early electric powered cars
Steam engines were
not the only engines used in early automobiles. Vehicles with electrical
engines were also invented. Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is
uncertain), Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the first electric
carriage. Electric cars used rechargeable batteries that powered a
small electric motor. The vehicles were heavy, slow, expensive, and needed
to stop for recharging frequently. Both steam and electric road vehicles
were abandoned in favour of gas-powered vehicles. Electricity found greater
success in tramways and streetcars, where a constant supply of electricity
Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is
uncertain), Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the first crude
electric carriage. A small-scale electric car was designed by
Professor Stratingh of Groningen, Holland, and built by his
assistant Christopher Becker in 1835. Practical and more
successful electric road vehicles were invented by both American
Thomas Davenport and Scotsmen Robert Davidson around 1842. Both
inventors were the first to use non-rechargeable electric cells.
Frenchmen Gaston Plante invented a better storage battery in 1865
and his fellow countrymen Camille Faure improved the storage battery
in 1881. This improved-capacity storage battery paved the way for
electric vehicles to flourish.
France and Great
Britain were the first nations to support the widespread development
of electric vehicles in the late 1800s. In 1899, a Belgian built
electric racing car called "La Jamais Contente" set a world record
for land speed - 68 mph - designed by Camille JÚnatzy.
It was not until
1895 that Americans began to devote attention to electric vehicles
after an electric tricycle was built by A. L. Ryker and William
Morrison built a six-passenger wagon both in 1891. Many innovations
followed and interest in motor vehicles increased greatly in the
late 1890s and early 1900s. In 1897, the first commercial
application was established as a fleet of New York City taxis built
by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia.
The early electric
vehicles, such as the 1902 Wood's Phaeton (top image), were little
more than electrified horseless carriages and surreys. The Phaeton
had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph and cost $2,000.
Later in 1916, Woods invented a hybrid car that had both an internal
combustion engine and an electric motor.
By the turn of the
century, America was prosperous and cars, now available in steam,
electric, or gasoline versions, were becoming more popular. The
years 1899 and 1900 were the high point of electric cars in America,
as they outsold all other types of cars. Electric vehicles had many
advantages over their competitors in the early 1900s. 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, while 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's range on
a single charge. The only good roads of the period were in town,
causing most travel to be local commuting, a perfect situation for
electric vehicles, since their range was limited. The electric
vehicle was the preferred choice of many because it did not require
the manual effort to start, as with the hand crank on gasoline
vehicles, and there was no wrestling with a gear shifter.
electric cars cost under $1,000, most early electric vehicles were
ornate, massive carriages designed for the upper class. They had
fancy interiors, with expensive materials, and averaged $3,000 by
1910. Electric vehicles enjoyed success into the 1920s with
production peaking in 1912.
The decline of the
electric vehicle was brought about by several major developments:
By the 1920s,
America had a better system of roads that now connected cities,
bringing with it the need for longer-range vehicles.
The discovery of
Texas crude oil reduced the price of gasoline so that it was
affordable to the average consumer.
The invention of
the electric starter by Charles Kettering in 1912 eliminated the
need for the hand crank.
of mass production of internal combustion engine vehicles by Henry
Ford made these vehicles widely available and affordable in the
$500 to $1,000 price range. By contrast, the price of the less
efficiently produced electric vehicles continued to rise. In 1912,
an electric roadster sold for $1,750, while a gasoline car sold
vehicles had all but disappeared by 1935. The years following until
the 1960s were dead years for electric vehicle development and for
use as personal transportation.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a need for
alternative fuelled vehicles to reduce the problems of exhaust
emissions from internal combustion engines and to reduce the
dependency on imported foreign crude oil. Many attempts to produce
practical electric vehicles occurred during the years from 1960 to
In the early 1960s, the Boyertown
Auto Body Works jointly formed the Battronic Truck Company with
Smith Delivery Vehicles, Ltd., of England and the Exide Division of
the Electric Battery Company. The first Battronic electric truck was
delivered to the Potomac Edison Company in 1964. This truck was
capable of speeds of 25 mph, a range of 62 miles and a payload of
worked with General Electric from 1973 to 1983 to produce 175
utility vans for use in the utility industry and to demonstrate the
capabilities of battery-powered vehicles. Battronic also developed
and produced about 20 passenger buses in the mid 1970s.
Two companies were leaders in
electric car production during this time. Sebring-Vanguard produced
over 2,000 "CitiCars." These cars had a top speed of 44 mph, a
normal cruise speed of 38 mph and a range of 50 to 60 miles.
The other company was Elcar
Corporation, which produced the "Elcar". The Elcar had a top speed
of 45 mph, a range of 60 miles and cost between $4,000 and $4,500.
1975, the United States Postal Service (see top image) purchased 350
electric delivery jeeps from the American Motor Company to be used
in a test program. These jeeps had a top speed of 50 mph and a range
of 40 miles at a speed of 40 mph. Heating and defrosting were
accomplished with a gas heater and the recharge time was 10 hours.
legislative and regulatory actions in the United States and
worldwide have renewed electric vehicle development efforts.
Primary among these is the U.S. 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment,
the U.S. 1992 Energy Policy Act, and regulations issued by the
California Air Resources Board (CRAB). In addition to more
stringent air emissions requirements and regulations requiring
reductions in gasoline use, several states have issued Zero
Emission Vehicle requirements.
Three" automobile manufacturers, and the U.S. Department of
Energy, as well as a number of vehicle conversion companies are
actively involved in electric vehicle development through the
Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV). Electric
conversions of familiar gasoline powered vehicles, as well as
electric vehicles designed from the ground up, are now available
that reach super highway speeds with ranges of 50 to 150 miles
of these vehicles are the Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck (top
image), converted by U.S. Electricar and no longer available. It
was powered by dual alternating current motors and lead acid
batteries. It had a range of about 60 miles and could be
recharged in less than 7 hours.
The Geo Metro,
converted by Solectria Corp., is an electric-powered 4-passenger
sedan powered by an alternating current motor and lead-acid
batteries. It has a range of 50 miles, and it can be recharged
in less than 8 hours. During the 1994 American Tour de Sol from
New York City to Philadelphia, a 1994 Solectria Geo Metro
cruised over 200 miles on a single charge using Ovonic nickel
metal hydride batteries.
Three" automobile manufacturers also developed electric
vehicles. An early 1990s vehicle was the Ford Ecostar utility
van with an alternating current motor and sodium sulphur
batteries. The top speed was 70 mph and it had a range of 80 to
100 miles. While about 100 Ecostars were produced, it was
considered an R&D vehicle and never offered commercially.
Ford offered an
electric version of its Ford Ranger pickup. It had a range of about
65 miles with its lead acid batteries, had a top speed of 75 mph, it
accelerated from 0 to 50 mph in 12 seconds, and it had a payload of
General Motors has
designed and developed an electric car from the ground up instead of
modifying an existing vehicle. This vehicle, called the EV1, was a
2-passenger sports car powered by a liquid-cooled alternating
current motor and lead-acid batteries. The EV1 had a top speed of 80
mph, had a range of 80 miles, and could accelerate from 0 to 50 mph
in less than 7 seconds.
In addition to
the EV1, General Motors offered an electric vehicle Chevrolet
S-10 pickup. This vehicle had a range of 45 miles, it
accelerated from 5 to 50 mph in 10 seconds, and it had a payload
of 950 pounds.
electric vehicles that were available during 1998 included the
Toyota RAV4 sport utility, the Honda EV Plus sedan, and the
Chrysler EPIC minivan. These three vehicles were all equipped
with advanced nickel metal hydride battery packs. Nissan placed
limited numbers of their Altra EV station wagons in California
fleets during 1998. The Altra was equipped with a lithium-ion
battery pack. In addition, both Ford and General Motors during
1998, made the Ranger, the EV1, and the S-10 pickup available
with nickel metal hydride battery packs.
vehicles in 1998 satisfied the driving requirements of many
fleet operators and two car families, the cost of $30,000 to
$40,000 (1998) made them expensive. However, this cost was
considerably lower when tax credits and incentives were
production and improvements in the production process are
expected to reduce prices to the range of current