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September 28th, 2016

The 100-Year Timeline of Electric Cars

While for most of us the trend of electric cars or electric vehicles has recently emerged. But the idea of running a vehicle on electricity is more than a century old. The more than 100-year old timeline of electric cars has had its ups and downs through the decades. It has gone from once being perceived as the future of everything motoring to totally unwanted, to once again emerge as way the future would be driven as. In this long journey of electric cars we are now once again at a point where they seem to be the absolute necessity, both practically and ecologically to drive into the future. But before we go ahead and embrace electric vehicle technology into our lives, i think its important to know a little about the timeline of electric cars which is almost as old (although mostly un-developed) as the internal combustion engine itself.

Late 19th Century & Early 20th Century

During the late 1800s, electric cars were the preferred mode of transport. From the 1880s to the early 1900s inventors such as the British Thomas Parker were making electric cars a more viable option by designing special high-capacity rechargeable batteries. Not only were these electricity driven cars (more life carts actually) more easy to be driven around, but had a relative ease of operation over gasoline-powered counterparts too as most gas-powered engines back them were heavy, cumbersome, not very powerful, highly unreliable and almost always leaking fluids from some place or the other.

That said, electric cars have always had their biggest Achilles heel, recharging the batteries. It is something that’s still an unsolved issue in our modern technologically advanced society, although we are getting there slowly but surely.

Timeline of Electric Cars Thomas Parker

Thomas Parker’s electric car from the late 1880s

As the internal combustion engine became more robust and reliable, addressing its shortcomings, it quickly was able to trounce upon the relative advantages of electric cars. At the turn of the 20th century, there were almost 30,000 electric cars on the road. Considering the total number of cars back then, this was a substantial amount. With petroleum becoming more widely available and introduction of features such as electric starter motors, combined with the greater range of gas-powered cars and their ease of re-fueling, electric car sales started to decline to a point where they were completely overcome by their petrol-powered counterparts. The timeline of electric cars had all of a sudden stalled, only to again after 90 years.

Early 90s to present.

During the early 1990s, the proposition of electric cars was once again brought to the table. This time though, the thought of bringing an electric car to the market was not out of convenience, but out of necessity. The growing environmental concerns had to be addressed, and petroleum powered vehicles were right in the middle of the debate. As an alternative, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) started out a campaign that pushed manufacturers to develop more fuel efficient and low-emission vehicles. The ultimate goal was to move towards zero-emissions, but it would off course be one step at a time.

Timeline of Electric Ears GM EV1

General Motors EV1. Photo credit: Rick Rowen/ Wikipedia

During this time cars like the Chrysler TEVan, Ford Ranger EV, GM EV1 and Honda EV plus along with the Toyota RAV4 EV and Nissan Altra EV were introduced into the market. While the initiative was a good one to bring back electric vehicles, the technology was still quite not there to make it a viable option for users. Batteries were still expensive to buy and install in cars and still offered a very limited range. The first generation General Motors EV1 for instance, gave a total range of 60-80kms on a full charge and took about 8 hour to charge back to 100 percent. Once again, the gasoline powered cars once again hand in practicality and the various electric car programs slowly died out by the early 2000s. But electric cars as a mainstream phenomenon wasn’t that far now.

Timeline of Electric Cars General Motors EV1

The EV1 cutaway.

Over the last decade since the second coming of electric vehicles, a lot has changed when it comes to battery technology. While even today batteries aren’t exactly cheap, their potential has improved greatly. The modern batteries are denser and pack lot more charge in the same relative surface area as previous batteries, lending to a more practical range.

Today’s modern cars like the Tesla Model 3 and the Tesla P100D can actually provide a very impressive range of more than 200 miles (321km) on a single charge, while providing supercharging that can bring back half of the battery’s charge in less than 20 minutes. And with the expansion of recharge stations in the developed world, owning and living with an electric car daily has once again become an achievable thing. Almost 100-years after electric car was first mainstream, completing a full circle in the timeline of electric cars.

Electric Cars - Tesla Model 3 Top View

There is no need to stress the fact that electric vehicles are the closes future of human transport. This time, there will be no comeback from gasoline-powered vehicles. But there is still a lot left to be desired from electric cars. Battery range still brings out “range anxiety” in the best, and while fast, we still have to wait for our cars to charge up. Eesha Khare’s invention might be the most important thing that could change the world of electric vehicles in the near future, but we still have to get there.

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