Electric cars are much older than what most people think. These battery-propelled vehicles have a long and checkered history that goes back to over 100 years ago when the first, fully functional automobiles came into existence.
By the turn of the 19th century, cars had become a conceivable mode of transportation. However, most of the vehicles available at the time were steam or petrol propelled. It was not until 1828 that the first electric car became a reality, following the invention of the electric motor.
Chronology of the first electric car ever made
Pinpointing the exact date the first electric car was made is somehow tricky. However, the invention of the first electromagnet by Michael Faraday in 1821 set the ball rolling for the creation of the first electric motor 7 years later by Anyos Jedlik. After the breakthrough of the electric motor, the invention of the first electric vehicle became conceivable.
Soon after, the race to create the first EV began in earnest as various innovators based in Hungary, the United States and the Netherlands began toying with the prospects of building a battery-powered vehicle.
It was not long before Robert Anderson (a British Inventor) developed the first crude electric carriage in 1832. Nevertheless, Anderson’s EV was impractical and unfinished, as it could only cover short distances. Essentially, the limited battery power hindered its general use. Moreover, it was not strong enough to support the weight of its battery. For this reason, the invention did not attract investors.
In 1834, Thomas Davenport, an American blacksmith from Vermont, made a comparable contraption using two electromagnets, an electric motor, a pivot and a battery. However, like its predecessor, the vehicle could only operate on a short, circular electrified track rather than transverse long distances.
In the same period, a Dutch professor by the name Sibrandus Stratingh created an electromagnetic cart that was powered by non-rechargeable batteries. However, just like previous versions, the small-scale electrical car was not viable.
So when was the first practical electric car made?
Well, previous electrical contraptions were not practical, partly because they did not have rechargeable batteries. However, this inadequacy ended in 1865 after French physicist Gaston Plante invented a viable rechargeable battery. Plante’s breakthrough essentially made electric vehicles a reality. Interestingly, today’s electric cars owe their existence to Plante’s discovery.
Following the invention of rechargeable batteries, Thomas Parker, a British inventor, created the first practical electric car in 1884. Amazingly, the car was not only efficient, but it had the potential to be mass-produced. However, this never came to realization, as the second prototype of Parker’s car sank in the English Channel with the ship carrying it en route to Paris for mass production. However, his car set a precedent for the mass production of electric vehicles in subsequent years.
Notably, the first electric vehicle to enter mass production was designed by William Morrison, who was an American chemist from Iowa, in 1890. His invention was a four-wheeled, six-passenger electric car that could travel at a top speed of 14 miles per hour. Moreover, the car had a driving range of up to 100 miles, which was quite impressive at the time given that today’s EVs can barely surpass the 250-mile mark. Nevertheless, the specifications of the car were comparatively poor by modern standards as its batteries took more than 12 hours to recharge and the motor could only deliver 4bhp of power.
Over the next few years though, Morrison’s invention helped spark interest in EV’s as different automakers ventured into producing their own prototypes. By 1897-1900, electric cars had become common, accounting to 33% of all vehicles on the road. In fact, most taxi services in big cities like New York were electric cars. As demand for these vehicles continued to soar, innovators started exploring ways on how to improve them.
Another milestone was reached in 1898 when Porsche launched a new electric car dubbed P1. The car had a top speed of 22 mph with a range of 50 miles. In addition, its motor could deliver up to 3bhp of power. A year later in 1899, a Belgian automaker produced the first car that could travel at speeds of up to 62 mph. Dubbed La Jamais Contente (The Never Satisfied), the car featured two electric motors that produced a combined 67bhp.
In 1901, the world first hybrid electric car was invented. The car was mostly powered by electricity, but it consisted of a rechargeable battery pack and a gas engine. With the availability of options between purely electric and hybrid electric cars, the popularity of EVs reached an all-time high.
However, as fate would have it, the success of electric cars did not last. The decline of EVs is largely attributed to the discovery of cheap crude oil in Texas and the development of better roads. This meant that it was much cheaper to buy and operate a petrol-powered vehicle than an electric car.
With the development of the electric starter in 1912, coupled with Henry Ford’s mass production techniques, the prices of gasoline-powered cars came down drastically. Moreover, gas was more readily available than electricity, hence majority of motorists opted for petrol-driven cars. By 1935, electric cars had all but disappeared from our roads.
The return of electric cars
The years between 1935 and the 70s were referred to as the dark ages as far as electric cars are concerned. Apparently, there was very little advancement in the research and production of electric vehicles. The reason for this is that gasoline was cheap and in abundance. Moreover, automakers were continually improving the internal combustion engine of petrol-powered vehicles, consequently hampering any interest in alternative fuel automobiles.
However, as more gasoline-powered vehicles were produced, the oil prices began to soar. In addition, gas shortages became more rampant, subsequently peaking with the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973.
With the oil crisis reaching a fever pitch, it was just a matter of time before electric cars made a return into the limelight. As a result, Congress passed the Electric Vehicle Research Act of 1976 that essentially authorized the Energy Department to support research in electric and hybrid vehicles.
Notably, General Motors were among the first automakers to develop a prototype for urban electric cars, displaying their creation at the EPA’s Symposium on Low Pollution in 1973. The American Motor Company joined the queue by producing electric delivery jeeps used by the USPS in a test program. However, the EVs of the 70s had significant drawbacks such as limited performance, slow speeds, and restricted driving range. Typically, these cars could only top at speeds of 45 mph with a range of 40 miles only. This led to another decline until the 90s.
Nevertheless, after years of research on how to improve EV technology, automakers began modifying popular makes and models into electric cars using the newly acquired knowledge. The results were impressive as the new EVs achieved speeds and performance that were much closer to petrol-powered vehicles.
By 1996, General Motors produced an electric car dubbed EV1. This vehicle was created from the ground up, capturing all the essential concepts that potential motorists would love in a car. After its release into the market, the EV1 gained a cult following in a matter of weeks. Seemingly, this marked the return of the electric car in the motor world.
Reasons why electric cars are gaining prominence
EVs have now become the preferred option for most motorists. This is because they are affordable, efficient and much easier to maintain. Furthermore, they come in amazing designs and aesthetics. With this in mind, it is not surprising the electric vehicles are fast gaining prominence in the motor world. Here are some of the reasons why EVs are popular with motorists.
- Energy efficient
Electric cars are not dependent on oil or gas to run. They only require a few hours of charging to operate. This not only guarantees energy security, but also lowers your car operations costs.
EVs are eco-friendly as they are designed to reduce car emissions that pollute the environment.
- Cheaper operation costs
Daily or weekly trips to the filling station can be relatively expensive for petrol-powered vehicle owners. However, this is not the case with EVs. All you have to do is charge your car from the convenience of your home or office.
- Stress-free maintenance
Another benefit of electric cars is that they have much lower maintenance costs. Apparently, you do not have to worry about the components of a combustion engine wearing out.
- Safety improvements
Electric vehicles are widely regarded as cars of the future. This is because they consist of highly advanced additions that conventional gasoline cars do not have. Importantly, EVs come with safety improvements that strike to protect the driver and passengers from any unforeseen events.
From the first electric car ever made, to urban EVs cruising along our streets, electric vehicles are certainly the future. These sophisticated but highly efficient cars make all the difference in creating a more sustainable future. Apart from reducing dependence on oil and gas, EVs also lower carbon emissions by up to 60 percent. Based on these gains, it is just a matter of time before EVs surpass the number of petrol-powered vehicles in the world.