a brief history of electric vehicles
1828 Hungarian Ányos Jedlik invents the principle of dynamo self-excitation, and with it the world's first electric motor.
1832 Scotsman Robert Anderson invents the first crude electric carriage.
1835 Dutchman Sibrandus Stratingh builds and demonstrates a small model car powered by electricity.
1835 Vermont blacksmith Thomas Davenport develops America's first electric motor, using it to power a small model car on a short section of track.
1837 Davenport receives U.S. Patent No. 132: the first American patent on an electric machine.
1838 German physicist Moritz Jacobi successfully drives an electric-powered paddleboat down the river Neva in St. Petersburg.
1882: The Ayrton & Perry tricycle (Scientific American)
1842 Scotsman Robert Davidson builds the Galvani, the first practical electric locomotive. The four-wheeled machine is powered by non-rechargeable zinc-acid batteries. Tested on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line, it reaches a top-speed of 4mph. Due to the non-rechargeability of its batteries and the high cost of zinc, powering the Galvani is found to be 40 times as expensive as its coal equivalent. Despite this, steam engineers fear competition from the electric locomotive, and smash the Galvani in its shed.
1859 French physicist Gaston Planté invents the world's first rechargeable battery - the lead-acid cell. A variation of Planté's invention is still used in electric cars today.
1881 Fellow Frenchman Camille Faure improves on Planté's design, increasing its storage capacity and efficiency.
1881 Gustave Trouvé of France makes use of Planté's battery in an electrically-powered tricycle. Using two electric motors to propel two chains, the 350 lb trike moves at a speed of about 7 mph.
1882 Englishmen William Ayrton and John Perry develop an electric tricycle that uses ten of Planté's lead acid cells in series. Providing 1/2 horsepower, the speed can be changed by switching the lead acid batteries on and off one after another. Capable of a range between 10 and 25 miles, depending on terrain, Ayrton and Perry's tricycle can reach a maximum speed of 9 mph. It is the very first vehicle to have electric lighting.
1882 Gustave Phillipart builds an electric tramcar in Belgium and ships it to London for experimental trials.
1885 Carl Benz demonstrates first internal combustion engined vehicle.
1890 English inventor Thomas Parker electrifies the London Underground, making it the first underground railway system to employ electric trains.
1892: William Morrison's electric car (Scientific American)
1890 New Yorker Andrew L. Riker reintroduces America to electric vehicles with his 150 lb electric tricycle. Using a 100 lb battery, it has a range of 30 miles and a top speed of 13 mph.
1892 William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, designs America's first electric car. Equipped with a 4 hp motor and a 24-cell battery, which weighed 768 lbs (half the vehicle's weight), it is capable of reaching speeds of up to 14 mph.
1893 Morrison's electric car is the only American car to be shown alongside five European electric cars at the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.
1895 The phrase "horseless carriage" is first used by E.P Ingersoll in the USA publication The Horseless Age, and the word "automobile" is used for the first time by the Pall Mall Gazette of London.
1896 Building off their earlier model known as the Electrobat, Henry Morris and Pedro Salom of Philadelphia construct their two-seater Electric Road Wagon.
1896 Morris & Salom's Electric Road Wagon is quickly developed into a series of coupes and hansoms for use as taxis in New York. On November 1st, under the name of the Electric Vehicle Company, a fleet of 12 hansoms and 1 coupé hit the streets. Operating with rear-wheel steering, the vehicles have two 1/2 hp motors, and use 44 lead-acid cells, giving it a total range of 30 miles.
1896: The Electric Road Wagon (Scientific American)
Constituting the first motor vehicle service in the United States, they are intended to compete against the horse-drawn carriage. Reception is enthusiastic, particularly among the younger members of society, yet many people see it as a fad, which in the long run cannot compare to the thrill of riding a horse-drawn hansom. Also, there is concern that without any horse, there is nothing to at least partially shield the passengers from the "common gaze." Within six months, however, the service had accrued 14,459 miles with a total of 4,765 passengers being served.
1897 Frenchman M.A. Darracq demonstrates an electric coupé in Paris that features regenerative braking for the first time, increasing vehicle range by up to 10%.
1898 The taxi application of electric power continues to blossom. Clinton E. Woods of Chicago builds the Victoria Hansom Cab for the American Electric Vehicle Company. It features hard-rubber-tired rear wheels, electric lights, and primitive electric foot-warmers within an enclosed passenger cabin.
1899 In France, Camille Jenatzy builds an electric racing car. Named the Jamais Content, meaning "Never Content," it employs a streamlined aluminum/tungsten alloy body, pressed steel wheels, and new pneumatic tires—which have recently proved their superiority to solid rubber tires.
1899: Jenatzy and the electric racecar, Jamais Content (Scientific American)
During the summer, in front of a large Parisian crowd, Jenatzy and his Jamais Content break the world-speed record, clocking in a speed of 61 mph. This record stands for 3 years before being beaten by an ICE vehicle.
1900 The automobile market is equally divided between the three contenders of steam, gasoline, and electricity. That year in the USA, of all the cars manufactured, 1,684 are steam-driven, 1,575 are electric, and 963 are propelled by gasoline engines.
The electric car maintains several advantages over its gasoline competitors: it is quiet, vibration-free, produces no dirt or odor, requires no gear-shifting, and can be started without the tiresome, and sometimes dangerous hand crank. In addition, advances in power grid infrastructure brings electricity into many homes, while the quality and quantity of roads remain such that long-distance travel is rare.
1901 President William McKinley attends the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The event it powered by electricity generated from the Niagara Falls. Anarchist Leon Czolgosz shoots McKinley, who is driven to the hospital in an electric ambulance.
1908 Henry Ford introduces the gasoline-powered Model T Ford at a price of $850 (~$20,000 in today's terms). Its 10-gallon tank gives it a range of between 125-200 miles.
1909 After thousands of experiments, and investing over a million dollars of his own money, Thomas Alva Edison ends his decade-long research into battery technology. His new and improved nickel-flake battery extends EV range to as much as 100 miles between charges, can be recharged in half the time and lasts up to ten times longer than lead-acid alternatives.
1910: Edison, left, and a Bailey electric fitted with a nickel-flake battery
1910 Edison embarks on a series of 1,000-mile endurance tours to promote his new battery.
Edison envisions his nickel-flake battery as the salvation of electric vehicles. Yet for several reasons, it fails to catch on. Edison's battery cannot withstand heavy use, requires diligent maintenance, and is badly affected by cold weather. Its low voltage means many cells have to be combined, making the battery very large, and its cost more than tripled that of typical lead-acid batteries.
1912 Sales of electric vehicles peak.
1912 Charles Kettering invents the electric starter, designed to replace the hand crank as the method for starting a gasoline-powered car. A major disadvantage to gasoline-powered cars is eliminated.
1915 The price of the Model T Ford drops to $440 (~$9,000 in today's terms), and in 12 months over 500,000 are sold. The price of an electric car remains over $1,000.
1912: A Detroit Electric advertisement
1920s Gasoline-powered vehicles' victory over electric vehicles becomes evident. Production of electric cars come to end. This is due to:
- A new road system in America, encouraged by the 1921 Federal Highway Act, enables long-distance driving for the first time. Electric cars are unable to compete with the range of gasoline cars.
- Crude oil discoveries in Texas and Oklahoma severely bring down the price of gasoline.
- The widespread adoption of Kettering's electric starter remove the need for the hand crank, previously a major obstacle to the gasoline car.
- Due to increasingly efficient mass-production techniques, the price of the Model T is brought down to as little as $300 (~$3,000 today).
- The loud, dirty gasoline-powered car becomes a fashionable symbol of progress, while the silent electric car becomes associated with senility.
1930s - 1940s Electric cars are dormant.
1947 The transistor is invented, improving battery technology.
1959: Advertisement for the Henney Kilowatt
1959 Conglomerate National Union Electric Company introduces the all-electric Henney Kilowatt. The National Union Electric Company owned Exide Batteries, and this is in part an attempt to shift American automobile focus from fossil fuels to lead-cell batteries.
The 1959 model ran on two 18-volt batteries, and could run up to 40 mph with a range of around 40 miles. The following year, 1960, the Kilowatt was with a 72-volt battery system, and could reach a speed of 60 mph for up to 60 miles. Production only lasted two years however, and under 50 were ever sold.
1964 The Battronic Truck Company produces its first electric trucks. They are capable of speeds of up to 25 mph, a range of 62 miles, and carrying a payload of 2,500 lbs.
1964: The Battronic electric truck
1966 The 89th Congress passes three bills known as the Electric Vehicle Development Act, which recommend and fund research into electric vehicles.
1966 GM takes a 1964, standard hard-top Chevy Corvair and electrifies it. Called the Electrovair I, it has a top speed of 60 mph and a range of up to 80 miles. A year later, an Electrovair II is built using a 1966 Corvair. Due to production costs, however, the cars never reach the assembly line.
1966 A Gallup poll indicates 36 million Americans are interested in EVs.
1971 An electric car becomes the first ever manned vehicle to be driven on the Moon. The Lunary Roving Vehicle, or "moon buggy," is built by Boeing and Delco Electronics, and is deployed during mission Apollo 15.
1973 The members of OPEC proclaim an oil embargo on the United States in response to its military support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Gasoline prices skyrocket, and research into renewable forms of energy is reignited.
1971: The Lunar Roving Vehicle, the first manned vehicle on the moon
1974 The US Postal Service commissions 350 Electric Jeeps from American Motor Corporation. The first 10 Electrucks begin servicing Evansville, Indiana in 1975. The vehicles have a 33 mph top speed, a 29 mile range, and recharging time of 8 hours.
1974 Sebring-Vanguard debuts its Citicar at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Washington, DC. The golf-cart sized car has a cruising speed of 39 mph and a range of 50 to 60 miles. By 1976, enough Citicars are sold to make Sebring-Vanguards America's #6 top automaker. The next year, however, the company files for bankruptcy and the production of Citicars is halted.
1976 US Congress passes the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development and Demonstration Act, spurring cooperation between the government and private industry to create more practical and efficient electric cars, as well as raise public awareness of them.
1974: Sebring Vanguard's Citicar
1988 GM's CEO, Roger Smith, agrees to fund research into a practical and commerically-viable electric car. He debuts the Impact, an electric concept car that will become the EV1, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 1990.
1990 The California Air Resources Board (CARB) enacts the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. It requires that 2% of the state's vehicles have zero emissions by 1998 and 10% by 2003.
1990s Many major automakers begin researching and developing electric vehicles in anticipation of the ZEV mandate.
1996 GM begins producing and leasing its EV1. The first EV to wear the "General Motors" nameplate, it has a range between 70-100 miles and a top speed of 80 mph.
1996: The EV1, the first electric vehicle with the GM nameplate
1997 In Japan, Toyota unveils the Prius, the first mass-produced and mass-marketed hybrid car. 18,000 are sold in the first year of production. It is released worldwide in 2001, and by 2009, more than half a million are sold in the US.
1999 Despite growing demand in electric vehicles, the production of the EV1 is halted.
2001 In response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of GM, arguing that there is not sufficient demand to meet CARB's ZEV mandate, and that its emissions guidelines are unconstitutional, the US District Court for Eastern California issues a preliminary injunction against the ZEV mandate.
2003 Following the neutering of CARB's ZEV regulations, GM CEO Rick Wagoner officially cancels the EV1 program. Within a year EV1's are reclaimed and destroyed, with a few sent to museums and collectors. Toyota follows suit, canceling production of its RAV4-EV, while Honda stop renewing leasing on its EV-plus.
2008: The Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car
2003 Tesla Motors, Inc., a company exclusively concerned with the engineering and manufacturing of electric vehicles, is founded in Silicon Valley, California.
2006 The EV1 has become the subject of a 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? in which the filmmakers argue that GM deliberately sabotaged its own EV1 program in order to create the false impression that there was insufficient demand for EVs, thus strengthening the car company's case against CARB's ZEV mandate.
2008 Tesla begins delivery of its Tesla Roadster. The all-electric sports car has a 0-60 mph in less than 4 seconds, a top speed of 125 mph, and a range of up to 250 miles.
A Better Place battery swap station
2008 The spiking of oil prices to $147/barrel, and in America to as much as $5-gallon at the pump, an ensuing economic meltdown, as well as growing awareness of environmental issues, renew interest in more fuel-efficient cars.
2008 Better Place, a company founded by Shai Agassi, and dedicated to accelerating the world's switch to electric cars by providing economic and practical solutions to electric vehicle infrastructure, opens its first charging station in Israel. The company's plans involve separating the purchase of an electric car from its battery - thus making the car more financially viable, as batteries account for almost half its cost - and setting up a series of battery-swap stations to allay range anxiety, and offer a rapid, practical, and inexpensive solution to battery recharging. By 2009, Better Place has taken contracts to electrify Israel, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco.
2009 Almost all of the world's top automakers—GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, Renault, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, Nissan—announce plans to design, manufacture and market production-line electric vehicles, with most intended on being sold starting 2010.
2009 Project EVIE is formed...