Posted on September 02, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] plays a pivotal role in the history (and future) of the electric car. Sputnik News reports, "The much-hyped unveiling of the Tesla Model 3, with hundreds of thousands of pre-orders in just three weeks, prompted many to suggest that electric vehicles are the future of our transportation; however, as it turns out, the concept of electric vehicles is just a resuscitation of a long-dormant method of commuting.” And looking ahead, electric vehicles could grow to "6.6 million [car sales] per year — worldwide by 2020" as forecasted by Navigant Research.
Above: Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the Tesla Model 3 (Source: Car Magazine UK)
To provide some context, Popular Mechanics notes that, "The history of the electric car stretches way, way back—almost 200 years at this point. The electric car has a longer history than both the steam and gasoline-powered car, and came about... two decades after the first steam locomotives hit the rails. It's a contentious point, but many point to the work of Hungarian Benedictine priest and inventor Ányos Jedlik as the first person to try strapping an electric engine to four wheels in 1828. This GIF [see below]... takes you through that long history, including looks at the Lohner Electric Chaise in 1898, the Henney Kilowatt from 1959, AMC's Amitron from 1968, right up to Elon Musk's attempt to make the electric car available to the masses in the Tesla Model 3."
Above: History of the electric vehicle (Source: Popular Mechanics via gearheads.org)
The Electric Rider notes that, "By the year 1900, electric cars were actually gaining popularity with urban users who appreciated the simplicity and lack of smelly smoke. Believe it or not, during the first decade of the 20th century electric cars accounted for a third of traffic on U.S. roads. By this time the first gas-electric hybrid car had already been invented by none other than Ferdinand Porsche... [and] famous inventor Thomas Edison was so convinced that the electric car was the future that he spent considerable time trying to improve battery technology."
Above: Porsche's first car in 1898, the P1, was electric (Source: Upworthy via Porsche)
So what happened? As it turns out Henry Ford's "Model T killed the electric car dead. In 1912 Ford brought an affordable and reliable car to the masses that outperformed electric cars in speed and range. The market spoke, and the age of the internal combustion engine truly got underway. By 1935 almost all road-going electric vehicles were gone... [later] by the mid-70s car makers were putting research money into a new generation of electric cars. After one or two electric car successes, the interest in them began to fade once again."
Above: BMW debuted its first electric car, the 1602 E, at the 1972 Summer Olympics (Tech Insider via BMW)
So what came next? "For the next decade, until the early 1990s, very little happened in the electric car arena. The 90s really got the ball rolling. We had the EV1 and the Prius come to market – two cars that are already iconic today. Suddenly celebrities are driving hybrids and Silicon Valley companies like Tesla are getting into the game. After many false starts it seems that the time of the electric car has finally come... the electric cars from Elon Musk’s Tesla company [are the ones] that have really put the electric car back into the collective eye of the public."
Above: The car that rebooted the electric vehicle, the Tesla Roadster (Source: ABB)
To round out this storyline, Car Keys* asks, "But what is the history of the electric car? Where has it been – and where is it going? We take a look back through the history books to see where it all began and how electric car technology has changed over the years. From the days of the first electric car dealership in 1896 to the introduction of the Tesla Roadster in 2006, here is the history of the electric car." Check out their fascinating infographic below...
*Source: Car Keys