Electric cars have been around since before the Civil War

PublishedJuly18,2019

Electriccarshaveexistedsinceatleast1834,longbeforegasolinecarswereinvented.Sincethebeginning,theyhavefacedthesamehurdlestheydotoday:limiteddrivingrangeandalackofcharginginfrastructure.Butthingsarechangingfast.

Thefirstelectricmotor

Thefirstelectricmotor

Alamy

ThomasDavenportofVermontbuildsthefirstusefulelectricmotor.Otherinventors,includingMichaelFaraday,havepreviouslybuiltsmalldevicesthatmoveusingelectricity,butDavenport’sarethefirstwiththepowertodoactualwork.Hereportedlyusesoneofhisnewmotorstopowerasmallcarriage.

1859

Firstbatteries

Firstbatteries

FrenchphysicistGastonPlantéinventsthelead-acidbattery.Otherscientists,includingPlantéhimself,willimproveontheinventioninthedecadestocome.

1884

Thefirstviableelectriccar

Thefirstviableelectriccar

ObtainedbyCNN

FamedEnglishinventorThomasParker--calledthe“TheEdisonofEurope”--createsthefirstcommerciallyviableelectriccar.UnlikemanyofParker’sotherinventions,suchaselectrictrams,undergroundlightingandasmokelessfuelcalled“Coalite,”thecarattractslittleinterest.

1886

Thefirstgasolinecar

Thefirstgasolinecar

KarlBenzbuildstheBenzPatentMotorwagen,generallycreditedasbeingthefirstinternalcombustion-poweredautomobileandtheprecursorofallgasoline-poweredcarstoday.Electriccarshavealreadybeenaroundfor50years.

1897

Electrictaxifleets

Electrictaxifleets

EnglishHeritage/HeritageImages/GettyImages

FleetsofelectrictaxicabsareintroducedinbothParisandNewYork.

1898

Porsche’sfirstcariselectric

Porsche’sfirstcariselectric

FranziskaKraufmann/picturealliance/GettyImages

Dr.FerdinandPorschebuildshisfirstcar,theEgger-LohnerModelC.2Phaeton,whichispoweredbyelectricity.

1899

Toofast

Toofast

ThefirstspeedingticketinAmericaisgiventothedriverofoneofNewYork’selectriccabs.He’spulledoverbyabikeridingpoliceofficerwhiledriving12milesanhourinan8mileperhourzone.

Crazyfast

Crazyfast

UniversalHistoryArchive/UIG/GettyImages

BelgianracedriverCamilleJenatzybecomesthefirstpersontodriveover100kilometersanhour,or62milesperhour,inaspeciallybuiltelectriccarcalled"LaJamaisContente,”or“TheNeverSatisfied.”

1900s

Theriseoftheelectriccar

Theriseoftheelectriccar

Electriccarsrisetoprominenceasmoreviablealternativestosteamcars,whichcantake45minutestostartinthemorning,andtogasolinecars,whichhavetobecrankedtostartandthatrequiredcomplicatedgearshifting.Asaresult,electriccarsareadvertisedasespeciallysuitableforwomengiventheirlighterphysicaldemands.Bytheturnofthecentury,morethanathirdofallcarsonAmericanroadsareelectric.Theelectriccar’sprominencewillbeshort-lived,however,astechnologicaladvancementssoongivegasolinepoweranoverwhelminglead.

1908

Ford’scheapgascar

Ford’scheapgascar

FordMotorCo.introducestheModelT.Thankstorepeatedimprovementsinitsproduction,thisgasoline-poweredcarwillbecomeevercheapertobuyandnearlyubiquitousonAmericanroads.(Still,HenryFord’swife,Clara,drivesanelectriccarwhichshepreferstoherhusband’snoisycreations.)

1912

GMkillsthecrank

GMkillsthecrank

CourtesyGeneralMotors

GeneralMotorsintroducestheelectricstarterontheCadillacTouringEdition,eliminatingtheneedtocranktheengine.Thisinventionremovesoneofthemostobjectionableaspectsofdrivingagasoline-poweredcar.Overthefollowingdecades,electriccarsvirtuallydisappearfromtheroadsasgasolineanddieselpowertakeover.Electriccarswillcontinuetobehamperedbytheirlimiteddrivingrange,longchargingtimesandbulkybatteries.

1958

Fordgoesnuclear

Fordgoesnuclear

Oneanswertotheelectriccars’shortcomingsisanonboardnuclearreactor.Ford’sNucleonconceptcar,reallyjustamodel,isenvisionedashavingareactorcorethatcanpowerthecarfor5,000miles.Afterthat,spentfuelrodswillbeswappedoutataconvenientservicestation.TheNucleonwasdesignedbasedontheassumptionthat,someday,nuclearreactorscouldbemadesafeenoughforuseincars,apopularideaatthetime.

1959

Small-scaleelectrics

Small-scaleelectrics

CourtesyLaneMotorMuseum

Duringthelate1950sandthroughoutthe‘60s,variousstartupautomakersattempttopopularizeelectriccars,butnonereallygaintraction.TheNu-KleaStarlitewasofferedforafewyearsbyKishIndustries,acompanybasedjustoutsideLansing,Michigan.

1964

GM’selectricexperiments

GM’selectricexperiments

CourtesyGeneralMotors

Majorautomakershaven’ttotallygivenuponthepotentialofelectriccars.GeneralMotorsexperimentswiththeElectrovair,aChevroletCorvairconvertedtorunonbatteries.Yearslater,GMalsocreatestheElectrovette,anelectricChevroletChevette.

1967

AMC’sexperiments

AMC’sexperiments

AmericanMotorsCorporation,whichwaslaterabsorbedbyChrysler,unveilstheAmitron,aprototypeelectriccar.ThecompanysaysitplanstooffertheAmitronforsaleinjustafewyears.Thatneverhappens.

1974

Tinystartups,tinycars

Tinystartups,tinycars

TheSebring-VanguardcompanyofSebring,Florida,introducestheCitiCar,whichbecomesoneofthemostpopularelectriccarsinmanyyears.Morethan4,400areultimatelysold.TopspeedfortheCitiCaris38milesanhour.Forbetterorworse,carslikethiswillshapethepublic’simageofelectriccarsasessentiallyroad-goinggolfcartsforalongtime.

1980

Newcells

Newcells

CourtesyofCockrellSchoolofEngineering,TheUniversityofTexasatAustin

Thecobalt-oxidecathode,theheartofthelithium-ionbattery,isinventedbyJohnGoodenoughandhiscolleaguesatOxfordUniversity.Inthedecadestocome,batteriesmadepossiblebythisinventionwillpowerallsortsofconsumerelectronics,aswellaselectriccarsthatcantravelhundredsofmilesonacharge.

1990

TheZeroEmissionschallenge

TheZeroEmissionschallenge

CaliforniapassestheZeroEmissionVehiclesMandate,whichrequiresautomakersoperatinginCaliforniatosellacertainpercentageofZeroEmissionVehicleseachyear.Asapracticalmatter,thatmostlymeanselectriccars.Automakersworktocomplywhilesomealsosuetostop,oratleastweaken,therequirement.AdozenotherstateslateradopttheZEVMandate.Eventually,itischangedtoallowautomakerstobuyZEVcreditsasanalternativetosellingtheactualcars.

GM’sbigresponse

GM’sbigresponse

GeneralMotorsunveilstheImpactconceptcarattheLosAngelesAutoShow.Inafewyears,thisconceptwillbedevelopedintotheEV1.

1996

GMchargesin

GMchargesin

GeneralMotorsputstheEV1intoproduction.Thecarsareavailableforlease,butnotforsale.

1997

MoreEVscomeontothescene

MoreEVscomeontothescene

JonathanAlcorn/Bloomberg/GettyImages

LargelytocomplywithCalifornia’srequirements,variousautomakersreleaseelectriccarsthatareoftenheavilymodifiedversionsofgasolinecars.NewelectricmodelsincludetheToyotaRav4EV,theHondaEVPlus,theChevroletS-10EVandFordRangerEVpickups.

2003

GMtakesagiantstepback

GMtakesagiantstepback

MelMelcon/LosAngelesTimes/GettyImages

GMcancelstheEV1program,takesbackthecarsandcrushesmostofthemovertheprotestsofformerowners.Themovebecomesthesubjectofthedocumentaryfilm“WhoKilledtheElectricCar?,”whichpaintsGMasthevillain.GMinsiststhecarscouldnotcontinuebeingdrivenbecauseitwouldhavebecomeimpossibletomaintaintheminsafecondition.

2006

Thestartupthatchangeseverything

Thestartupthatchangeseverything

ChrisWeeks/WireImage/GettyImages

TeslaMotors,foundedin2003,showsoffprototypesoftheTeslaRoadster,thecompany’sfirstcar.It’satwo-seatsportscarbasedontheLotusElise.Pricedatover$80,000,it’saluxuryproduct,butitperformslikeasportscarandcangomorethan200milesonacharge.Ituseslithium-ionbatteries,whichwillbecomethestandardtechnologyforelectriccars.

2009

Mitsubishi’segg

Mitsubishi’segg

Mitsubishistartsproductionofthei-MiEV(MitsubishiInnovativeElectricVehicle),whichwillalsobesoldunderthePeugeotandCitroenbrandsinEurope.Thesmallegg-shapedcitycarisoneofthefirstmassmarketEVsfromamajorautomaker.

Tesla’ssedan

Tesla’ssedan

PatriciaDeMeloMoreira/AFP/GettyImages

TeslaunveilstheModelSsedanwithseatingforuptosevenpeople.Itwillgoontobecomethefastest-sellingelectriccarinhistorybyfar,despiteitsluxurycarprices.ConsumerReportswilllauditasthebestcarthemagazinehasevertestedalthoughdependabilityissueswillleadthemagazinetopullitsrecommendationin2019.

2010

Nissanentersthemarket

Nissanentersthemarket

NissanstartsproductionoftheLeaf,apractical,compactelectriccarwitharelativelylongdrivingrangeforitstime.SaleswouldnotliveuptoNissan’searlypredictionsbut,asof2018,moreLeafshadbeensoldthananyotherelectriccarmodel.

TheVolttakesthingsfarther

TheVolttakesthingsfarther

JohnF.Martin/GeneralMotors/GettyImages

ProductionbeginsfortheChevroletVolt.ThisisGM’s“range-extendedelectriccar,”butmostpeoplewillcallitaplug-inhybrid.GMengineersseeitasanelectriccarthatdoesawaywith“rangeanxiety,”atermfirstusedtodescribethefearthataGMEV1wouldrunoutofbatterypowerbeforereachingacharger.TheVoltwinstheNorthAmericanCaroftheYear,EuropeanCaroftheYearandMotorTrendCaroftheYearawards,amongothers.

2011

Newrulesoftheroad

Newrulesoftheroad

PeteSouza/OfficialWhiteHousePhoto

TheUSEnvironmentalProtectionAgency,theNationalHighwayTrafficSafetyAdministration,theCaliforniaAirResourcesBoardandmajorautomakersannouncejointlynegotiatedincreasesinfueleconomyandemissionsrequirements.Asplanned,thesewillrequirecarsandSUVstobecome,onaverage,muchmorefuelefficientbytheyear2025.Meetingtheserequirementsessentiallyrequiresthesaleofmoreelectricandhybridvehicles.Thismove,combinedwithtighteremissionsrequirementsinEuropeandelectriccarpurchaseincentivesinChina,drivesmanufacturerstodevelopmoreelectricandotherplug-inhybridcars.

2015

VWgetsbusted

VWgetsbusted

KrisztianBocsi/Bloomberg/GettyImages

TheUSEnvironmentalProtectionAgencyannouncesithascaughtVolkswagenusingsoftwareinmanyofitsdieselvehiclestocheatonemissionstests,resultinginfines,penaltiesandthearrestofexecutivesinboththeUnitedStatesandEurope.Partlyasaresultofthis,VolkswagenGroupdeclaresthatitwillinvestheavilyinelectricvehicles.

2016

AcheaperTesla

AcheaperTesla

TeslaunveilsitsModel3,whichwillbecomethebrand’smostaffordableandbestsellingcar.Infact,in2018,itwillbethebestsellingluxurycarofanykind.

GMisback

GMisback

PatrickT.Fallon/Bloomberg/GettyImages

GeneralMotorsbeginsproductionoftheChevroletBoltEV,thecompany’sfirstfullyelectriccarsincetheEV1.It’sbuiltatGM’sOrionAssemblyplantinMichigan.ItisalsothebasisofGM’sfirstattemptsatproducingfullyautonomouscars.

2017

VWplugsin

VWplugsin

StefanSauer/picturealliance/GettyImages

VolkswagenGroupstartsElectrifyAmerica,asubsidiarycompanythatwillbuildanetworkoffastelectricvehiclechargersacrosstheUnitedStates.Volkswagen,alongwithFord,BMW,andDaimler,isalsopartofIonity,ajointventurethatisbuildingasimilarfastchargingnetworkacrossEurope.

2018

Salesarejustbeginningtorampup

Salesarejustbeginningtorampup

Chinatopix/AP

Globalelectricvehiclesalescontinuetoincreaserapidly.Butallplug-invehicles,includingelectricandplug-inhybrids,stillonlymakeupjustover2%ofallpassengervehiclesalesglobally.MorethanhalfofallelectriccarssoldworldwideareinChina,thankstoheavygovernmentincentives.

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