Sometime between 1832 and 1839, Scottish inventor Robert Anderson invented the first electrically powered carriage using non-rechargeable batteries. In about 1890, chemist William Morrison created the first successful electric car in the United States—a six-seater with a top speed of 14 mph. The ability to charge an electric vehicle became easier as they gained popularity in the cities, as electric power companies gained interest in making it more possible.
“The enthusiastic interest recently shown by the electric power companies all over the country in furthering the cause of the electric passenger vehicle assures a still greater use of these machines. In the past it was sometimes difficult to make arrangements to have electrics charged unless the vehicles were stored in a garage where owners of electrics were catered to, but this state of affairs has changed. Now it is possible for an owner of an electric to install his own charging plant in his stable, and the electric power companies are anxious to connect their feed wires to these individual charging plants.”
—“Electric Vehicles Attract Attention,” The New York Times, January 20, 1911
Ferdinand Porsche even designed an electric car in 1898 called the P1. It weighed 2,977 pounds—approximately a third of the weight was the batteries—and put out a mere three horsepower with a top speed of 21 mph. It had a 49-mile range. (He even made the first hybrid vehicle around the same time.)
And then gasoline-powered cars soon pushed electric ones to the side because of their longer driving ranges and performance.
But now that’s reversing.
Today, there’s the push for better fuel economy. With stricter regulations across the globe, some countries are even banning the production and sale of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. In Britain, the ban will take place in 2040, and all cars on the road will have to have zero emissions by 2050. In France, the ban will also be in 2040. In Norway, all passenger vehicles need to have zero emissions by 2025.
So while automakers have already been working to manufacture hybrids, electric vehicles have been rapidly gaining traction to meet these “deadlines.” Company budgets are changing to reflect this. Ford recently announced that it will be cutting its spending for internal combustion engines by a third (about $500 million) by 2022. That money will instead go toward developing hybrid and electric vehicles. Within the next five years, Ford plans on having 13 new electric or hybrid vehicles on its lineup.
Volvo has spun its Polestar brand, known for performance versions of the company’s sedans and wagons, into a standalone electric car company. Polestar’s first electric car, the Polestar 1, puts out 600 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque and features a 93-mile electric range. Meanwhile, Volvo itself has stated that all of its models will be either hybrids or all-electric starting in 2019.
In early October, General Motors announced that there will be 20 new all-electric vehicles in its lineups by 2023. The same company that produced the EV1 back in the 1990s is working toward a completely electric, zero-emissions future. Chevrolet already has the Bolt, which has an estimated 238 miles of range. Its $37,495 price tag (made sweeter after $7,500 the federal tax credit) shows that an electric car can be price competitive with cars that burn fossil fuels.
And then, of course, there is Tesla, who recently unveiled its Semi and new Roadster. Tesla boasts superior range and excellent performance across its lineup. With its $35,000 Model 3, Tesla supposedly was receiving more than 1,800 reservations each day back in August. Its Roadster, which will not be available until 2020, will do zero to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds and the quarter-mile in 8.8 seconds. It will also have a claimed 620-mile range.
There are also fewer drivetrain parts in an electric car—and therefore lower maintenance costs. In a Tesla Model S, there are 18 (including the battery, motors, power electronics, and charger). In a car with an internal combustion engine, there are thousands of parts in the engine, transmission, and drivetrain. With an electric car, you basically only have to deal with only tires, tire rotations, windshield wiper fluid, battery coolant, the cabin air filter, brake pads, brake fluid changes, and the occasional software update. Oil and transmission fluid changes? Gone. The worry about $30-plus fill-ups at the pump? Gone.
According to a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the sales weighted average fuel economy for all new vehicles sold in the U.S. in last year was 25.2 mpg. With the average price of regular pump gas over the past two years, $2.35 per gallon, someone driving 15,000 miles per year would pay just shy of $1,400 in gas for the year. Meanwhile, the current average cost of electricity in the United States is 12 cents per kWh, meaning that someone who drives 15,000 miles a year will pay about $540 in electricity.
The argument that it takes too long to fully charge an electric car’s battery while out on the road could soon be coming to an end, too. Fisker recently filed patents for its solid-state battery technology. Their batteries will have three-dimensional electrodes that allow for two and a half times the energy density of the lithium-ion batteries currently used in the market. This will allow for up to 500 miles on a single charge. And the charging time for a full charge? As low as one minute.
There’s no denying that the electric vehicle will be the way of the future. The performance far surpasses that of a gasoline-powered car. Ranges are getting longer and longer as battery technology improves and charging networks develop across the country. The cost of the batteries is getting lower every year, thus resulting in lower MSRPs; and as electric vehicle sales increase, the cost of batteries decreases. And automakers worldwide are investing more and more into electric vehicle technology instead of concentrating on just the internal combustion engine.
It’s time to accept the technology. That future will be here sooner than you think.