Electric cars, which are powered by electricity stored in batteries, have been around for more than a century. They were among the earliest automobiles to be developed, and in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were quite popular.
However, the development of the internal combustion engine (ICE) quickly surpassed the electric car, and it wasn’t until the 21st century that electric cars began to make a comeback. In the early 19th century, the first electric vehicle made its appearance.
In 1828, Hungarian Ányos Jedlik invented a small-scale electric motor that could power a vehicle, and in 1832, British chemist Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction, laying the foundation for electric motor technology.
Throughout the 1800s, electric vehicles were popular with wealthy consumers who wanted a cleaner, quieter alternative to the steam-powered cars of the day.
In 1835, American Thomas Davenport built the first electric vehicle in the United States, a small locomotive that used a primitive electric motor to power its wheels.
Later in the century, French inventor Gustave Trouvé built a tricycle powered by a small electric motor, and in 1881, Camille Faure developed a new type of battery that allowed for longer electric vehicle ranges.
In 1891, William Morrison built the first successful electric car in the United States, and over the next few years, a number of electric vehicle companies sprang up to meet demand.
By 1900, electric vehicles accounted for about one-third of all cars on the road in the United States, with some models capable of reaching speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
However, the invention of the internal combustion engine and the discovery of vast reserves of petroleum quickly changed the automotive landscape.
Gasoline-powered cars were faster, had longer ranges, and were cheaper to produce than their electric counterparts, and by the early 1900s, electric vehicles had all but disappeared from the roads.
For the next several decades, electric vehicles remained a niche technology, used primarily in applications where gasoline engines were impractical, such as golf carts and forklifts.
However, as concerns about air pollution and climate change grew in the latter half of the 20th century, interest in electric vehicles began to resurface.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of electric vehicle prototypes were developed by automakers and independent inventors, including the Henney Kilowatt and the Lunar Rover.
However, these vehicles were expensive to produce and had limited ranges, and they never caught on with consumers. In the 1990s, interest in electric vehicles surged again, spurred by advances in battery technology and concerns about the environmental impact of gasoline-powered cars.
In 1996, General Motors introduced the EV1, the first mass-produced electric vehicle of the modern era. The EV1 was popular with its drivers, but it was expensive to produce and GM ultimately canceled the program in 2003, much to the disappointment of its fans.
Despite the setback of the EV1, electric vehicles continued to gain momentum in the early 2000s. In 2004, Toyota introduced the first hybrid electric vehicle, the Prius, which quickly became a best-seller.
In 2008, Tesla Motors introduced the Roadster, the first luxury electric sports car, which helped to change perceptions about electric vehicles and paved the way for future models.
Over the next decade, a number of new electric vehicle models were introduced by automakers around the world, including the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, and the Tesla Model S. Battery technology continued to improve, allowing for longer ranges and faster charging times, and governments around the world began to offer incentives for electric vehicle buyers.
The Evolution of the Electric Cars
- 1800-1830s: Early experiments with electric power: In 1800, the Italian scientist Alessandro Volta invented the first practical battery, known as the Voltaic Pile. This invention led to a flurry of experiments with electric power, including experiments with electric cars. In 1832, Scottish inventor Robert Anderson built the first crude electric carriage, which was powered by non-rechargeable batteries.
- 1850s-1890s: Early commercialization and competition: In the mid-1850s, Frenchman Gaston Planté invented the first rechargeable battery, known as the lead-acid battery. This breakthrough paved the way for the commercialization of electric cars. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, electric trams were introduced in cities such as Berlin, Germany and Washington D.C., USA. These trams were powered by overhead wires, which transmitted electricity to the tram’s electric motor. In 1884, Englishman Thomas Parker built the first practical electric car, using a rechargeable battery. Parker’s electric car had a range of about 50 miles and a top speed of 18 miles per hour. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, electric cars began to compete with gasoline-powered cars. Electric cars were favored by women and city-dwellers because they were quiet, clean, and easy to operate. However, gasoline-powered cars had a longer range and were faster, making them more appealing to men and rural drivers.
- 1900s-1920s: The rise and fall of electric cars: In the early 1900s, electric cars reached their peak of popularity, accounting for about one-third of all cars on American roads. Electric cars were favored by wealthy Americans, who appreciated their quiet operation and ease of use. In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T, a gasoline-powered car that was affordable for the average American. The Model T’s low price and ruggedness made it a huge success, and by 1920, gasoline-powered cars had all but replaced electric cars on American roads.
- 1930s-1960s: Niche use of electric cars: In the 1930s and 1940s, electric cars were used mainly in niche applications, such as delivery vehicles, golf carts, and forklifts. In the 1960s, the environmental movement brought renewed interest in electric cars. In 1966, the first electric car designed specifically for consumers was introduced by a company called Sebring-Vanguard. The car, called the CitiCar, had a range of 40 miles and a top speed of 38 miles per hour.
- 1970s-1990s: Electric cars as a solution to oil crisis: In the 1970s, the oil crisis brought renewed interest in electric cars as a solution to America’s dependence on foreign oil. In 1973, the U.S. government launched the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act, which provided funding for electric car research. In 1974, the Vanguard-Sebring Corporation introduced the CitiVan, an electric van with a range of 50 miles and a top speed of 35 miles per hour. The CitiVan was used mainly by the U.S. Postal Service and other government agencies. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, several electric car prototypes were developed by major automakers, including General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.
- 2000s – The rise of the hybrid: In the early 2000s, hybrid cars began to gain popularity. Hybrid cars are powered by a combination of an ICE engine and an electric motor. The electric motor helps to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. The Toyota Prius, which was first introduced in Japan in 1997 and in the United States in 2000, was one of the first popular hybrid cars.
- From 2000-2023: Despite the setback of the EV1, electric vehicles continued to gain momentum in the early 2000s. In 2004, Toyota introduced the first hybrid electric vehicle, the Prius, which quickly became a best-seller. In 2008, Tesla Motors introduced the Roadster, the first luxury electric sports car, which helped to change perceptions about electric vehicles and paved the way for future models. Over the next decade, a number of new electric vehicle models were introduced by automakers around the world, including the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, and the Tesla Model S. Battery technology continued to improve, allowing for longer ranges and faster charging times, and governments around the world began to offer incentives for electric vehicle buyers. As of 2020, electric vehicles were still a small fraction of the global automotive market, but their popularity continued to grow as concerns about climate change and air pollution increased. With major automakers investing heavily in electric vehicle technology and battery production, it seemed likely that electric vehicles would become an increasingly common sight on roads around the world in the coming years.
Joshua is a car reviewer and an car enthusiast with a love for automobiles. His analysis and reviews cover a wide range of vehicles, from luxurious sports cars like the Porsche 911 to practical SUVs like the Toyota RAV4. As a skilled journalist and editor, Joshua also excels in covering sports news, including the latest in football, such as the UEFA Champions League, cricket with events like the ICC Cricket World Cup, basketball featuring the NBA, and baseball, such as the MLB World Series, alongside all other sports worldwide. For inquiries or information on these topics, feel free to contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org