Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"We need faster horses."

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". - Henry Ford

Hmm, sounds quite good but, well, I am not quite sure how I feel about this -- but anyway those are Henry Ford's famous words, as quoted by German Federal President Horst Köhler in a challenging speech on January 14th of this year to ADAC, Germany's and Europe's largest automobile club - a speech widely ignored by the German media.

He then added this: "In other words, mobility has to be thought ahead. You, leading representatives of the car industry, be ahead of your customers! The phrase "that's what the customers wanted" is not set in stone for all eternity. As leaders you have a responsibility to lead. And part of that is to recognize shifts in the tide - on the markets and in society - and to react promptly and get new products ready for the market."

The fact that he then segues into the importance of a massive move into electric cars troubles; it repeats one bad old habit of some parts of the political and administrative establishment in many places, which is to assume that they somehow can make wise determinations about technology. They cannot. That's not their competence, that's not their job. What we expect of wise governance is to set ambitious, but achievable performance parameters, standards if you will, that lead us toward better, cleaner, safer and fairer mobility. But not to tell us which technology is best suited to do the job. They, quit frankly, do not and can not know.

And in any event if you ask me, what we need is slower horses. It's at least a start. Someone please tell that to whoever it is in Germany who continue to resist setting speed limits on the autobahn.

You can read the full text of his talk which touches on matters of mobility, technology, entrepreneurship and governance here: http://www.bundespraesident.de/en/Speeches-,11165.661675/Speech-by-Federal-President-Ho.htm?global.back=/en/-%2c11165%2c0/Speeches.htm%3flink%3dbpr_liste.

Thanks to Markus Heller of Autofrei Wohnen in Berlin and Pascal van den Noort of VeloMondial in Amsterdam for the heads-up.

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