History of the Electric Car

As the turning world melts about us, natural disasters turn up to 11 and an estimated five thousand barrels of crude oil blast into the Gulf of Mexico each day, America’s cry for electric cars has never been louder. Electric cars aren’t new. When the internal combustion engine was in its infancy and, like an infant, was only capable of crapping out, the most reliable horseless carriages were powered by electric motors. As gas prices fell and the internal combustion engine became more reliable, electric cars were cast aside with the rest of the old timey garbage — like busted suspenders and empty jars of Dr. McSomebody’s Mystery Mustache Wax.

Take a look at the graphic below for a full history of the electric car, from the 19th Century EVs you’ve never heard of, to the future concepts you might be driving next year.

Click on the image for a full-res, readable version:

History of the Electric Car

As an overview, the electric car came back in the middle of the 20th century, languishing in the hands of small companies run by patchouli idealists who honestly thought minuscule cars with cripplingly ugly body lines were the wave of the future. And the crickets chirped for many years.

At the end of the 20th century, major auto manufacturers gave the electric car a few sideways glances. Most notably, General Motors gave the electric car a half-serious test run from 1996 to 2002 with the EV1. Eight hundred cars were produced and were available through special lease programs in select U.S. cities. In 2002 the EV1 program was canceled and all road going EV1s were repossessed and either crushed or disabled. Around the same time, Toyota’s Prius began its rise to power and major manufacturers the world over were clamoring to jump on the Hybrid band wagon. A hybrid Ferrari, really?

Things are changing on the electric car scene. Technology is advancing and world governments are taking alternative transportation energy sources seriously. Ironically enough the best of the fully electric cars today is built by a small company. The Tesla Roadster has a lot in common with the Lotus Elise and its performance figures, as well as its range, are the best anyone has achieved with a fully electric vehicle thus far. But we’ve still got a long way to go, baby.

About The Author

I founded Automoblog.net in May of 2006 to share my love of cars. My favorites include the Lamborghini Diablo 6.0 VT and Koenigsegg CCX, and I think the Ferrari 360 Spider is still one of the sexiest cars in existence. For “normal” cars, I like imports - Nissan, Audi, Subaru... I love my Pearl Yellow (don't judge) 1990 Nissan 300ZX TT and plan to get it to around 550 HP one day. I'm also an avid world traveler and love rock climbing.

15 Comments on "History of the Electric Car"

  1. alt.energy Review

    Nice infographic. Really shows the evolution. Makes it seem hopeful that we evolve into some great cars.

  2. Rammstein

    From a historical point of view the map and time line are completely useless and even emberrassing !

    The "La Jamais Contente" (Never satisfied) is not even mentioned.

    While this electrically powered vehicle, sprawn from the mind of the Belgian Camille Jenatzy, was the first car to break the magic 100 kilometer speed record with a speed of 105 km/h

    Back in 1899 !!!

    So before making a map giving a timeline of important events, do your homework.

    • Should it have been mentioned? Yeah, probably, but omitting an example doesn't mean it's inaccurate, just not completely exhaustive. There's only so much space we had to work with. In case you didn't notice, there's a helluva lot of information on that graphic.

  3. visitor

    What about Honda RAV4-EV from 1997? Mercedes Electrique frm 1905? Hideous G-Wiz? There are even more historic EV's.

    • The HondaEV+ is on the chart, along with the Nissan Altra.

      The HondaEV+ was developed originally with Lead batteries, like all successful EVs, and then upgraded when Toyota-Panasonic developed superior Nickel (NiMH) batteries; the HondaEV reliably yielded 120 miles range.

      However, Honda's charging algorithm was inferior, and degraded the batteries faster than they should have been worn out; moreover, Honda was using the early second-generation NiMH from PEVE, which didn't last as long as the last few made, the "gen-3 plus", which were stopped and shut down by Chevron-GM, which sued Toyota (winning $30 million) for improving the NiMH batteries (!!!).

      Thus, GM and Chevron combined to kill the only successful battery for EVs that lasts longer than the life of the car, Nickel (NiMH); to this day, Chevron retains a stranglehold on any use of NiMH for plug-in cars, they will only permit it for hybrids with batteries too small to plug in. That's why all auto makers are forced to use more expensive Lithium, which doesn't last as long as Nickel batteries.

  4. mikedudical

    All this hype about electric cars is great but until the Saudi's stop pouring oil into Washington DC is's literally a pipe dream. DC just pumped billions into cash-4-clunkers amidst the largest inventory of used and repossessed vehicles in history (i.e. http://repofinder.com). Don't get me wrong, I like the the electric idea but it's all politics.

  5. CORRECTION: 650 “1997” EV1 using defective GM-Delco Lead batteries, which were designed to fail and sabotage the Nov. 1996 “launch” of the doomed EV1 (GM always testified that it was just trying to prove EVs impossible and too expensive).
    There were 465 “1999” EV1 using defective GM-Ovonics NiMH (Nickel) batteries, which took it up to 160 miles on a charge. That’s why the “volt-hoax” seems such a step backward, and just another GM effort to sabotage EVs.

    In Spring, 1997, Honda came out with the NiMH HondaEV, which had over 120 miles range and reliable batteries; it was this launch, powered by a Toyota-Panasonic research effort (NiMH batteries and PM motor-controller) which forced GM to admit it had issued the “1997” EV1 with defective batteries; GM then began upgrading the defective GM-Delco Lead batteries with reliabel PSB EV-EC 1260 lead batteries, which gave the Lead EV1 a range up to 110 miles.

    So we don’t need Lithium; we just need honesty on the part of the car companies. So far, the OIL-auto complex are all crooks and liars about Electric cars and batteries.

  6. Zathras IX

    Why only battery- and hybrid battery/ICE EVs? What about EVs powered by hydrogen/natural gas fuel cells? They operate more like conventional ICE vehicles and don't require any recharging, only refueling.

  7. Used motorcycles

    Today we are in situation of energy crisis. Day by day the fuel prices are rising and we don't have a effective solution to overcome on that. If we had build more emphasis on manufacturing electric cars we do not have to see this situation. As the law of nature that "Need is the mother of all invention" we will overcome from this energy crisis because we need electric cars now.

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