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It’s Back to the Future, Says Bill Ford

But will battery cars do better than they did when his great-grandfather was around?

by on Apr.16, 2010

Thomas Edison looks over a battery-powered Ford, favored by some early motorists, including Henry Ford's wife Clara.

Everything old is new again, goes the old refrain, and nowhere is that more true than in the auto industry.  Though they may seem high-tech, primitive navigation systems first appeared in the earliest days of the 20th Century, and fuel-saving CVT transmissions date back even further.

Then there’s the electric vehicle, which has suddenly became the hot topic on this year’s auto show circuit.  But if you’d been around for the first big U.S. car show, a century ago in New York, you’d have discovered there were as many battery-powered vehicles as those running on gasoline.  Even Henry Ford got into the act, producing an electric flivver for his wife Clara, and asking old buddy Thomas Edison to try to come up with a longer-range battery.

“They’ve been around really for the past century or so, but they really haven’t had mass-market appeal,” suggested the industry pioneer’s great-grandson, and now Ford Motor Co. executive chairman, Bill Ford Jr. 

Will they now?  That’s the big question that the Ford heir raised at the close of this year’s annual conference of automotive executives and engineers, the SAE World Congress.

The modern electric vehicle, using the latest in lithium-ion technology, “appears (to be) the biggest came-changer” in the industry, said Ford, during an SAE speech.

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He noted that the maker is lining up five vehicles that can run, at least for moderate distances, on battery power alone – a figure that doesn’t include conventional gas-electric models, like the Ford Fusion Hybrid.