Stronach the Henry Ford of our time
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jun 9, 2009)
When we watched Barack Obama give his acceptance speech after winning the U.S. election, many who remember spoke of how it reminded them of when John F. Kennedy was in office. JFK brought hope for a nation dealing with its own issues of the era while promising to take America to the moon if they only believed and contributed in their own small way.
Fast forward to a year when the biggest automaker in the world, GM, files for bankruptcy. Layoffs, plant closures, the ripple affects are felt throughout two nations.
What went wrong? How could the model of the American dream end up in such a train wreck?
What happened to walking on the moon, baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet?
Where's the innovation that made America the arrogant beast most Canadians love to poke fun at?
Each American voter was asked if Obama was the man who would turn America around and bring it back to prosperity. Perhaps, but he is not the only one.
It turns out Magna International's chairperson, Austrian-born Canadian Frank Stronach, is today's real visionary. He brought his dream of mass producing an electric car to Ottawa last week in hopes of gaining government support. He certainly knows what he is doing after unveiling a compact prototype he developed with Ford.
Stronach isn't the first to try this, but you have to go quite a way back in automotive history to another era of innovation to find the first electric car produced in 1834 in New Hampshire.
It was pretty much a carriage with an electric motor and a nonrechargeable battery. At the time they were more popular than gasoline-engine vehicles since they were less noisy and more dependable. The electric car held the land speed record (105 km/h, 65 mph) until 1899.
However, by the 20th century and Henry Ford's ability to mass-produce a gasoline car for half the price of an electric car, the era was over until the invention of the transistor introduced a whole new generation of ideas. Cheap and readily available gasoline meant this research was put back on the shelf.
Stronach wants to bring back that era, which in many ways resembles the old, as the fall of mighty GM has made way for smaller players to get involved. Sound familiar?
The great news is he wants to build his car in Canada within three years, and isn't looking for any government handouts -- although a nice low-cost loan would help create jobs sooner, he says.
By 2021 Stronach estimates 30 per cent of vehicles sold will be electric. The car on display in Ottawa is capable of 160 kilometres before a household charge is needed.
This is exactly the kind of entrepreneurial vision that this country, and the world, needs.
Say goodbye to oil-producing nations holding us hostage, and hello to a much more enviro- friendly means of transportation.
However, some critics say producing electricity for a nation of these vehicles won't be cheap either, and the coal or gas needed to meet a higher demand for electricity is just as harmful to the planet.
Can you say nuclear? The nuclear alternative just happens to be another growing industry in Canada.
Whatever the future holds for Stronach's dream of a Canadian electric car plant, he certainly has captured our attention, and proves times like these are truly those of opportunity if we have the nerve to leap.
Stronach's biggest challenge will be very similar to Henry Ford's. Like the Model T, he must mass produce this car, make it dependable and, most importantly, affordable for everyday life. I hope he succeeds.
The Scott Thompson Show airs 4 to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday on News/Talk 900 CHML. Visit ScottThompsonTalk.com.
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