The History of Electric Cars

Most people think that the first electric car was built — and then killed (which we’ll get to in a moment) — in the 1990s. However, the very first electric car was built way back in the 1830s by a Scottish inventor named Robert Andersen. Granted, it was crude and didn’t go fast or far at all. But it launched a concept that, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, caught the attention of inventors such as William Morrison (who also invented the cotton candy machine), Thomas Edison, and Ferdinand Porsche. But then something happened that slammed the brakes on electric car development: cheap gas prices.

1920s – 1960s

In the 1920s, plunging gas prices, along with improvements to the internal combustible engine, created a surge in demand for gas-powered vehicles. And while there were still some inventors who were tinkering with electric vehicle design, it was not seen as economically viable on a mass scale.

1970s – 1980s

During the 1970s, gas prices started spiking again — and so did interest in alternative fuel vehicles. In 1973, General Motors developed a prototype for an urban electric vehicle, and by 1975, the U.S. automaker Sebring-Vanguard was producing around 2,000 “CitiCars” that had a range of 50-60 miles. However, falling gas prices in the 1980s, along with some fundamental drawbacks — the most notable being limited range — caused interest in electric vehicles to fade yet again.

1990s

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, something major happened that thrust electric vehicles back into the mainstream spotlight. This time, it wasn’t surging gas prices, but new regulations. Specifically, in 1990, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed the zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which ordered the U.S.’s major automakers to provide the public with electric vehicles — otherwise, they would be unable to continue sales of their gasoline-powered vehicles in California. This mandate led to the development and manufacture of nearly 5,000 electric cars, and the promise to usher in the long-anticipated electric vehicle revolution. Except…that didn’t happen.

Who Killed the Electric Car?

The reasons for the death of the electric car as developed during the 1990s were the subject of a 2006 documentary called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Through various interviews with engineers, technicians, and electric-car-loving celebrities, as well as original news footage about the development, launch, and marketing of electric vehicles, the documentary argues that relentless pressure from automakers, the oil industry, and the federal government forced the California Air Resources Board to reverse its mandate — and kill the electric car.

The documentary also focuses on GM’s efforts to reclaim and then destroy all of the EV1 batteries it had created (and subsequently leased to other automakers). GM, which was one of the main targets of the documentary, vehemently denied the allegations. It has maintained that the primary reason it abandoned the electric vehicle market was financial, not political. GM claimed that insufficient consumer demand made the investment unfeasible — a claim that has been widely rejected by electric car advocates and enthusiasts.

2000s

Fortunately, the electric vehicle dream didn’t die in the 1990s. Towards the turn of the century, interest began to surge — largely due to growing concern over cardon dioxide emissions — and in 2000, Toyota introduced Prius: the first mass-produced hybrid. While Prius sales were sluggish at first (just 19,000 worldwide, and two-thirds of that in Japan), demand steadily increased and other automakers started to take notice, including a little-known startup in Silicon Valley called Tesla Motors.

Tesla Takes Flight

It’s impossible to overstate the impact Tesla has had on the electric vehicle marketplace (and on Devolutions’ CEO David and CTO Stefan, who are both massive Tesla fanboys!). Indeed, when Tesla announced in 2008 that it was going to create a line of luxury electric sportscars with a range of 200 miles, it was met with widespread skepticism and plenty of ridicule. But Elon Musk is having the last laugh. As of July 1, Tesla has a global market capitalization of $206 billion, which makes it the most valuable automaker on the planet. To learn more about the rise of Tesla and how it transformed the auto industry, I highly recommend reading this excellent article.

Next Generation Batteries

The most exciting thing about electric vehicles is under the hood. Tesla is spearheading the development of next generation batteries that are made with lithium iron phosphate instead of lithium ion, which allows electric vehicles to drive 400 miles between charges and last a staggering one million miles before needing a replacement.

What’s more, lithium iron phosphate batteries don’t require cobalt, which is expensive and a big reason for the high cost of electric vehicle batteries (and electric vehicles overall). In fact, there is even the possibility that consumers could remove next generation batteries from their electric vehicles and give them a second or third life as power storage devices in their homes. To learn more about this very interesting and exciting development, check out this article.

Today’s Best Electric Vehicles

According to Edmonds.com, here are the best electric vehicles on the market right now.

Top 5 affordable electric vehicles:

  1. 2020 Tesla Model 3 (starting price: $39,115; range: 250 miles)
  2. 2020 Kia Nero EV (starting price: $40,210; range: 239 miles)
  3. 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric (starting price: $30,085; range: 258 miles)
  4. 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV (starting price: $37,495; range: 259 miles)
  5. 2020 Nissan Leaf (starting price: $32,525; range: 149-226 miles)

Top 5 luxury electric vehicles:

  1. 2020 Tesla Model 3 (starting price: $48,115; range: 322 miles)
  2. 2019 Audi e-tron (starting price: $75,795; range: 204 miles)
  3. 2020 Jaguar I-Pace (starting price: $70,845; range: 234 miles)
  4. 2020 Tesla Model Y (starting price: $51,115; range: 315 miles)
  5. 2020 Tesla Model S (starting price: $81,990; range 348-391 miles)

My Top 5 Electric Vehicles

Here are the 5 electric vehicles that I’m most excited about:

  1. Volkswagen ID.3 (I’m a huge VW fan and can’t wait for this)
  2. Tesla Cybertruck
  3. Tesla Y
  4. Chevrolet Bolt Crossover
  5. Fisker Ocean (WHAT AN AWESOME TRUCK!)
  6. Ford F-150 Electric (I’ve always loved Ford trucks)

Share Your Experience and Opinion

Are you an electric vehicle enthusiast? If so, then please comment below and share which electric vehicle(s) you’ve purchased or driven, and what you’re excited about in the future. Do you see yourself buying an electric vehicle in the next few years? Or perhaps you plan on moving to the French town of Appy, now that French automaker Renault has given every resident there a free Renault Zoe EV for three years!