Electric cars, far from being a recent phenomenon, have a rich history that stretches back long before the days of Tesla and General Motors' EV1. From the earliest experiments in the 1830s to the modern advancements of today, the journey of the electric car is one filled with innovation and perseverance. Join us as we take a journey through time, exploring key milestones and forgotten gems in the history of electric vehicles.
Early Electric Vehicles:
Our journey begins in the 1830s with innovators like Scotland's Robert Anderson and Robert Davidson, who crafted early electric carriages powered by non-rechargeable batteries. It wasn't until the late 19th century that rechargeable batteries made electric cars a more viable transportation option. Visionaries like Thomas Parker in England and William Morrison in the United States showcased the potential of electric propulsion at events like the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.
1830s-40s: Robert Anderson and Robert Davidson experiment with early electric carriages.
1859: The lead-acid battery, a significant advancement in battery technology, is invented.
1890: William Morrison introduces a six-passenger electric wagon capable of achieving a maximum speed of 14 mph.
1898: Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat sets the first electric vehicle record for the fastest land vehicle in the world at 39.24 mph.
Commercial Success and Innovation:
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of commercially viable electric vehicles. Companies like Electrobat and Columbia revolutionized urban transportation with electric taxis and carriages, while individuals like Ransom Eli Olds and Ferdinand Porsche experimented with electric propulsion alongside internal combustion engines. The Detroit Electric Company, in particular, stood out with its silent, city-friendly vehicles that found favor among affluent urban dwellers.
1900: Ferdinand Porsche introduces the Lohner-Porsche Mixte, the world's first petrol-electric hybrid vehicle.
1902: The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company launches electric cars and trucks, contributing to the growing popularity of electric vehicles.
1914: The Detroit Electric car is introduced, utilizing Thomas Edison's nickel-iron battery to power its electric motor.
The 1922 Milburn Electric represents the final evolution of early American all-electric cars, marking the end of an era for electric propulsion in the automotive industry.
The affordability and range of gasoline-powered vehicles, exemplified by Henry Ford's Model T, posed a significant threat to the electric car market. Innovations like the electric starter further cemented the dominance of gasoline engines, relegating electric vehicles to niche markets such as urban taxis and delivery vehicles.
Revivals and Resurgences:
In 1942, Gregoire’s small car, the “Tudor” had broke records for electric automobiles: 150 miles at an average speed of 27 miles per hour without recharging the batteries. During the war, when gasoline was not available, 150 cars were manufactured.
1966: The 1966 Chevrolet Electrovair II boasted 115 horsepower and was powered by a 532-volt silver-oxide battery pack located under the front hood. However, its limited range and the high cost and short lifespan of its batteries were significant drawbacks.
1971: The Tampa Bay Automobile museum in collaboration with the engineers at Polypack have modified a CGE Grégoire Electric to use a hydrogen fuel cell to keep the batteries charged. Hydrogen is stored in the black cylindrical tank behind the passenger seat. The fuel cell is in the stainless steel box behind the hydrogen tank and the fan at the rear vents the fuel cell.
1974: Sebring Vanguard introduces the CitiCar, one of the first mass-produced electric vehicles, contributing to the resurgence of electric cars.
1996: General Motors introduces the EV1, the first mass-produced electric vehicle of the modern era, marking a milestone in the rebirth of electric cars.
The turn of the 21st century brought renewed interest in electric cars, fueled by advancements in battery technology and environmental awareness. Companies like Tesla Motors emerged as pioneers in the field, producing high-performance electric vehicles like the Roadster and Model S that challenged perceptions of electric cars as slow and impractical.
2008: In 2003, engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning established Tesla Motors with a focus on electric vehicles. Five years later, in 2008, Tesla introduced its inaugural electric car, the Roadster.
2016: The Chevrolet Bolt EV is unveiled and becomes Motor Trend's Car of the Year, further accelerating the transition to electric vehicles in the automotive industry.
2021: The Rivian R1T takes the crown as the first electric truck to take up space in consumer driveways, with the startup company delivering its first vehicles in fall 2021.
From the earliest experiments of the 19th century to the cutting-edge technology of the present day, the history of electric vehicles is a testament to human innovation and perseverance. As we look to the future, electric cars continue to evolve and adapt, offering sustainable transportation solutions for generations to come.
Title: Worth the Watt: A Brief History of the Electric Car, 1830 to Present
Author: Kevin A. Wilson
Publication Date: March 31, 2023
Source: Car and Driver
Title: The History of the Electric Car: A Timeline
Author: David M. Kuchta
Updated Date: January 13, 2022
The Story of the 1966 Chevrolet Electrovair, the Electric Corvair You Never Knew Existed