100 Years of Mobility
Lessons from Grandpa Fred
by Mark Norman
Earlier this year my family discovered the journal of my wife’s grandfather recounting his drive from Detroit to San Francisco in 1926 with two friends. Grandpa Fred was 24 at the time, having immigrated to the US just a few years before.
The notes read like a AAA log: odometer readings, where they stayed, what they ate, and what they spent on gas. And a lot of auto repairs—56 flat tires to be exact, each earning a notch in the bumper. Tires lasted about 500 miles back then. They often ran out of gas—about every 3 weeks.
It got me thinking about how much has changed in 100 years of motoring. Better roads, and better vehicles. Apps to locate everything from the cheapest gas to the best avocado toast… and even roadside assistance.
And a few things haven’t changed. Grandpa Fred worked odd jobs during that summer that would resonate more with my 24-year-old and the gig economy than any careers his children had. He even delivered lamps for a department store (DoorDash?). Fred’s couch-surfing with friends and relatives would have been right at home with Airbnb.
A few things about the car are similar—a single speed transmission meant he didn’t need to ‘drive stick’. When a used Honda with a manual transmission recently showed up on campus for my daughter, I was not her favorite person.
And worries about ‘range’ and running out of fuel are just as relevant in 2023 as they were in 1926. Some of Grandpa Fred’s fill-ups were $0.16/gallon (!!) while others were $0.40. Not dissimilar to price differences across public charging networks today.
I remember my driving my first full EV over 10 years ago. It had been charging 24 hours (on a 110 outlet), so I figured it could make my 15-mile commute home. I was careful to take the most direct route, calling to share my location every 3-4 miles. I was so relieved it made it up the hill near the house, only to have it coast to a stop at the end of my block, completely out of juice. Mercifully there were contractors working on the block who helped me push the little (but two ton!) EV to my driveway. Grandpa Fred would have been proud.
So what’s next? We’ve seen some big changes already. For people living in cities, Zipcar provided ‘wheels when you want ‘em’ without many of the expenses and hassles of ownership. Waze has been a game changer for trip planning and navigating congestion. Tesla is building increasingly affordable EVs and companies like Carmax have helped transform used car buying and selling. At FM Capital, we’re privileged to work with the entrepreneurs and investors who are shaping and scaling the ways we’ll move people and goods tomorrow. As we launch Fund IV this quarter, Grandpa Fred would enjoy the ride more than ever.