Electric Car Series: Early Days
A few months ago, I came across the announcement of Lucid, a high-end electric car with new technological advancements that rivals Tesla. This one particularly caught my attention, but announcements of new EV models (from Audi’s e-tron to Nikola’s pickup truck) are not uncommon these days. However, it has not always been this way. In fact, the electric car market has been rocky for a while and its history is a roller coaster of successes and failures.
Surprising as it might be, electric electric cars date back to the late 1800s, as old as the first gasoline-powered automobile! With the rampant discoveries and development of electrical devices, it was only natural that engineers would attempt to power automobiles with electric motors. The concept of electric cars did not just stay in the ideation phase. In 1890, American Chemist William Morrison developed the first successful electric car, a six-passenger vehicle which was slightly faster than an electrified wagon (Energy). Over the next few years, EVs exploded in production and popularity. By 1900, they accounted for a third of all vehicles on the road and continued to grow in sales for the next decade. New York City even had a fleet of electric taxis (Energy).
For the same advantages known today, electric cars were preferred over their gas-powered counterparts in the early 20th century. They were much quieter, low-maintenance and overall better for the environment. They also did not vibrate like steam and gasoline cars (Curbed Archive). Their limited range presented a challenge, but many engineers were researching ways to improve on it. In 1904, Fritchle developed an electric vehicle that could run 100 miles on a single battery charge, a then impressive performance. These extensive research and development could only increase the appeal of electric cars to consumers.
If electric cars were thriving in their early days, what could possibly cause their decline? I’ll explore the answer in the next article.
Written by Kelly Jean, Class of 2021