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A Brief History of Electric Vehicles

Oct 5, 2022 12:48:03 PM

black and white photo of an antique car

Today, we look at electric vehicles as a modern innovation that reimagines what an automobile can be and how it can be powered. This, however, is a misconception. Electric vehicles have a surprisingly lengthy and storied history that actually predates gas-powered vehicles.

The history of electric vehicles begins in the 1800s, when inventors around the world were all working on designing electric batteries that could power early automobiles, which strongly resembled the carriages of the time. The first crude electric vehicle was developed in 1832 by a Scottish man named Robert Anderson. However, it wasn’t until an American inventor called William Morrison debuted his version of the electric vehicle in 1890 that they became popular in the US.

Electric cars were so popular, in fact, that at the turn of the 20th century, they accounted for one-third of the cars on the roads in the United States. This is in sharp contrast to today’s numbers. Now, less than 1% of cars on the road are electric. While electric vehicles seem to be everywhere lately and their sales have increased to account for a 4.6% market share, we’re nowhere near where we were during the early history of electric vehicles.

So what happened that led to the ubiquitous popularity of gasoline-powered cars with combustion engines at the expense of the electric vehicle? In 1908, Henry Ford struck a blow to the electric car market by introducing the Ford Model T. The Model T was mass-produced, which made it affordable. By 1912, drivers could purchase the Model T for less than half the cost of a comparable electric vehicle. Although electric cars were cleaner and easier to drive, the affordability of gas vehicles was enough to win popular support. Automakers of the time followed the money, imitating Ford to capitalize on the success of the cheap, mass-produced gas car.

Electric vehicles then fell out of style and gasoline-powered cars became the standard. However, after decades of gasoline dominance, the tide slowly began to shift in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Gas shortages and price increases of the time led drivers and automobile manufacturers to look for an alternative. Unfortunately, because inventors and automakers had turned their focus to combustion engines for the last several decades, EV technology was far behind the gasoline counterparts of the time, making electric vehicles unfit for popular use. Once again, the history of electric vehicles seemed to have concluded itself.

The growing environmentalist movement of the 1990s renewed public interest in electric vehicles. Governments began passing legislation that generated interest for automakers as well. Research and development into battery-powered electric vehicles began again and in the 2000s, the hybrid electric vehicle came onto the scene. While the first hybrid electric car was invented in the 19th century, the 2000s was the first time these vehicles became commercially viable.

At the same time Toyota was making a splash with its hybrid electric Prius, the electric car company Tesla was a young Silicon Valley start-up. The meteoric rise of the Tesla company spurred other automobile manufacturers and automotive interest groups to re-prioritize the electric vehicle in order to compete. Continued governmental actions regarding climate and sustainable transportation as well as a values shift in the general public have aided this growth in the EV sector.

The history of electric vehicles is still being written. EVs are fundamentally reshaping the automotive industry. It’s likely that the future success of auto companies will be largely dictated by their current response to the rise of electric vehicles. At Lintec Auto, we understand the rapidly shifting nature of the automotive industry. We’re ready to keep up. Our innovative automotive films, tapes, and adhesives serve a vast array of purposes for cars of all kinds. To learn more about our products, you can contact a member of our team.

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