Is Elon Musk the New Henry Ford? Here Are 5 Things They Both Have In Common

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By Mike Sygula


“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you’re not innovating enough.” – Elon Musk


1. They both created the electric car
Everyone knows that Musk co-created the best modern electric car — Tesla. However, not many people know that electric cars were around for much longer than that. In fact, in 1914 Henry Ford was working on his own electric vehicle. Here is a photo of one of the first prototypes:ford second prototype ev1

Ford joined forces with Edison, however, the project never succeeded. There are no clear explanations why.

2. Creating the car for the masses.
Before Henry Ford released his famous model T in 1908, cars were only available for the rich. At that time, the typical cost of an automobile was around $2000, which was the equivalent to 5 years of wages. By 1926, the Model T was on sale for only $260, making it much more affordable.  At one point, Ford was producing half of the world’s cars. In 1999, the Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th century by Car of The Century Competition.

100 Years later, Elon Musk’s grand plan is to make electric cars affordable and reliable. Before his company Tesla Motors came into existence in 2003, electric cars had a maximum range of 50 miles, and normally, charging would take many hours which was very inconvenient. Now, you can drive a Tesla car for up to 300 miles before recharging the battery again, and the company offers a network of charging stations called Tesla Superchargers where you can get up to 170 miles worth of electricity in just 30 minutes. Till recently, Tesla owners could use these stations for free! New buyers will have to pay, but the cost is still less than petrol, and they will get 1000 miles worth of charging for free, each year.

Tesla started out with more luxurious vehicles, but has since perfected its technology, and can now offer more affordable alternatives, like the model 3 — basic models cost around $35,000. In 2016, Tesla opened reservations for the model 3, which they started shipping slowly in 2017. Over 400,000 reservations were conducted in the first few weeks, since the company unveiled it. The best part is that none of those people have even driven the car yet. The automotive industry never experienced anything like this.

3. Gigafactory vs Ford’s River Rouge Complex
Ford built the world’s biggest vertically integrated auto facility, the Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan. He decided to fully control the manufacturing process, by creating his own infrastructure capable of producing individual parts cheaper, and as many as would be required. Historian, David L. Lewis wrote: “By the mid 1920 the Rouge was easily the greatest industrial domain in the world” and was “without parallel in sheer mechanical efficiency”

Roughly one hundred years after Ford started building his facility, Musk started working on Tesla’s Gigafactory. For Elon Musk, in order to accelerate production of Tesla cars and dominate the market as a battery producer, he had to control the production of lithium ion batteries and not rely on other producers and suppliers. Therefore he created the Gigafactory, located in Nevada, its goal was to become the largest producer of lithium ion batteries in the world. In the official grand opening video from Gigafactory, Musk talks about how the building is a state of art, in terms of optimising productivity. Their plan, is to have several such facilities in the world and completely dominate the battery market.

We could say that Musk is replicating what Ford did one hundred years ago with his vertically integrated auto facility, however, Musk is taking things to the next level as he focuses also on battery production and solar panel production through Tesla’s subsidiary Solar City. As a result, Tesla builds its own network of charging stations that can generate electricity through their solar panels and store it in their batteries; which could be equivalent to Henry Ford having his own network of petrol stations.

4. Both are very innovative
Henry Ford used the moving assembly line, and other mass production techniques to significantly speed up the process of creating new cars and reducing the cost, allowing for mass adoption of automobiles. Before, they would only be available for the wealthy few. On the other hand, Elon Musk with Tesla’s supercharging network of stations created an infrastructure that helps Tesla owners (and now also owners of other EVs) to charge their cars a lot quicker, and in much more convenient ways than just charging at home for example.

5. Both want to improve lives of millions
Henry Ford accomplished his dream of making an affordable car for the masses. He also doubled salaries of his workers to a famous $5 per day. He did it partly because he wanted them to afford the cars they were producing. This move infuriated other factory owners.

Musk, however, wants people to drive for cheaper, but more importantly without polluting the environment. At one time, Tesla opened their patents to everyone, allowing other automakers to use their technologies. The move seemed bizarre in such a competitive world.

Musk was asked about his reasons for doing so in a TV interview. Here is what he had to say about it:
“If we’re all in a ship together and there’s some holes in the ship, and we’re bailing water out, and we have a great design for a bucket, even if we’re bailing out way better than everybody else, we should probably share the bucket design.”

What Musk meant here, is that they want to help improve the development of other car companies producing electrical vehicles, because ultimately, the struggle for a better world is one that we all share.

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