What auto pioneers might do differently with another chance

Like Tesla car owners, they like the way the company handles sales and service

ghost writer

(Editor’s note: We’ve received another dispatch from our ghost-writer correspondent in that Big Garage in the Sky who sends his articles to us through the old and unplugged fax machine in our office storeroom.)

Walter P. Chrysler was holding forth the other day, rambling on about why gasoline emerged as the fuel of choice over steam or electricity for the automobile in the 20th Century. But everyone’s ears perked up when he suggested that things might have been very different had the car saved from the Olds fire been one of R.E.’s electrics instead of the Curved-Dash Olds.

For those of you down there who aren’t as aware of automotive history as those of us up here, Olds was experimenting with and building prototype vehicles around all three sources of power –steam, electric andr internal combustion – and seemed undecided about which way to go until a fire struck his factory in the spring of 1901 and the only vehicle that could be rescued was the forerunner to the petroleum-powered Curved-Dash Olds, a car that became popular with buyers and helped set the standard for vehicles to follow from all American automakers.

But what if, Walter P. wondered, what if instead of the Curved-Dash car the Olds closest to the factory door that day had been one of R.E.’s steam- or electric-powered vehicles? Might the American auto industry been set on a different course?

At this point, Henry Ford (we like to call him “Hank” because he hates that nickname) chimed in. “Hank” had worked for Tommy Edison’s electric company and they had explored doing battery-powered cars.

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“You know who did things the right way?” Ford asked, answering his own question before anyone else could offer one. “That Muskrat guy.”

“You mean Elon Musk?” asked Crapo (we love calling Billy Durant by his middle name). 

“Yes,” Hank replied. 

“But Hank,” Crapo responded, “you built your fortune on gasoline-fueled cars, not electrics.”

“No, no, no,” came Hank’s retort. “I’m not talking about what fuels the cars Musk builds but the way he sells them. He didn’t make the mistake of having a franchised dealership network. 

“If R.E. and me and the other automotive pioneers had it to do over again, we’d not have franchised dealers, we’d sell direct to customers. 

“Not only would we cut out the middle man, but look at how Tesla owners love the company and how even those who love their Fords and Chevys and such hate dealing with the dealerships.”

“But how could you guys have done that back then, back before there was an internet?” asked Lee Iacocca. “Besides, your cars with their internal combustion engines needed frequent servicing, oil changes and tune-ups and such. Think of the network of sales offices and service facilities you’d have had to create. All Teslas seem to need are software updates.”

“We built assembly plants around the world,” Hank retorted. “We’d have figured out a way to do sales and service and keep our customers and our accountants happy.”

And so it goes up here in the Big Garage in the Sky, where the guys keep an eye on what’s happening back on Earth.

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