The electric car market is rapidly expanding with many people seeing it as the next step in commercial transportation. Compared to Internal Combustion Engines (ICE), electric cars are considered to be the smarter choice for the future. This is due to their longevity in the market and beneficial impact on the environment.
Since their inception, electric cars have continued to adapt and evolve throughout the years and will more than likely continue to do so.
In this article, we go over the history of electric vehicles and how they have become what they are today. We also cover the possible evolution for them and what it means for the way we will live our lives in the future.
While electric cars are seen as a future technology, they have actually been a concept since the 1800s. The first battery-powered vehicles even predate the first gas-powered ones. Below is a brief summary of the expansive history of the electric car and its rise and fall in popularity.
The early 1800s saw many innovators playing with the idea of battery-powered vehicles. While some small-scale electric cars were created during this time, none of them had taken off. The first crude electric vehicle is credited to British inventor Robert Anderson in 1832. It was essentially a carriage without horses and wasn’t practical but it proved the concept.
Then in 1837 Robert Davidson, a Scottish inventor and chemist, made the first electric locomotive. He named it Galvani and it traveled for about 1.5 miles at 4 miles per hour. It was later destroyed by train workers who believed it threatened their jobs. The world of electric vehicles changed in 1859 with the development of rechargeable batteries, this meant the cars could travel at much longer distances and you didn’t need to carry a large additional battery on a journey.
After this, French and English inventors began creating the first battery-powered cars that were practical and releasing them on the market. This first electric vehicle in the US would come around 1890 by William Morrison. He showed off his new vehicle at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair where it was a hit. Many manufacturers began developing their own electric cars to sell to the US market.
By 1900, a third of all the vehicles on the road were electric and this would continue to grow in the early 1900s. The world’s first hybrid would be invented in 1901 by Ferdinand Porsche, who would go on to create Porsche in 1931. The hybrid was a combustion engine that powered an electric motor.
Electric cars became popular during the early 20th century due to their lack of smelly exhaust fumes, being easier to drive than gasoline cars because they had fewer controls, and a quieter engine. This meant that they were very popular in urban areas, especially among women. This popularity however didn’t extend out of urban areas where there wasn’t easy access to electricity yet.
The Fall Of Electric
The fall of electric vehicles can be credited to one car, the Model T. This was produced by Henry Ford who founded the Ford Motor Company. It is considered the first car to make gasoline-powered vehicles widely accepted. It was introduced in 1908 and by 1912 the price of a gasoline car was less than half of its electric counterpart. By 1935, the use of electric vehicles fell out of popularity.
A New Beginning
In the 1960s and 1970s, the price of gasoline began to rise, and this caused people to look to electric vehicles again as a viable alternative. It was being demonstrated as the technology of the future with the 1971 moon rover also being electric-powered.
1974 saw the release of the Citicar by Sebring-Vanguard. It was a small electric car and by 1977 they had produced 2,300 of them. The company would be sold to Commuter Vehicles and they would rebrand the Citicar into the Comuta-Car, they sold 4,444 units in total which made them the best-selling electric car since World War 2, and they would retain this title until 2013.
The EV1 was released by General Motors in 1996 and demonstrated that larger companies are looking into producing electric vehicles. The EV1 would be discontinued in 2001 due to high production costs but it still gained a cult following during its run.
The introduction of the Toyota Prius in 1997 is considered by many to be a turning point in the electric car industry. It was the first mass-produced hybrid and would be released in 2000 to roaring success. The battery was a nickel metal hydride which reduced the high production costs that hit the EV1. The Prius became beloved by celebrities which helped raise its status and make it desirable to the masses.
In 2006, a small start-up company called Tesla Motors would begin to make its ideas a reality. We go into further detail about Tesla and its impact on electric cars later in this article.
The first commercially available plug-in hybrid would be released by General Motors in 2010, the Chevy Volt. Rapidly, electric vehicles were coming into the market with new technology. Then in 2012, the price of electric vehicle batteries dropped by 50%. The battery was arguably the most expensive part of an electric car, so the price drop made the market suddenly a lot more affordable.
People began to see electric vehicles as not just an affordable option, but one that had environmental benefits. Climate change became a larger issue and many people sought ways to limit their own carbon footprint.
Electric Vehicles Today
The electric vehicles we have today are much different than the ones that first hit the market. At first, electric vehicles were seen as inferior cars that only had the benefits of being better for the environment and less money spent on gas.
Now, the technology powering electric vehicles is making them on par with gasoline-powered vehicles. They are reaching incredible speeds and are continuing to advance to give them better range and more access to charging ports. The gasoline-powered cars can only get so advanced before they have to become a hybrid, which is why so many people are opting to buy them.
Evolution Of Technology
The advancement of technology is the main reason why electric cars are becoming so popular. Without advancement, electric cars would continue to be the horse-less wagons that couldn’t recharge their batteries.
Technology has allowed more nationwide charging stations to be included which will encourage more people to buy electric cars as they can now see many opportunities to fuel them up. The Recovery Act saw more than $115 million being invested into electrical infrastructure. Today there are thousands of charging stations around the globe with people also having the opportunity to charge at their homes.
Another benefit of technology evolution in electric cars is the advancement of batteries. Better batteries mean that electric cars will have better performance, and for longer. Many electric car owners will talk about the range of a car (how far it can go before needing to be charged again) and the rapid development of batteries is increasing this range.
Different Types Of Electric Vehicles
You will mainly hear electric cars described in 4 different ways, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, all-electric, and plug-in electric. Below we go over exactly what these terms mean.
- Hybrid – This type has no plug-in capacity. They have an electric drive system and battery but require liquid fuel to go.
- Plug-in hybrid – This is a hybrid with a plug-in capacity. They can drive with either their electric battery or liquid fuel.
- All-electric – These cars rely solely on the energy they get from the battery. They will need to be plugged into a charging station in order to be driven again.
- Plug-in electric – This is used to describe any vehicle that can be plugged in, this includes hybrid cars.
The rise in the popularity of electric cars cannot be overstated. In the second quarter of 2021, the sales of electric cars accounted for 2.7% of the market. Exactly one year later in the second quarter of 2022, that number rapidly increased to 5.6% of the total market. While they are gaining in popularity globally, they are seeing incredible success in the Chinese market.
In 2021, the electric and hybrid vehicle registrations in China increased by 155% year-on-year. As technology advances, these figures will continue to rise with many people seeing electric cars as overtaking gasoline-powered vehicles in the next few decades.
As technology advances and electric vehicles become easy and faster to make, they will inevitably become cheaper.
Many people are purchasing electric vehicles in order to save themselves money in the long run. The price of gas seems to never stop rising so alternative fuels are becoming highly desirable.
Just because they are rising in popularity does not mean that people aren’t skeptical about them. Many people have doubts that technology is where it needs to be in order to create a functional car. The fear of range is a large contributor to people not getting electric cars. Driving long distances in electric cars is considered scary as there are fears that you will end up stranded with no access to a charging station.
Once more stations get built and car batteries get better, these fears will hopefully diminish. There is also the dislike of change that makes people not one to purchase an electric car. People see gasoline-powered cars as operating just fine and that the vehicle market doesn’t need to be revolutionized.
The Rise Of Tesla
When it comes to electric vehicles, there is no name that stands out more than Tesla. Even if you don’t own an electric car, you have heard of Tesla or at least its CEO Elon Musk.
The company itself is named after famed inventor Nikola Tesla who is known for creating alternating current and is seen as a cultural icon in the world of technology. It is only fitting that a company sharing his name would also be looking to develop new and innovative technology.
Below we cover the history of Tesla and how its high points and low points have made it into the company it is today.
The Founding Of Tesla
Elon Musk is commonly mislabeled as the founder of Tesla. It was actually founded in 2003 in Silicon Vally by 2 engineers, Martin Eberhard and Marc Taepenning. They both shared a love of electric vehicles and wanted to create electric sports cars to help eliminate the stigma around electric cars. Eberhard would act as the CEO until August 2017.
In 2004, Musk would join the company as a chairman having contributed $6.5 million to the company. Tesla Motor’s mission would be outlined by Musk in his 2006 blog post The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me). It describes Tesla’s desire to reduce the number of fossil fuels in their effort to create electric vehicles.
That year the prototype for the Tesla Roadster would be released. It could travel an impressive 250 miles on a lithium-ion battery that could be recharged in a standard wall outlet. The main flaw of this design was that it required 1-2 days before reaching full charge.
The Early Years
After Eberhard stepped down, Ze’ev Drori was appointed CEO. He was tasked with the difficult job of getting Tesla’s first car on the market by early 2008. He achieved this and by March 2008 the Roadster began regular production. The Roadster retailed for around $109,000 and from its release to discontinuation in January 2012 it sold 2,450 units.
In October of 2008, Elon Musk became the CEO of Tesla. Amidst a global economic crisis, Musk made layoffs in the company and pushed the release of their next vehicle the Model S Sedan from 2010 to mid-2011. By November, the company was near bankruptcy. In order to save themselves from debt, the board of directors approved $40 million in convertible debt financing.
A prototype of the Model S Sedan was shown in March 2009 and by May there were 1,000 reservations for it. That May, Daimler took a 10% stake in Tesla for $50 million, and then a month later Tesla got a loan from the Department of Energy for $465 million. This was enough to get them out of danger and that loan was paid back by May 2013.
One of the founders of Tesla, Martin Eberhard would attempt to sue Tesla saying that he was forced out of the company in June 2009. The lawsuit would be dropped against Musk 2 months later in August 2009. June 2010 saw Tesla become a public company. They announced 13.3 million shares at $17 per share. They raised $226.1 million and were valued at $2.2 billion.
The Model S beta was revealed to 3,000 reservation holders in October of 2011, the Model S would begin delivering to customers in June of 2012 to critical success. February of that year would also see the Model X SUV be revealed. It had impressive falcon wing doors but wouldn’t enter production until the end of 2015.
Tesla unveiled free-standing charging locations in 2012 which enticed more people to purchase the Model S. It was 6 stations in California initially but has expanded to over 1,000. To match its rise in popularity, Tesla opened their second factory in September 2014, it was in Nevada, and named the Gigafactory.
In 2015, Tesla began to show an interest in energy innovation as well as vehicles with the introduction of rechargeable batteries for your home. That year in October the Autopilot was launched. It is a driver-assist system meant to keep your vehicle in the center of the lane and then automatically brake/accelerate to keep up with the flow of traffic.
Their first mass-market car, the Model 3, was announced in March 2016. Ten years after the first one, the company released the second part of its company plan. It outlined solar roofs on their cars, affordable vehicles, self-driving technology, and a car-sharing program.
To show their desire to work more on automation, Tesla purchased Grohmann Engineering in November 2016, a company that specializes in automation. They would rebrand from Tesla Motors to simply Tesla in February of 2017. That July the Model 3 would launch.
In September 2018, Musk would step down from his position on the board of directors after an investigation by SEC into misleading tweets by him. Musk tweeted that he was planning on making Tesla private at $420 and that he had secured the funding to do so. This caused the stock of Telsa to rise by 10%.
Both Muska and Tesla were fined $20 million each and Telsa now oversees any tweets Musk makes about the company.2019 saw the announcement of the Model Y which would be delivered exactly 1 year later, and the opening of a new factory in Shanghai.
They would develop their faster car yet in 2021 with the Model S Plaid which they said could reach 60 miles per hour in 2 seconds. In October of that year, Tesla become a $1 trillion company. It would open its third factory in March 2022 near Berlin.
Overcoming The Masses
The public opinion of Tesla changes frequently which negative press being a constant. One of the first negative press stories about them was in May 2016 when the Autopilot system had its first fatal accident which wasn’t revealed until a month after it happened.
Tesla has attempted many positive publicity stunts. One of the most famous happened in February 2018 when a red Tesla Roadster got launched into space courtesy of SpaceX, another company of Musk.
Most of Tesla’s negative press comes from people’s perceptions of the CEO. Musk’s reputation greatly affects the perception of the company.
In July 2020, Tesla announced that they had turned a profit for 4 quarters in a row for the first time. This would continue to be a trend over the next couple of years. That year they managed a revenue of $31.52 billion, which was 28.31% more than the revenue of 2019. In 2020 they sold 499,535 cars.
In the first 2 quarters of 2021, Tesla manufactured 386,759 vehicles, that number increased to 935,950 by the end of the year.
Tesla And Today
In 2021, the Model 3 became the first electric car to pass 1 million cumulative sales, cementing Telsa as the leader in the electric car market. As of that year they had over 400 stores, 100 service centers, and 30,000 charging stations globally.
The future of Tesla shows the production of the Cybertruck and the car-sharing platform that they announced in 2016.
The Future Of Electric Vehicles
The future is electric cars, no matter which angle you look at it. The sale is electric cars is predicted to grow with them accounting for 29.5% of all new car sales by 2030. The production of electric cars is said to reduce the reliance on foreign oil. With some countries offering tax benefits to incentivize people to purchase electric.
The Future Of Driving
The obvious progression of electric cars is to driverless ones. Many cars already have built-in sensors and mapping that are glimpses into a driverless future.
Driverless cars remove the chance of human error but many people have trust issues with them, believing the technology to be dangerous and not able to think similarly to people.
What To Expect
In the next couple of years you can expect to see more options for electric cars on the market with brands coming out with their own or adapting the ones they have.
There are already driverless cars in production but many see the mainstream adoption of them in about 10 years’ time with driverless becoming the main form of transport in 20 years. Insurance will need to be reshaped to reflect this.
As gas prices rise, electric cars will become more affordable to run. Compared to ICE cars, electric already has cheaper maintenance. This is because there are fewer moving parts in an electric vehicle meaning that pieces are less likely to break and need replacing.
Due to their zero tailpipe emissions, it is estimated that emissions can be reduced by as much as 20% with the mass adoption of electric vehicles. The lack of exhaust means that the air quality will get better in highly populated areas, which could lead to better overall health.
Improving Driving Experience
Electric vehicles have no gears, which is a large source of stress for most drivers. Not having them makes for a less complicated and reduced-stress journey. The lack of an engine also makes them relatively noise-free which gives a pleasant driving experience.
Over the next few years, charging infrastructure will rapidly develop with more charging stations being placed globally. Many homes are being adapted to have a charging station next to their garage.
Battery Technology vs. Hydrogen Technology
The main technology advancements for electric vehicles will come from the battery. Most of them currently use lithium-ion batteries, which are the same as the ones found in your smartphone.
You may hear the argument of battery technology vs hydrogen technology in electric cars. The main difference between these types is how they handle electricity.
Hydrogen technology produces its own electricity from hydrogen gas. They are more expensive to produce as they have to create, and store their own energy but because it creates its own electricity it is much faster to fuel up than a battery-powered car. The creation and storage of electricity mean that it is only running at about 60% efficiency. Hydrogen technology cars are relatively new to the market, so you have limited choice if you go for one.
Batteries don’t create their own electricity and instead simply store it from the grid, this makes them cheaper to produce. They are more energy efficient at around 75%.
As technology advances, the chemistry of batteries will change with new ones already hitting the market. The current main batteries are lithium-ion, however, they are experimenting with lithium iron phosphate batteries that are showing to be safer, cheaper, and have better chemical and thermal stability.
Solid-state batteries offer promise with them using ceramic electrolytes which produce a longer lifespan, faster charging, and a reduced risk of fire.
For cheaper batteries, lithium-sulfur is being considered as it can reduce the use of expensive materials like nickel and cobalt. They can potentially offer other benefits like a greater energy density and the ability to perform well in a variety of temperatures.
Lithium itself is a relatively rare metal, so battery alternatives without it can be much cheaper. One alternative is sodium ion batteries however they are much heavier than lithium and are not as suitable for storing energy.
For many consumers, the range of electric vehicles is where most of the advancement is needed. Most electric vehicles can run for around 200 miles on a single charge.
With technology advancements, electric vehicles can see high speeds and improved performance at a variety of temperatures.
The most anticipated technology is autopilot. While it is controversial, with some people being for the advancement of it while others being against it, you can’t deny that it will happen eventually. Car companies and technology giants are already working on trying to be the first driverless cars on the market. Many countries are already introducing laws involving self-driving cars like having to have a licensed driver in the car at all times.
Another anticipated technology is wireless charging for cars. Wireless charging is not a new technology, with many smart devices having it. It is more about when it would be available on a larger scale. Some mock-ups demonstrate a wireless charging highway, in which a vehicle can be charging while you’re driving down the road.
It is clear that as electricity is becoming cheaper and is a more environmentally friendly option, more and more companies are putting in the effort to develop electric or hybrid vehicles.
The history of electric cars is a fascinating one with rises and falls in popularity. They have changed drastically from the very first over 100 years ago. In 100 years time, there is no doubt that they would be completely different from the ones we have today.
Electric cars will continue to adapt and evolve, and if their history is anything to go by then we cannot predict what will happen to them.
Not only are electric cars becoming a popular choice amongst the general population, but in some countries, they are going to be the only option. The UK has banned the sale of any new petrol or diesel car past 2030 as part of their initiative to have a greener country. It won’t be surprising if other countries soon follow and companies will be forced to produce only electric cars.
The benefit of companies being forced to work only on electric cars is that technology will develop much faster. Attention won’t be split between electric and gas cars and companies will have to be innovative to stand out in the market.
While it is true that technology is rapidly advancing, that doesn’t mean you should wait to buy an electric car. Technology will forever advance with something new always being on the horizon, if you decide to wait then you will never end up getting an electric car.
In the long run, an electric car is the smarter choice. Especially if you live in a built-up area with a lot of charging stations. If not, you can go for the medium option of a hybrid.
You will end up saving money on gas and maintenance. Also, you will never have to lift the hood of your car again to check the liquid and oil levels.