There have been several points in history since the 1800s that electric vehicles have been rolled out onto the market. Looking at the timeline of electric vehicles shows just how many times the infatuation with EVs has fluctuated. Electric carriages in 1832 followed by electric locomotives in 1835, and finally the first mainstream electric automobile by 1891.
By 1897 a fleet of electric taxis began transporting New Yorkers around the city. Seeing this success, even Thomas Edison saw electric vehicles as the way of the future and began working on ways to innovate and better battery technology to increase the range on EVs in 1899.
Early electric vehicles , much as they are currently today, were rather expensive and out of the average American’s budget. They were viewed as a luxury for the rich; not only because of the vehicle cost, but because even having electricity in homes was not common, other than in wealthier households. This lack of access to electricity was a large issue at the time, and unless you lived in a city where longer range trips were not necessary, the use of early EVs was impractical. This range issue is still a large proponent against the use of EVs now, even though it is far easier to plug in and charge one at home for most people, and there are an increasing number of plug-in stations to recharge going up around the world.
This economic divide is what made Henry Ford’s Model T so popular by 1908. The mass produced and affordable gas-powered vehicle met Ford’s goal of simplicity and access for the average American worker. It also had the long-range travel most people needed. Along with range, lack of affordability for the average person to purchase EVs is still the primary issue regarding them today. The annoyance of the loud noise and smell from emissions in the gas vehicle did not take away from the fact that people with smaller budgets could finally drive an automobile in their price range. By 1912 an electric starter eliminated the need for hand-crank starting and made the gas-powered vehicles even more appealing to the masses. By 1920 EVs were essentially phased out.
After almost 60 years of pollution through gas-powered vehicle emissions, Congress pushed for the use of EVs to help improve air quality in 1966. The skyrocketing price of oil during the Oil Crisis of 1973 and an increasing environmental awareness gained a large consumer interest in EVs as well. In 1976 Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act to encourage invention and innovation in these desired technologies to address these growing concerns, despite President Gerald Ford’s veto of the Act.
Two decades later the first Toyota Prius hybrid was released, as well as many EV models from several makers; although those only as lease options. The EVs were all pulled from the market by the early 2000s at the end of the lease agreements and all of the GM models were destroyed. The 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” investigated how the oil industry, the U.S. Government, and consumers all impacted the acceptance of (or lack of) EV technology, and what led to the subsequent non-availability of EVs at that time.
With current anti-EV political rhetoric discouraging use of the electric Chevy Volt, high vehicle prices, and slow consumer acceptance in spite of high gas prices, are we just repeating the same cycle all over again? High interest, then lost interest in EVs? Or will innovations like Envia’s long-range battery and increased environmental awareness finally make EVs a lasting technology?
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