The first electric car was built in 1832 but it wasn’t very practical, the battery was hard to charge, the range wasn’t great, etc. Over the next 70 years the Netherlands, Eastern Europe, and the US attempted to improve on that early design.
Electric taxis began in 1899. Ford and Edison attempted to build their own electric car, but it didn’t go anywhere, so to speak. Given the popularity of steam-powered locomotives at that time, the popular opinion was that someone would invent a practical road version, which would become worldwide success. Weight and cost of fuel made steam forever impractical for road use, but you could see why most people could wrap their minds around that compared to an electric car.
Electric or Gas?
In the minds of potential car makers at the time it, the choice to use electric or gas was a much tighter race. It could have gone either way until the Model T arrived on the scene. Finding oil in Texas may also helped seal the fate of electric vehicles for more than 100 years. Bear in mind that for centuries we only used whale oil for lamps, heating, etc. The crude oil to gas innovation was a game changer, and with a domestic source, well, that seals the deal.
Infrastructure and Expansion
Because so many cars used gas it created a demand for gas stations. No one built a network of electric fill stations because the cost was inhibitive. This further pushed electric out of favor. As oil prices have climbed and fallen through the years the topic of electric fuel has resurged periodically. The obvious advantage of Electricity is that we can and already do generate it using whatever source is most cost effective locally.
The disadvantage of electricity is that it’s not cheap to generate many places and it creates more demand raises prices. In effect, when I drive more, I pay for the gas I use, but when I drive an EV everyone pays more for power to heat their home, etc.
Either way, the fact that there wasn’t a distribution network for EV’s continued to be a factor in Americans not adopting electricity as car fuel for more than 150 years. And considering that the power grid goes nearly everywhere in the US, it’s surprising that they only recently managed to cobble together an infrastructure for refueling electric vehicles.
What About Hybrids?
What about hybrids? For some reason cars tend to have only one source of power. It’s just how it’s always been so it seems normal to us but compared to boats where it’s common to have more than one power source you’d think someone would have created a hybrid earlier. It was not unusual for seacraft to have more than one type of power, say electric and gas powered, or wind with a gas engine.
Obviously, it would be difficult to create an engine that ran on diesel or gas. But using an electric engine for around town, then switching to gas for longer trips is an easy way to overcome the lack of range in EV’s.
The military is now exploring hybrids
One of the early adopters of the hybrid concept was the US military, such as the High Military Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or Humvee, which is a kind of a cross between a truck and a tank. But in civilian terms this isn’t a “Hybrid” because the engine isn’t a hybrid, it’s more of a cross-over vehicle.
The military is interested in EVs and HEVs, likely because of the infrastructure issue discussed above aren’t as big a deal for the military. The US military frequently have to build infrastructure on the fly (think MASH units, mobile communications, and refueling stations). Therefore they’re better positioned to change large numbers of their vehicle pool to EVs or Hybrids.
In the 1990s, the EV1, was an experimental two-seater that car historians agree was ahead of its time. Most of them were recalled, some of them were even stripped by teams of engineering students. The majority of those which remain intact are in museums across the country. Its total horsepower was an adequate 137hp.
The EV1 ultimately suffered from a lack of demand. The first big mystery here is, why so many were produced if it was only a test concept. The second big mystery is why they were only made available by lease instead of directly sold to the public, and that only in certain markets. The third big mystery is why GM decided to gather them all back up after lease and crush them. Literally, crush them!
One possible explanation is that GM was trying to turn a concept car into a solution for a proposed California Zero Emission Law that eventually went away under pressure from American Automakers. Still, the prevailing theory among EV enthusiasts is that Big Oil had to play a roll in all this.
The Prius was another early innovator regarding the later electric powered cars. A four-door sedan originally, it was considered to be the cleanest vehicle on the market in 2007, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. It is currently available in 90 countries, including Japan and the US. The newer models have hybrid in addition to all electric modes.
The Honda Insight began as a two-door and achieved the heights of being the top selling car in Japan. In 2010 it was the most inexpensive hybrid on the market.
VW Custom Conversion
A VW Beetle was converted to run on both electric and gas by the students in Minnesota. It managed a maximum speed of 70 mph.
It seems as if the electric and hybrid revolution is well underway with new manufacturers like Tesla, Rivian, and Nikola, and with the Big Players like General Motors announcing their intents to make only electric cars in the near future. It’s the direction the world is heading.