they restore classic cars. One truth i have discovered is that on average, not much goes into making modern cars. There is no craftsmanship like it used to be. With all the new car companies in the industry, it is just a mad rush to fit the pieces together once the chassis is on the assembly line. Take a good look at most of the cars coming on the market today, all sleek and shiny when still new but  once they crash, they get mangled up pretty bad. Like i said in the post prior to this one, i am beginning to believe that without regulation, the car industry will do more harm than good.  A car kills the same way a gun does and there are restrictions on gun ownership. Guns are essential, cars are not. Except for the initial bang when fired, there is little environmental degradation produced by small, personal protection firearms. There are many times i have been appalled by the fact some people don’t see anything wrong with having 3-5 cars! What’s the point of having all those where 1-2 can do the job? I honestly think there ought to be a law against having more than 2 cars ( for a family of 6-8) There ought to be the same type of law against this kind of profligacy  as there is the  one child-policy in China. How do you think they enforced it? I am sure it was initially very unpopular but it passed. How about Singapore’s law against gum? It is simple. It just costs too much to produce a car. It costs iron ore and ties up the finite supply of this metal that could be used to produce appliances.  This resource will not last forever, oil will run out and then we will start a brawl for the remaining barrels of oil. Electric cars are an innovation but it takes water to produce electricity and water is also getting scarce. I already envision a return to the mass transit, tried-and-tested trains and buses.

Finest Hour

Why do we drive? Because it’s convenient. The car as an industrial concept was a long time in development and goes as far back as horse-drawn wagons or further back to other cruder vehicular designs, to carriages, to the Daimler design of the 19th century and on up to the modern cars produced today. Next to smoke stacks, the car is the most distinct feature of today’s landscape. Buying a car is the most important investment to many new employees. It is also modern man’s most flexible means of conveyance, dearest and most personal of his inventions, beloved toy to some and also the carrier of humankind’s civilization. A car is the most obvious indicator of one’s station in life and is also what motivates most people to achieve more so as to drive a better car. Is there a future without cars? It is hard to imagine that but I believe there is. I think somewhere down the road we’ll have to let it go. As much as we don’t like to admit it, it is the major constant and ceaseless polluter of the living environment. All the smog in cities like LA, California, who’s the culprit?  Cars. What’s responsible for the smog hovering over cities in China and India today? Car exhaust fumes. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how much fuel is burnt each day by cars on our roads. We could put that fuel to better use!

If some other form of motorized transportation could be developed, will we be able to give up our cars? The answer for me is yes. As a conscientious human being, i have also realized that iron ore will run out someday, then how will we manufacture cars? From scrap? For how long? How about the so-called ‘black gold’, the current industrial and domestic fuel source? What is the fuel of the future?. As civilization progresses, we are increasingly being faced with doom. There are many perturbing questions but few answers. We are soon coming to the ‘hour of reckoning’. I am preparing for it and i hope others are preparing as well. It’s time we weaned ourselves of automobile dependence and invest in some other transportation mode.