|History of the electric vehicle|
|The Aptera 2e is a forthcoming two-person electric car|
The history of the electric vehicle began in the mid-19th century. An electrical vehicle held the vehicular land speed record until around 1900. The high cost and low top speed of electric vehicles compared to later internal combustion vehicles caused a worldwide decline in their use. At the beginning of the 21st century, interest in electrical other alternative fuel vehicles is increasing in light of growing concern over the negative aspects of gasoline vehicles, including the damage to the environment caused by their emissions and the sustainability of the current hydrocarbon-based transportation infrastructure.
The invention of the electric vehicle is attributed to various people. In 1828, Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian who invented an early type of electric motor, created a tiny model car powered by his new motor. In 1834, Vermont blacksmith Thomas Davenport, the inventor of the first American DC electrical motor, installed his motor in a small model car, which he operated on a short circular electrified track. In 1835, Professor Sibrandus Stratingh of Groningen, the Netherlands and his assistant Christopher Becker created a small-scale electrical car, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. In 1838, Scotsman Robert Davidson built an electric locomotive that attained a speed of 4 mph (6.4 km/h). Between 1832 and 1839, Robert Anderson of Scotland invented a crude electrical carriage. A patent for the use of rails as conductors of electric current was granted in England in 1840, and similar patents were issued to Lilley and Colten in the United States in 1847. Rechargeable batteries that provided a viable means for storing electricity on board a vehicle did not come into being until the 1840s.
The invention of improved battery technology, including efforts by Gaston Plante in France in 1865, as well as his fellow countryman Camille Faure in 1881, paved the way for electric cars to flourish in Europe. An electric-powered two-wheel cycle was put on display at the 1867 World Exposition in Paris by the Austrian inventor Franz Kravogl. France and Great Britain were the first nations to support the widespread development of electric vehicles. The lack of natural fossil resources in Switzerland resulted in the tiny European nation's rapid electrification of its railway network to reduce its dependence on foreign energy. In November 1881, French inventor Gustave Trouvé demonstrated a working three-wheeled automobile at the International Exhibition of Electricity in Paris. English inventor Thomas Parker, who was responsible for innovations such as electrifying the London Underground, overhead tramways in Liverpool and Birmingham, and the smokeless fuel coalite, claimed to have perfected a working electric car as early as 1884.
Electric trains were also used to transport coal out of mines, as their motors did not use up precious oxygen. Before the pre-eminence of internal combustion engines, electric automobiles also held many speed and distance records. Among the most notable of these records was the breaking of the 100 km/h (62 mph) speed barrier, by Camille Jenatzy on April 29, 1899 in his 'rocket-shaped' vehicle Jamais Contente, which reached a top speed of 105.88 km/h (65.79 mph).
Though Thomas Davenport was among the first to install an electric motor into a vehicle, an electric car in the conventional sense was not developed until 1890 or 1891, by William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa; the vehicle was a six-passenger wagon capable of reaching a speed of 14 miles per hour (23 km/h). It was not until 1895 that Americans began to devote attention to electric vehicles, after A.L. Ryker introduced the first electric tricycles to the U.S., by that point, Europeans had been making use of electric tricycles, bicycles, and cars for almost 15 years. Many innovations followed, and interest in motor vehicles increased greatly in the late 1890s and early 1900s. In 1897, electric vehicles found their first commercial application as a fleet of electrical New York City taxis, built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia, was established. Electric cars were produced in the U.S. by Anthony Electric, Baker, Columbia, Anderson, Edison, Studebaker, Riker, and others during the early 20th century. In 1917, the first gasoline-electric hybrid car was released by the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago. The hybrid was a commercial failure, proving to be too slow for its price, and too difficult to service.
Due to technological limitations and the lack of transistor-based electric technology, the top speed of these early electric vehicles was limited to about 32 km/h (20 mph). Despite their relatively slow speed, electric vehicles had a number of advantages over their early-1900s competitors. They did not have the vibration, smell, and noise associated with gasoline cars. Changing gears on gasoline cars was the most difficult part of driving, and electric vehicles did not require gear changes. While steam-powered cars also had no gear shifting, they suffered from long start-up times of up to 45 minutes on cold mornings. The steam cars had less range before needing water than an electric car's range on a single charge. Electric cars found popularity among well-heeled customers who used them as city cars, where their limited range proved to be even less of a disadvantage. The cars were also preferred because they did not require a manual effort to start, as did gasoline cars which featured a hand crank to start the engine. Electric cars were often marketed as suitable vehicles for women drivers due to this ease of operation; in fact, early electric cars were stigmatized by the perception that they were "women's cars", leading some companies to affix radiators to the front to disguise the car's propulsion system.
Acceptance of electric cars was initially hampered by a lack of power infrastructure, but by 1912, many homes were wired for electricity, enabling a surge in the popularity of the cars. At the turn of the century, 40 percent of American automobiles were powered by steam, 38 percent by electricity, and 22 percent by gasoline. 33,842 electric cars were registered in the United States, and America became the country where electric cars had gained the most acceptance. While basic electric cars cost under $1,000 (in 1900 dollars, roughly $26,000 today), most early electric vehicles were massive, ornate carriages designed for the upper-class customers that made them popular. They featured luxurious interiors, replete with expensive materials, and averaged $3,000 by 1900 (roughly $77,000 today). Sales of electric cars peaked in 1912.
After enjoying success at the beginning of the century, the electric car began to lose its position in the automobile market. This was brought about by a number of developments. By the 1920s, improved road infrastructure was being created between American cities; in order to make use of these roads, vehicles with greater range than that offered by electric cars were needed. The discovery of large reserves of petroleum in Texas, Oklahoma, and California led to the wide availability of affordable gasoline, making gas-powered cars cheaper to operate over long distances. Electric cars were limited to urban use by their slow speed (no more than 24–32 km/h or 15–20 mph) and low range (30–40 miles or 50–65 km), and gasoline cars were now able to travel farther and faster than equivalent electrics. Gasoline cars became ever easier to operate thanks to the invention of the electric starter by Charles Kettering in 1912, which eliminated the need of a hand crank for starting a gasoline engine, and the noise emitted by ICE cars became more bearable thanks to the use of the muffler, which had been invented by Hiram Percy Maxim in 1897. Finally, the initiation of mass production of gas-powered vehicles by Henry Ford brought the price as low $440 in 1915 (equivalent to roughly $9,200 today), and $360 by 1916 (roughly $7,000 today). By contrast, the price of similar electric vehicles continued to rise; in 1912, an electric roadster sold for $1,750 (roughly $39,000 in today), while a gasoline car sold for less than half of that, $650 (roughly $14,000 today).
Studebaker electric cars were sold until the sales peak reached in 1912; Ryker, Morrison, Anthony Electric, and the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia, all continued to sell their cars until 1914. Electric vehicles became popular for certain applications where their limited range did not pose major problems. Forklift trucks were electrically powered when they were introduced by Yale in 1923. In Europe, especially the United Kingdom, milk floats were historically powered by electricity. Electric golf carts were produced by Lektro as early as 1954. By the 1920s, the heydey of electric cars had passed, and a decade later, the American electric automobile industry had effectively disappeared. A thorough examination into the social and technological reasons for the failure of electric cars was discussed by author Michael Brian in his book Taking Charge: The Electric Automobile in America.
Years passed without a major revival in the use of electric cars. Fuel-starved European countries fighting in World War II experimented with electric cars, such as the British milk floats, but overall, while ICE development progressed at a brisk pace, electric vehicle technology stagnated. In the late 1950s, Henney Coachworks and the National Union Electric Company, makers of Exide batteries, formed a joint venture to produce a new electric car, the Henney Kilowatt. The car was produced in 36-volt and 72-volt configurations; the 72-volt models had a top speed approaching 96 km/h (60 mph) and could travel for nearly an hour on a single charge. Despite the Kilowatt's improved performance with respect to previous electric cars, consumers found it too expensive compared to equivalent gasoline cars of the time, and production ended in 1961.
Battery-electric concept cars continued to appear in the years that followed Henney's venture, such as the Scottish Aviation Scamp (1965), the Enfield 8000 (1966) and two electric versions of General Motors gasoline cars, the Electrovair (1966) and Electrovette (1976). None of them entered production. On July 31, 1971, an electric car received the unique distinction of becoming the first manned vehicle to be driven on the Moon; that car was the Lunar rover, which was first deployed during the Apollo 15 mission. The "moon buggy" was developed by Boeing and Delco Electronics, and featured a DC drive motor in each wheel, and a pair of 36-volt silver-zinc potassium hydroxide non-rechargeable batteries.
After years outside the limelight, the energy crises of the 1970s and 80s brought about renewed interest in the perceived independence electric cars had from the fluctuations of the hydrocarbon energy market. At the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show, General Motors President Roger Smith unveiled the GM Impact concept electric car, along with the announcement that GM would build electric cars for sale to the public.
In the early 1990s, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the government of California's "clean air agency", began a push for more fuel-efficient, lower-emissions vehicles, with the ultimate goal being a move to zero-emissions vehicles such as electric vehicles. In response, automakers developed electric models, including the Chrysler TEVan, Ford Ranger EV pickup truck, GM EV1 and S10 EV pickup, Honda EV Plus hatchback, Nissan lithium-battery Altra EV miniwagon and Toyota RAV4 EV. The automakers were accused of pandering to the wishes of CARB in order to continue to be allowed to sell cars in the lucrative Californian market, while failing to adequately promote their electric vehicles in order to create the impression that the consumers were not interested in the cars, all the while joining oil industry lobbyists in vigorously protesting CARB's mandate. GM's program came under particular scrutiny; in an unusual move, consumers were not allowed to purchase EV1s, but were instead asked to sign closed-end leases, meaning that the cars had to be returned to GM at the end of the lease period, with no option to purchase, despite lessor interest in continuing to own the cars. Chrysler, Toyota, and a group of GM dealers sued CARB in Federal court, leading to the eventual neutering of CARB's ZEV Mandate. After public protests by EV drivers' groups upset by the repossession of their cars, Toyota offered the last 328 RAV4-EVs for sale to the general public during six months, up until November 22, 2002. Almost all other production electric cars were withdrawn from the market and were in some cases seen to have been destroyed by their manufacturers. Toyota continues to support the several hundred Toyota RAV4-EV in the hands of the general public and in fleet usage. GM famously de-activated the few EV1s that were donated to engineering schools and museums.
In response to a lack of large-automaker participation in the electric car industry, a number of small companies cropped up in their place, designing and marketing electric cars for the public. In 1994, the REVA Electric Car Company was established in Bangalore, India, as a joint venture between the Maini Group India and AEV of California. After seven years of research and development, it launched the REVAi, known as the G-Wiz i in the United Kingdom, in 2001. In 2007, Miles Electric Vehicles announced that it would bring the XS500, a highway-capable all-electric sedan to the US by early 2009. California company Tesla Motors, hoping to gain a foothold in the electric sports car market, released the Lotus Elise-based Tesla Roadster in 2008. Aptera Motors plan to release their futuristic 2 Series in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Throughout the 1990s, interest in fuel-efficient or environmentally friendly cars declined among Americans, who instead favored sport utility vehicles, which were affordable to operate despite their poor fuel efficiency thanks to lower gasoline prices. American automakers chose to focus their product lines around the truck-based vehicles, which enjoyed larger profit margins than the smaller cars which were preferred in places like Europe or Japan. In 1999, the Honda Insight hybrid car became the first hybrid to be sold in North America since the little-known Woods hybrid of 1917. Hybrids, which featured a combined gasoline and electric powertrain, were seen as a balance, offering an environmentally friendly image and improved fuel economy, without being hindered by the low range of electric vehicles, albeit at an increased price over comparable gasoline cars. Sales were poor, the lack of interest attributed to the car's small size and the lack of necessity for a fuel-efficient car at the time. The 2000s energy crisis brought renewed interest in hybrid and electric cars. In America, sales of the Toyota Prius (which had been on sale since 1999 in some markets) jumped, and a variety of automakers followed suit, releasing hybrid models of their own. Several began to produce new electric car prototypes, as consumers called for cars that would free them from the fluctuations of oil prices. The global economic recession in the late 2000s led to increased calls for automakers to abandon fuel-inefficient SUVs, which were seen as a symbol of the excess that caused the recession, in favor of small cars, hybrid cars, and electric cars. The most immediate result of this was the announcement of the 2010 release of the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid car that represents the evolution of technologies pioneered by the EV1 of the 90s. The Volt will be able to travel for up to 40 miles (64 km) on battery power alone before activating an ICE to run a generator which re-charges its batteries.
As of July 2006, there are between 60,000 and 76,000 low-speed,
battery powered vehicles in use in the United States, up from about
56,000 in 2004. BYD of China has created an electric MPV with a 250 miles (400 km)
range, the E6, which it expects to sell in China
beginning in late 2009, and in North America in 2011. In
2009, Mitsubishi Motors and PSA Peugeot Citroën announced a
joint venture to produce electric vehicle technology. A number of
electric vehicles are currently being developed by
manufacturers large and small.