Both fully electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming more popular each year. Electric car sales in the United States in 2018 was nearly 361,000 vehicles. This is up from17,000 just 8 years ago.
With all the recent hype, you’d think this was America’s first fling with electric vehicles.
In reality, the history of electric cars goes all the way back to 1832. That’s when Robert Anderson invented the first electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. Three years later, Thomas Davenport created the first electric vehicle that used a small locomotive engine.
The first “real” electric car was invented in 1887 by William Morrison. It could hold six people and was advertised as a vehicle in which you could take your whole family out for a ride. It had a top speed of a whopping 14 mph, not bad for its time.
By the 1890s, one-third of vehicles were battery powered in cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago. Most cabs were also powered by electricity.
So what made these electric vehicles so popular? Compared to their internal combustion counterparts, they were quiet, easier to maneuver and didn’t release noxious fumes. Plus, unlike gas-powered vehicles, there were no gears to shift and could be started with a simple turn of a switch – no hand-cranking necessary.
Even with all of these advantages, Henry Ford produced the first real competition. The Model T allowed drivers go farther and faster.
The decline of the electric vehicle was also due to the invention of the electric starter (no more hand-cranking) and an abundance of cheap gasoline. By 1930, the era of the electric car was over.
Fast forward to the petroleum crisis of the 1970s when the price of gasoline soared. The Department of Energy provided funding to companies to again build electric cars. However, these “born-again” electric cars were essentially duds with the pubic. Their top speed was only 45 mph and had to be recharged every 40 miles.
One of the best known electric vehicles at the time was GM’s EV1. Even though this car improved on the speed and range of earlier electric cars, sales of this car was tepid. It was expensive to build and consequently had a higher price than competing gas-powered vehicles. With sales flagging, GM discontinued production in 2001.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, two companies would help rejuvenate the electric car industry. Toyota produced its first Prius in 1997 as a hybrid vehicle, capable of being powered by either gasoline or electricity. To date, it has been the best selling hybrid in history.
Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by two entrepreneurs and named in honor of Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla. Tesla Motors was initially created to develop an electric sports car.
Funding for the company came from a variety of sources, most notably from PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, who contributed more than $30 million and served as chairman of the company, starting in 2004. Four years later, Tesla Motors released its first car, the Roadster. It had an unheard at that time range of 245 miles, could accelerate from zero to 60 in just 4 seconds, and had a top speed of 125 mph.
Not to be outdone, all of the major vehicle producers in the world have produced either hybrids or fully-electric vehicles. Two million electric vehicles are expected to be sold world-wide this year. By 2026, global sales are expected to hit 10 million.