Among the first cars on the road, some of them were electric already. As with the other cars of that time (around 1900), they were expensive, slow and had a very limited range. From 1828 till early 1900, various inventions have led to the first electric cars. Electric cars have held many records at that time, a famous one being an electric vehicle driven by Camille Jenatzy in his rocketshaped electric vehicle, the ‘Jamais Contente’ (Never satisfied). He drove the vehicle at a speed over 100km per hour (105 km per hour to be exact).
The ‘Jamais Contente’
Electric cars were initially popular with people who could not afford to have a permanent mechanic around for the repairs that combustion engine cars needed at the time. Also the electric car was popular with women as they did not require hard work to get started (starting a combustion engine was still dangerous and resulted in a lot of injuries!).
As popular as the electric car was, this all changed at the start of what is called ‘The age of oil’. The discovery of large oil wells, the increasing reliability of internal combustion engines and the addition of the (electric!) start motor cleared a lot of the obstacles for the combustion engine car. Add in the factor that electric vehicles still had limited range, while petrol cars could be refilled and allowed a lot more range, plus the famous T-Ford which opened up having a car for millions of people quickly put an end of the electric vehicle.
The second time electric vehicles appeared on the streets was due to legislation in California, which required car manufacturers to produce electric cars. This legislation was driven by CARB and the main goal was to decrease pollution in the cities. The still famous EV1 was born and hit the streets. The EV1 was taken out of production by GM and this process has been rather controversial; it even lead to a movie - “Who killed the electric car”. In the end, CARB was sued by a few large auto manufacturers, resulting in the neutering of the ZEV legislation.
The EV1 from GM
Fueled by the energy crisis around 2000, the first hybrids emerged. This was introduced to overcome the small ranges offered by petrol cars, but also compensate for the high mileage some cars had around that time. The introduction of the famous Toyota Prius also inspired other companies to pursue research to electric cars again; the public wanted to be freed from the troubles of the oil-addiction and the fluctuations in the oil prices.
In 2008 another famous car was introduced; the Tesla Roadster. This car proved to the public driving electric was not only about saving the environment or not being addicted to oil anymore, it can also be great fun! With the many other electric cars being announced on the market as of today, it becomes clear it is here to stay this time.
The Tesla Roadster