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The Long History Of Electric Cars


Written by Improv Traffic School*.

We tend to view electric vehicles as an invention created by the green movement. The first electric production car actually traces its history much further back, but perhaps the inventor’s motives were actually “green.”

Thomas Parker was an inventor from England who invented the first production electric car that used rechargeable batteries. It is believed Parker was at least partially motivated by the growing smoke and pollution in London and was looking to maximize fuel efficiencies. The year? It was in 1884.

The first electric car in the United States was created about seven years later by William Morrison and could reach a then-pretty-impressive 14 miles per hour. Electric cars, however, still remained more popular in Europe than in the US.

Around 1900, a fleet of electric taxi cabs took to the streets in London, but the first gasoline/electric hybrid was built near Chicago. That vehicle, however, was not a commercial success because it was too expensive, it was too slow, and it was a challenge to maintain.

Early electric cars had quite a few advantages over other consumer choices. Gas cars had to be hand-cranked to get started and also all had manual transmissions. Electric cars were quiet, smooth running, would start easily and no shifting was needed. There were also steam-powered vehicles at the time, but they would take a long time to build up power, especially in cold temperatures.

By the 1920s, electric cars had lost ground to their rivals, as gas-powered vehicles could cover greater distances. Gas cars also began adding conveniences that increased their popularity. And the main reason gas-powered cars gained popularity over electric cars was price. Production techniques made it possible to buy a gasoline-powered car at half the cost of an electric car.

Fuel shortages during World War II increased interest again in electric cars, but those efforts were short-lived. It wasn’t until the 1970s that another shortage fueled interest in electric cars. Finally, in the 1990s major auto manufacturers began to offer mainstream electric and hybrid options.

The movement to electric vehicles has been a slow process. It has always been dictated by consumer desires, price, and practicality. There are predictions that the electric car market will reach 7% of total car sales by 2020, and there are some who think the market will be much bigger by then. We’ll see!

This article has been supported by Improv Driving School.

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