When were electric cars invented?

Electric cars are here. These once futuristic ideas are credible choices when considering a new car purchase in 2017.

When were electric cars invented header image with electric cars charging in the background

When were electric cars invented

Electric cars are here. These once futuristic ideas are credible choices when considering a new car purchase in 2017. Not only that,  in popularity polls, they are gaining momentum. As the popularity of electric cars are on the up, we wanted to investigate more into the history of the electric car. Like many groundbreaking inventions, they didn’t have the best start. Sadly, electric cars were met with some scepticism in the early days. However, without these rocky beginnings, we may not have the performance credentials of today’s modern electric vehicles. In this article, we’ll take a look at when electric cars were invented and what led to the cars we know today.

What is an electric car?

Let’s cover the basics. Electric cars come in two types. Either full electric or hybrid engines. A fully electric car uses an electric motor to generate the power needed to propel the car forward. The electricity is stored in a rechargeable battery under the hood of the vehicle.

Battery Vehicles (BEV’s as they are otherwise known) are charged via mains electricity via a specialised socket or charging unit. This means that the amount of pollution attributed to the car is actually dependent on how the electricity is made. The car itself produces zero emissions.

A hybrid vehicle has a combined engine. This means it can run as an electric vehicle or a standard vehicle. The hybrid has been the stepping-stone to the adoption of fully electric vehicles. It provided a piece of security in case the driver ran out of charge. In a hybrid, they can just switch back to traditional driving mode.

2017 Blue BMW i3 Hatchback Front
Silver electric car charging

Who invented the electric car?

This is a tricky one to pin point exactly. A series of breakthrough’s in the 1800’s led to the first electric vehicle on the road. From the invention of the battery to the electric motor, all have played a huge role in shaping how electric vehicles work today.

In the early 1800’s inventors from the USA, Hungary and the Netherlands began contemplating the concept of a battery-powered vehicle. At the same time, a British innovator named Robert Anderson produced the first crude electric carriage. It wasn’t until the 19th Century we saw the first practical electric cars developed in France and England. In the US the first successfully created electric vehicle debuted in Des Moines, Iowa in 1890. William Morrison was a chemist and his six seater passenger car could reach a top speed of 14 miles per hour. Granted, it was essentially an electrically powered wagon. But it sparked the initial interest in electric powered cars.

When were electric cars invented?

Mass produced electric vehicles first appeared in the mid-19th century. They were high cost and had a low top speed. Not only that, they had a short range which would limit drivers to short journeys. This ultimately led to their worldwide decline as they weren’t deemed as practical for the mass market of drivers.

The beginning of the 21st Century saw a growing concern over green issues such as global warming and sustainability of fossil fuels. This led the interest in alternative fuel vehicles, including electric vehicles, making a comeback. Serious money and time were invested in the technology behind electric vehicles to make them a more viable competitor in the everyday vehicle market. As a result, since 2010 the combined sales of all-electric cars and vans reached 1 million globally in September 2016.

Electric charging point

Why were electric vehicles so popular in the 1900’s?

It’s important to remember that in the 1900’s there were little alternatives to these low speed and high-cost electric vehicles. Horses were still the primary form of transportation into the 20th century. So the electric powered cars and vehicles were an incredible innovation of their time. Around the same time, gasoline powered cars came to the market. Gasoline certainly had promise but required a lot of manual effort to drive among other less desirable qualities.

In comparison, electric vehicles were quiet and didn’t emit the smelly fumes like other cars on the market. This led to electric cars being popular with urban residents looking to do short journeys around the City. As more people gained access to electricity in the 1910s, it became easier to charge electric cars, adding to their popularity with all walks of life

Why did their popularity decline?

In 1908 Mr Henry Ford mass-produced the Model T. Model T was a gas powered vehicle designed to become widely available and affordable. The price difference between an electrically powered vehicle and a gas powered vehicle was substantial. In fact, in some cases, electric vehicles were double the price. In 1912 Charles Kettering introduced the electric starter. This eliminated the need for the hand crank on gas powered vehicles.

As a result, there was a rise in gasoline-powered vehicle sales. By 1920 the road system had improved which led to the demand for vehicles being able to travel further. Electric vehicles just did not have the same power as their gasoline alternatives. Sadly, electric vehicles had all but disappeared by 1935.

What helped bring back the electric car?

Shortages in home-grown oil in 1960’s and 70’s USA saw the price for gas creep higher and higher. The reliance on overseas oil supplies and the costs involved in importing these fuels led to a growing interest in reducing the USA’s dependence on overseas oil. Congress passed that the Energy Department must support research and development in hybrid vehicles.This is known as the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1976.

Around this time many car manufacturers worldwide began to explore alternative fuel options, including electric cars. Even though research and development in electric and hybrid cars was high these vehicles were still falling short practically. Even the press coverage of NASA’s electric Lunar rover becoming the first manned vehicle to drive on the moon in 1971. The popularity was still not great enough to overcome the shortcomings. Top speeds of 45 mph and a range of just 40 miles limited their appeal.

This led to their interest declining again until the 90’s. Simply put, the popularity of electric cars didn’t really take-off again until they were comparable in performance to their gasoline counterparts. The electric vehicle industry had shown the promise of the technology by this point. However, the true revival of the electric vehicle didn’t happen until the 21st century.

Electric cars in the 21st Century

The Toyota Prius became the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. First released in Japan in 1997. By 2000 the Prius was released worldwide and became a must-have among wealthy celebrities. This really helped raise the profile of the car and the technology inside making it desirable.

In 2006 Tesla announced they would be producing a luxury electric sports car that could reach distances of more than 200 miles from a single charge. This innovation led to other manufacturers to look at their electric or hybrid offerings and develop their range.

The increased demand has led to charging stations being seen as commonplace in a variety of locations up and down the Country. However, there’s still a long way to go before a lot of people are willing to give up on their trusty gas vehicles.

The future of the electric car looks bright and we at OSV are excited to see how the technology develops. For the sake of our environment, it would be amazing to see a popularity shift from gasoline to electric cars by consumer choice.

Now you know when electric cars were invented We explore whether they are worth the hype and how much you may save a year
Rachel Richardson
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