Leadership Lessons from a Retrofitted Lincoln
By John Clement
Neil Young has a vision that has leadership lessons for agriculture. Most know the singer-songwriter as either the crooner of acoustic ballads or the prototype of grunge rock. But the former Canadian musician is also sympathetic to the plight of family farmers and has been a strong force and founder of the U.S. Farm Aid concerts. He also fuels his tour bus with U.S.-based biofuels derived from the crops generated by farmers.
Young has now taken on a new project that’s turning heads. Frustrated by the U.S. dependence on foreign oil, plus concerned about climate change from automobile emissions, the singer-songwriter is dedicating a chunk of his own money and time into a project that could shame American automobile companies into changing their approach to manufacturing and product design. Quite simply, Young is taking a 1959 Lincoln Continental that weighs over two-and-a-half tons and is retrofitting it to run on electricity while obtaining 100 miles per gallon on the fuel it does consume.
Entitled Lincvolt, the open source project is envisioned by Young as a practical way of demonstrating how good old American innovation can allow us to have our cake and eat it too. In Young’s vision, that includes a new generation of large cars that are environmentally friendly, deliver high mileage, reinvent the American car industry, create markets for alternative fuels and reduce international tensions regarding oil supplies.
Young is well on his way to achieving his goals. So far, the Lincoln has delivered 68 miles per gallon on a total budget that is astonishingly low compared to that typically given to research and development purposes. There’s even a possibility that the car will generate more power than it consumes with the opportunity to sell to the power grid. Young plans to eventually take the 19.5-foot-long behemoth on a cross-country tour, with people able to track both its progress and efficiency through the Lincvolt website.
Although the Neil Young Lincoln Continental project isn’t strictly agricultural, it does contain useful lessons for those involved in farming and public policy design. Young has maintained a rigorous commitment to the marketplace, pursued leading edge innovation and has demonstrated a practical leadership centered in what works on the ground. As the agricultural community strives to develop new options for safety net programs, or new opportunities for the hog industry, it’s important to keep a clear eye on the goals we hope to achieve and be committed to both innovation and practical leadership that works for farmers. Like Neil Young’s old Lincoln, agriculture may just need a retrofit that combines the best of the old with the new.
Editor's Note: John Clement is the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org/index.html. CFFO is supported by 4,353 family farmers across Ontario.
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