Has one man ever disrupted so many industries in so short a time as Elon Musk has done? Last week, Daimler — parent company of Mercedes — announced it was investing a billion dollars to retool its factories in America so they can build electric cars. Musk tweaked Daimler with a tweet, suggesting they had better add another zero to their investment if they want to have a prayer of competing with him and Tesla. Now Ford is putting together a new internal unit known as Team Edison to claw its way back into the electric car game after years of neglect under former CEO Mark Fields.
After showing Fields the door, Bill Ford, the great grandson of Henry Ford, told the press, “If you look at the technology coming into our industry, the competitors coming into our industry…we really need transformational leadership.” To replace Fields, Ford chose Jim Hackett, who ran the show at Steelcase for 25 years and was already working at Ford as the head of its autonomous car division.
Bill Ford praised Hackett at the time, saying “Jim took a company that defined itself as a furniture maker, and Jim said, ‘No, let’s imagine the future of the workplace. Let’s imagine how people are going to want to work in the future, and then lets build the company around that.'”
Now Hackett has repaid Bill Ford’s faith in him by creating Team Edison, whose mission is to identify and develop electric-vehicle partnerships with other companies, including suppliers, in some global markets, according to Sherif Marakby, vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification. The new team will be based in Detroit but have offices in Europe and China. It will report to Ted Cannis, who has been named global director of electrification.
The name Edison is, of course, a tribute to Thomas Edison, the famous inventor who fought a bitter battle with George Westinghouse more than a century ago over whether DC or AC would become the preferred standard for distributing electricity over a grid. Edison lost that fight. It is also interesting to note that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison both proposed building electric cars before gasoline powered cars took center stage.
The world is rapidly running out of tinkerers and inventors from long ago to pay tribute to. Tesla honors Nikola Tesla, the man who first conceived the idea of electric motors that run on alternating current. A startup in Salt Lake City has borrowed his first name to make Nikola Motors, which says it is building electric tractors for the trucking industry.
Faraday Future is an all but defunct electric car startup that pays homage to Michael Faraday, the English scientist who did groundbreaking work on the relationship between electricity and magnetism. The names of André-Marie Ampère and James Watt are still available, but the list of pioneers in the field of electromechanical innovation grows noticeably short from there.