Electric Cars, Then and Now

Midas Swellendam - Electric cars then and now

With the growing interest in Electric Cars, we will be taking you on a journey back through time to explore, where the technology was and where it is today.

The electric vehicle was introduced more than 100 years ago, and by 2021 electric vehicle sales have grown to approximately 8 percent Globally.

As the purchase price of the electric car continues to drop, and the price of crude oil continues to rise, it makes perfect sense for the consumer to look for alternative ways to save money, and the environment of course.

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In the beginning…

In the early 1800s, innovators from the Netherlands, Hungary and United States of America began exploring the idea of a battery-powered vehicle and the first prototype was born.

Around 1890 the first successful electric car, a six-passenger vehicle capable of a top speed of 14 miles per hour, made its debut in the USA.

It was little more than an electric wagon, manufactured by William Morrison, but it was innovative enough to spark the interest around the idea of an electric vehicle.

In 1898 Ferdinand Porsche, created the world’s first hybrid electric car powered by electricity and a gas engine, this electric car was called the P1.

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As this idea took flame, by the 1900’s electric cars were being manufactured by various automakers with New York City boasting a fleet of more than 60 electric taxis.

Electric cars quickly became popular with urban residents, especially women for short trips around the city running errands and meeting up with friends.

As more people gained access to electricity in the 1910s, it became easier to charge electric cars, adding to their popularity and increasing sales.

But it wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century that French and English inventors built a new and improved prototype of the first practical electric cars. Motor vehicles where now available in steam, gasoline or electric versions.

The Turn of the 20th Century

At the turn of the 20th century, as Americans became more prosperous and status driven, they ditched the horse and buggy and turned to the newly invented motor vehicle to get around.

As electric vehicles came onto the market, so did the gasoline-powered car.

Even though the gasoline car had promise they required an enormous amount effort to drive, the car needed to be started with a hand crank, and changing gears was no easy task.

As if that was not enough, they also made a tremendous amount of noise, and the exhaust fumes were extremely unpleasant.

Many innovators started taking note of the electric vehicle’s high demand and started exploring ways to improve the technology and efficiency. 

This sparked the interest of Thomas Edison one of the world’s most iconic inventors, he was a firm believer that the electric vehicle was of superior technology and set his mind on building a better longer lasting electric vehicle battery. 

It was in 1908 that Henry Ford’s gasoline-powered mass-produced Model T, dealt a massive blow to the rising popularity of the electric car.

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By 1912, the gasoline Model T car became widely available and affordable at a cost of only $650, while an electric roadster sold at more than double the price of $1,750.

It was also the same year, that Charles Kettering introduced the electric starter, eliminating the need for the hand crank making the gasoline vehicle even more attractive to the people.

In 1914, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were long-time friends and later teamed up together, to explore various options to produce a low-cost electric car.

With the discovery of Texas crude oil, cheap, abundant gasoline and continuous improvements in the internal combustion engine, the electric vehicle all but disappeared by 1935.

Then Came the Gas Shortage

By the early 1970s, soaring oil prices and gasoline shortages coupled with the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, created a growing interest in lowering the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil, and congress moved to pass the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research Development and Demonstration Act of 1976.

This authorized the Energy Department to support research and development in electric and hybrid vehicles. Encouraged automakers began exploring options for alternative fuel vehicles, including electric cars.

NASA assisted in raising the profile of the electric vehicle in 1971, launching the electric Lunar rover, the first manned vehicle to drive on the moon.

By 1973 General Motors had developed a prototype for an urban electric car, and put it on display, at the Environmental Protection Agency’s First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development.

It was 1975 when the American Motor Company began producing electric delivery jeeps, which was then used by the United States Postal Service test program.

The only drawback to electric vehicles, was that they had limited performance, usually topping at speeds of 45 miles per hour with their range being limited to 40 miles before needing to be recharged.

Environmental Concerns Create a Renewed Interest in Electric Vehicles

In the United States, with the passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment and the 1992 Energy Policy Act plus new transportation emissions regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board, this created a renewed interest in the Electric Car.

This encouraged automakers to begin modifying some of their more popular vehicle models into electric vehicles, enabling them to achieve speeds and performance much closer to gasoline-powered vehicles, with a range of 60 miles.

One of the most well-known electric cars during this time was GM’s EV1. Instead of modifying an existing vehicle, GM designed and developed the EV1 from the ground up.

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With an impressive range of 80 miles and the ability to accelerate from 0 to 50 miles per hour in seven seconds, the EV1 was never commercially viable, the production costs were too high, and GM was forced to discontinue the EV1 in 2001.

The Revival of The Electric Car

The true revival of the electric car didn’t happen until the start of the 21st century, when in 1997 Japan introduced the Toyota Prius.

The Toyota Prius used a nickel metal hydride battery, a technology that was supported by the Energy Department’s research and became the world’s first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle

It was 2006 when Tesla Motors started manufacturing a luxury electric sports car, that could go more than 200 miles on a single charge. 

In 2010, Tesla received at $465 million loan from the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs, to establish a manufacturing facility in California. 

Through this initiative, Tesla went on to win wide acclaim for its cars and has become the largest auto industry employer in California. 

As other automakers began rolling out electric vehicles in the United States, the Energy Department invested more than $115 million to assist in building a nation-wide charging infrastructure, installing more than 18,000 residential, commercial and public chargers across the country.

The lithium-ion battery technology, supported by the Energy Department’s Vehicle Technologies Office, has helped cut electric vehicle battery costs by 50 percent while improving the vehicles battery performance.

This has played a huge roll, in lowering the costs of electric vehicles, making them more affordable and attractive for consumers.

So Many Choices

There are now a total of more than 20,000 charging outlets in more than 8,000 different locations, with 23 plug-in electric and 36 hybrid models available, providing consumers with a large variety of electric vehicles to choose from. 

There are electric vehicle’s available to suit everyone’s taste, from a two-passenger Smart ED to the midsized Ford C-Max Energi and the BMW i3 luxury SUV. 

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Due to rising gasoline prices and environmental issues, there are in total more than 234,000 plug-in electric vehicles and 3.3 million hybrids on the road in the United States, the popularity of the electric vehicle is increasing, while their prices are decreasing.

We hope you enjoyed our piece on the Electric Car, please drop a comment, we would love to hear from you.  

At Midas Swellendam we not only pride ourselves on our quality products at the right price, but we also find and source parts and products, not on our shelves for our customers.

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