The History of Electric Cars

The History of Electric Cars

Our goal is to help you learn about electric cars by presenting a series of articles that touch on a variety of important aspects of electric cars.

The Internal Combustion Engine

Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars represent 99+ percent of the automotive marketplace worldwide. Even if you're only in your mid-20s, it's likely that you've been driving an ICE car for more than a decade and doing it without giving a second thought to the technology under the hood.

To be sure, the internal combustion engine has improved dramatically in the past half-century. Better reliability, better fuel economy, lower emissions and that’s all good!

But electric cars are coming on... recent advances in battery technology, along with new manufacturing techniques and an emphasis on environmentally friendly cars, have opened the door for electric cars.

If you believe some of the negative statements, electric cars are unproven, scary, have too little range, and are really nothing more than a golf car. They’re just too different.

electric car


Until quite recently, too many people visualized something like the picture above when the phrase electric car was mentioned. We were told electric cars simply can’t compete against ICE cars. But is any of that true? Let’s see.

Electric cars are new tech, right?

Electric cars are high tech, but they’re hardly new. It might surprise you to learn that electric cars have been around for over 100 years!

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about early electric cars:

Electric cars were among the earliest automobiles. In the early 1900s, electric cars held many vehicle land speed and distance records and at one point in history, electric cars out-sold gasoline-powered cars. In fact, in 1900, 28 percent of the cars on the road in the USA were electric.

But by the 1920s, electric cars had faded.

Why did ICE cars win out?

As roads improved, people wanted to drive further and electric cars didn’t have the range the people wanted. The discovery of large oil reserves in TX, OK, and CA made gasoline cheap and ICE cars cheaper to operate.

Surprisingly, 2 simple inventions gave ICE cars an advantage:

  • The invention of the electric starter eliminated the need for hand cranking ICE cars a dangerous and difficult maneuver
  • The invention of the muffler, reduce the deafening noise of early ICE cars

Finally, the mass production of ICE cars by Henry Ford in 1913 gave ICE cars a price advantage.

So … electric cars were big a hundred years ago, and now, they’re trying to be big again.

One thing was absolutely true in 1910 and continues to be true today: electric cars are considerably simpler than ICE cars. In essence, the electric car is composed of four major components:

  • A battery, always rechargeable and most likely, lithium Ion
  • One or more electric motors
  • Control electronics that pass the power stored in the battery to the electric motor
  • “Regenerative breaking,” a way to recapture energy from the motion of the car and use it to recharge the battery

It’s really a very simple system, especially when you compare it to an ICE vehicle. Think about ICE for a moment – what’s missing?

There are a lot of things that are missing when you compare an electric car to an ICE car. In an electric car there are no:

Crankshafts, pistons, cylinders, connecting rods, fuel injection systems, exhaust systems (manifold, pipes, muffler, tailpipe), transmissions, radiators, alternators, oil pumps and timing belts.

Additionally, you don’t have to buy belts, engine oil, oil filters, antifreeze, air filters and other consumables.

In fact, for some electric cars, the only consumable is your windshield washer fluid and the only regularly replaceable parts are your windshield wipers and tires.

The stuff that’s missing from an electric car indicates one very important thing. Electric cars are simple, and simple is good.

  • Fewer parts mean fewer things that can break
  • Fewer consumables mean less continuing expense

But in addition to simplicity, you get more, not less, convenience. You fill your electric car at home at night, while you’re sleeping It’s “full” every morning, every day. No more stops at a filling station. Energy efficiency means lower fueling costs, a lot lower!

Environmentally friendly means zero emissions It’s a proven technology, not scary at all.

There’s much, much more to say about electric cars, but we’ve done enough for a brief introduction. We hope you’ll explore other chapters of our guide. Like this one, they’re short and to the point, focused on a specific aspect of electric cars.

If you spend just a little time, you’ll be better able to understand and evaluate electric cars, and ultimately, purchase an electric vehicle, if you don’t already own one.

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