- The Electric Vehicle History Timeline
- Innovators in the Invention of Electric Cars
- Rise and Fall: Electric Cars in the 20th Century
- Environmental of the First Electric Car Ever Made
- Technological Advancements in Electric Vehicle Technology
- Charging Infrastructure of First Electric Cars Ever Built
- Notable Electric Car Models and Their Impact
- Environmental Benefits and Sustainability of Electric Cars
- Electric Cars: Challenges and Opportunities
- The Future of Electric Cars: Trends and Projections
The electric vehicle history timeline that most people are aware of, started when Tesla made its big release with the Tesla Roadster, however, the early electric cars history goes way back more than 100 years into the past. EVs have belonged to the history of humanity since the late 1800s when the first prototype was created, disappearing for decades as gas vehicles took over, and waiting until they were needed again.
In this article, we bring you a brief history of electric cars, starting from the first electric car ever built up to the most modern EVs being released to the market in the next few years. Follow us on this electric ride as we take you through the interesting history of EVs, the great minds that participated and made their creation possible, new technologies being released to the market, and much more.
The timeline history of the electric car started way back in the 19th century, even before the first rechargeable lead-acid battery was created. Here we introduce a brief timeline of this history.
The Early Electric Cars History
Prototypes for the Electric Cars Were Created (1828 – 1839)
Figure 1: EV Prototype by Sibrandus Stratingh & Christopher Becker – Source: Prestige Electric Car
From 1828 to 1839, several prototypes of the world’s first electric car were developed. First came the prototype of Ányos Jedlik in 1828, then the one made by Robert Anderson somewhere between 1832 and 1839, and finally the EV prototype developed by Professor Sibrandus Stratingh & Christopher Becker in 1835.
The problem with electric car prototypes at the time was that none of them was fully functional. First, they did not have a rechargeable power source such as a lead-acid battery, instead, they used non-rechargeable primary cells that had to be discarded after discharged. Second, the electric engine was not yet fully developed, so inventors had to create early versions and adaptations of the electric motor.
The Lead-Acid Battery Was Introduced to the World (1859 – 1880)
To achieve a fully functional electric vehicle, a rechargeable battery was necessary, but this was possible in 1859, around 20 years after the first prototypes came to be. During this year, Gaston Planté developed the first design for the lead-acid battery, a groundbreaking and innovative invention.
The problem with Planté batteries was that they did not provide powerful performance and were difficult to manufacture, which is where Camille Alphonse Faure entered the picture in 1881. This inventor modified the structure of the battery to increase the capacity and made the manufacturing process easier, which is when the mass production of these batteries started.
The Acquisition of Electric Cars by Society (1890 – 1908)
With the lead-acid battery in the picture and early prototypes for electric cars available, inventors could finally create the first fully functional electric car.
Figure 2: First EV Created by Gustave Trouvé – Source: UPS Battery Center
The first electric vehicle was built in the year 1881, but this was an early and simplified version designed as a tricycle, created by Gustave Trouvé. This vehicle used an improved DC Siemens electric motor and a lead-acid battery for its power source. Trouvé tested his vehicle, but could not patent it, so instead he went to adapt his motor to a boat and created the outboard engine.
The first electric vehicle in the world to be able to carry passengers was built in Europe, implementing a lead-acid battery for its power source and built by Thomas Parker in 1884. Around the year 1887 – 1888, the first multi-passenger electric car ever made in the U.S. made its appearance, created by William Morrison, the EV was capable of carrying up to six passengers.
The creation of these EVs began to replace horse carriages with cars from 1900 to around 1910. These vehicles were acquired by the most exclusive members of society that could afford such a costly invention at the time. Then, in 1908, Henry Ford produced the Model T, an affordable, reliable, and inexpensive vehicle that changed the course of history.
The Increasing Popularity of ICE Vehicles (1908 – 1970)
From 1908, the popularity of expensive EVs at the time started to fall while cheap and accessible internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles became on-trend. By 1912 electric cars were still costing $1,750, while ICE vehicles barely cost $650, which is why most of society simply opted for the Ford vehicles and made EVs entirely disappear by 1935.
ICE vehicles hegemony was unquestionable from 1914 up to the late 1960s. Around that time, the roads between cities were rapidly being paved and citizens all over the country wanted to travel and visit other places, which they did on their affordable ICE vehicles.
The Race to Replace ICE Vehicles (1970 – 2003)
When the 1970s arrived, so did higher oil prices and gasoline shortages, which is why traveling by road became more expensive and difficult. These problems led the U.S. government to seek independence from foreign oil and gasoline, passing the act to research and develop electric and hybrid vehicles in 1976, this act was supported by the 1992 Energy Policy Act and the Clean Air Act Amendment.
After the U.S. government focused on researching and developing EVs, automakers took an interest. From that year up to 1997, companies developed a few EV models in an attempt to create successful electric cars that could replace ICE vehicles, but it wasn’t until Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning developed a startup that would in the future be known as Tesla, that modern EVs came to be.
The Return of EVs to Society (2003 – 2023)
Figure 3: 2008 Tesla Roadster – Source: Bring a Trailer
Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning joined their forces with a key member, Elon Musk, and by 2003 they were already approving the manufacture of the Tesla Roadster, the first electric car made in the 21st Century. This vehicle became the sensation of the industry in 2008 when it was shown to the world. By 2009 it was already being produced on a small scale as the Tesla Model S was announced, and shortly after, by 2010 – 2012 it was already being mass produced.
From 2010 up to 2020, other important automakers began to develop EVs with excellent results. Some of these companies include Nissan, Chevrolet, Volvo, and others. EV sales started to grow slightly in 2010 and the following years, skyrocketing already by 2020 as they sold around 3 million vehicles. A couple of years after, in 2022, over 10 million EVs were sold and it is expected that the number will grow to 14 million by 2023.
The invention of electric cars and the following creations were paved by great minds. Let’s see some of them.
Key Figures in the First Electric Vehicle in the World
Figure 4: Anyos Jedlik – Source: Linda Hall Library
Portrayed as an engineer, physicist, and Hungarian inventor, Ányos Jedlik was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and widely known for being one of the predecessors of the dynamo and the electromagnetic engines. His input into the world of EVs was creating one of the first prototypes for electric vehicles in 1828.
Robert Anderson was a prominent 19th-century inventor known for creating one of the first electric vehicle prototypes between the years 1832 and 1839. This prototype of an EV did not look like one of today’s typical electric vehicles, instead, it was designed to look like a horseless carriage. The main setback was that rechargeable batteries were not available at the time, so they used non-rechargeable primary cells.
Figure 5: Gaston Planté – Source: Fine Art America
Gaston Planté was a French physicist who lived from 1834 to 1889. He is most famous for inventing the lead-acid battery in 1859, the first rechargeable electric battery designed for commercial usage. The initial design of this battery paved the way for the actual lead-acid battery that has been used for years in all types of applications, including powering the first electric car ever made.
Camille Alphonse Faure
Camille Alphonse Faure was a French chemical engineer who lived from 1830 to 1898. This engineer is known for having greatly improved the design of the lead-acid battery 20 years after its creation. He helped considerably increase the storage capacity of the battery to improve its performance, pushing lead-acid batteries to their industrial-scale manufacturing.
Gustave Trouvé was a French electrical engineer who lived from 1839 to 1902. Some of his inventions include the outboard engine, an electric massaging machine, an electric keyboard, a water-jet propelled boat, and many others, however, his most important achievement was creating the first human-carrying electric vehicle with an installed rechargeable battery, but he could not patent his invention.
Another contributor to the creation of the electric car is Thomas Parker who lived from 1843 to 1915. Parker conquered important achievements such as manufacturing electric tramways, inventing the smokeless fuel Coalite, and others, but he is highly remembered for creating one of the first electric vehicles in the world in 1884 and producing them in the 1890s in the UK.
Figure 6: William Morrison – Source: Vocal Media
William Morrison was an American dentist, lawyer, book author, and inventor who lived from 1860 to 1926. His curiosity and ingenious mind led him to create many interesting machinery such as the cotton candy machine, but his most important creation was the first successful passenger electric car made in the U.S., carrying up to six passengers and reaching a top speed of 14 mph. Morrison sold 12 of his EVs, but then he shifted his focus to producing and selling batteries instead.
Groundbreaking Innovations in Electric Vehicle Technology
The Invention of the Electric Engine
The invention of the electric engine is perhaps one of the most important innovations of all time. This has allowed the creation of electric vehicles driven in the streets today.
Throughout the electric vehicle history timeline, great minds like Sibrandus Stratingh and Christopher Becker, Ányos Jedlik, Frank Julian Sprague, and William Sturgeon have attempted to develop an electric engine with a certain degree of success, which is why it is hard to determine a specific inventor. The truth is that all of these could not have made such an achievement without Michael Faraday.
The First Prototypes for the Electric Vehicle
Before the first fully functional EV was ever created groundbreaking inventors needed to develop prototypes for this type of technology. Several great inventors such as Ányos Jedlik, Robert Anderson, Professor Sibrandus Stratingh & Christopher Becker, made such inventions.
The major setback for all these inventors was that they were ahead of their time. These EV prototypes were invented between 1828 and 1839, but there was no rechargeable battery to be installed in those vehicles, which is why all of them used primary batteries and some were not even designed to carry passengers, only to test that it could be possible to create such a vehicle.
The Creation & Improvement of the Lead-Acid Rechargeable Battery
The creation of the lead-acid battery by Gaston Planté is one of the most important achievements of the 19th century. This battery featured 20 separate cells rolled into thin sheets of lead, rolled around lead peroxide, using dilute sulfuric acid for the electrolyte.
The design of the Planté battery had to be improved to increase its capacity and production process, which is where Camille Alphonse Faure stepped in. Alphonse improved the Planté battery by using a lead grid lattice, holding a pressed lead oxide paste to form a plate, the design was easier to manufacture on mass production and delivered and improved performance.
The first Electric Vehicle Ever Built
After lead-acid batteries were available, the first electric car was invented by French inventor Gustave Trouvé, using a rechargeable lead-acid battery for its power source. The inventor took on the job of improving a small electric motor that was developed by Siemens and combined it with the lead-acid battery to create the electric vehicle, which was tested on April 19, 1881.
Thomas Parker, another renowned inventor, created his version of the electric vehicle in 1884 featuring 10 x 6-inch wheels and 150 pounds of weight, delivering an autonomy of 20 miles. Parker developed different versions, some of which had hydraulic brakes, four-wheel steering, and more. In 1890 Parker was manufacturing EVs for those who wanted to leave horse carriages behind and adopt this creation.
A little after Parker created his electric car in the UK, William Morrison, a U.S. inventor, also created his American version of the electric vehicle. This vehicle first appeared in a city parade around the year 1888, but it was not until 1890 when Morrison was patenting his creation.
The Morrison EV could carry up to six passengers, featured a lead-acid battery with 24 cells that lasted for 50 miles, and could reach up to 20 mph. He sold around 12 of his vehicles, featuring a range of 100 miles and a top speed of 14 mph.
The CitiCar and the EV1: The First EVs in Modern History
Figure 7: The CitiCar – Source: Autoevolution
Before the Tesla Roadster revolutionized the world by reintroducing EVs, several companies attempted to create electric cars, and they did to some degree.
First, the CitiCar was produced from 1974 to 1977 by a company named Sebring-Vanguard. The problem with this vehicle aside from its awfully looking design, was that it could not have been sold for the right price, which made the company go bankrupt after selling 2,150 vehicles, as depicted in the article of Joanne Omang in 1978. Later on, the company was acquired and kept on selling around 2,000 units more.
The second relevant model produced in the modern history of electric vehicles was the EV1, produced by General Motors (GM) from 1996 to 1999. The problem with the EV1 is that it only features two seats and its cost was too high to make it a viable vehicle.
The Tesla Roadster
The Tesla Roadster finally became the one EV that revolutionized the industry and opened the roads for all other EVs coming after. This vehicle featured up to 288 HP in its engine, could compete with many racing vehicles at the time, and featured a unique design with a rear-wheel-drive system.
One of the reasons for the success of the Tesla Roadster was how it changed the perception of what to expect from an electric car and what it could achieve. Tesla can produce affordable luxury electric vehicles for the same price as a traditional regular luxury ICE vehicle.
The Popularity of Electric Automobiles in the Early 1900s
Figure 8: The Electrobat – Source: KC Studio
While William Morrison was the first inventor to ever create an electric car in the U.S., he was not highly focused on e-mobility, selling only 12 of his electric vehicles and then shifted his focus to selling batteries. Morrison even patented an electricity regulator to control the speed of the vehicle and a method to produce battery storage plates.
The first commercially available EVs to hit the U.S. roads were called the Electrobat. This electric vehicle was a creation made by Henry G. Morris and Pedro G. Salom. The inventors developed the first design for the electric car in 1894 and patented it, but they kept on improving the design over the years, creating the Electrobat II up to the Electrobat IV.
In 1895, the Electrobat II made by Morris and Salom started production, the vehicle was sold under the Morris & Salom Electric Carriage and Wagon Company. Over the years, the vehicle designed by Morris and Salom improved its design, featuring two 1.1 kW electric engines, an autonomy of 25 miles, and a top speed of 20 mph. The vehicle even won several medals in sprint races against gasoline vehicles.
The Electrobat became one of the most sold vehicles in the 1900s, with a popularity that was great at the time, but it was short-lived. It is estimated that at least 38% of the vehicles at the time were powered by electricity, while the remaining ones used steam and gasoline as their fuel source.
An important reason for the popularity of EVs at the time was a New York taxi company. Morris and Salom pitched the idea of the electric car to Isaac L. Rice, an investor, and businessman who lived at the time. Rice liked the idea and decided to create the Electric Vehicle Company (EVC) located in New Jersey with the help of heavy-pocket investors and partners.
The EVC Company operated as a taxi company in New York, reached a high success, and incorporated many investors. In time, the EVC Company had over 600 electric taxi cabs in its ranks.
Another reason why electric vehicles were widely adopted in the early 1900s was their performance against their combustion counterparts. While Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Vehicles were loud and constantly smelled of gasoline, electric cars produced no smell nor sound, making them a fine experience, especially for upper-class women.
Men at the time used electric cars to replace horse carriages, but the vehicles were even more popular among the women of society who wanted to drive themselves and achieve their independence. These perspectives on electric cars, among other reasons, caused the temporary fall of electric cars.
Factors to the Decline of Electric Cars
The fall of the Electric Vehicle Company
Figure 9: Electric Taxi Car – Source: The Atlantic
The EVC operating as a taxi service enjoyed a successful ride. The company solved the problem of the autonomy of the cabs by converting an ice arena into a battery swap station where taxi cabs could drive in for a battery swap and drive out to keep on working. The business was at its peak for almost 10 years, however, in January 1907, a fire took over 300 of the electric cars and the EVC Company went under.
The Restricted Autonomy & the Male Chauvinistic Perspectives on EVs in the 1900s
It is important to mention that not everybody liked to drive electric cars. As is expected from restricted autonomy, long drives required passengers to use horse carriages instead of cabs, and the autonomy for the car was limited to 20 mph unless you battery swapped or charged the vehicle.
The optics for electric vehicles at the time were also a detriment since most men saw these cars as feminine. After all, noise and smells were the norm for manly vehicles at the time, and the ladies loved the noiseless and odorless drive of electric cars, however, the most important factor in the decline of electric cars was the invention of Henry Ford.
Elevated Costs of EVs at the Time
As is expected from such an invention, electric vehicles in the 1900s were not particularly cheap. The cost could go up to more than a thousand dollars, which is why when Henry Ford finally created the affordable, reliable, and easy-to-operate Model T, EVs started to fade out of the picture after that.
In 1912, EVs could cost $1,750, while the Ford T model was priced at $650, and by 1923 the T model was already $300. Factoring the high cost of EVs at the time and the affordability of ICE combustion vehicles, it is understandable why ICE vehicles took over the market and left EVs behind… for the time being.
Climate change is one of the most important and dreadful phenomena threatening the world, caused by the release of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to the environment. The current popularity of EVs is a direct response of society to the threat of climate change.
EVs are designed as zero-tailpipe emission vehicles, meaning their carbon footprint is directly attached to the GHG emissions produced for generating the energy used to recharge them. This makes EVs attractive thanks to their potential to reduce GHG emissions and air pollution, but were electric vehicles popular in the 1900s for those same reasons?
The latest years of the 19th century and the first ones of the 20th century were filled with scientific curiosity, inventions, and groundbreaking discoveries, but they were not motivated by a necessity to reduce GHG emissions as it is today. When EVs were created, inventors were just trying to build a vehicle that used an energy source such as electricity to replace horse carriages.
The environmental benefits of electric cars in the late 19th and early 20th century were never researched, but EVs in the past like EVs today, released zero tailpipe emissions. However, it is reasonable to assume that the very first electric car created could potentially produce more CO2 per mile driven compared to EVs today because electric engines were less efficient and electricity was generated with coal, which produces more CO2 than natural gas.
Government Policies for Electric Car Adoption
EVs Before Policies
When the first commercially available EV was sold in the U.S., the government did not establish any policies to promote the adoption of these vehicles, at the time there was no environmental crisis or economic reason to do it. In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, electric cars were simply adopted because they were an innovative, noiseless, and odorless replacement for horse carriages.
EV Development With Policies From the 1970s
Several decades later, in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was authorized by the Clean Air Act (CAA) to establish air quality standards to protect the public health and environment, the clean air law required automakers to produce vehicles with emissions 90% lower than their regular models. At the same time, in the 1960s and 1970s, oil prices increased and gasoline started to become scarce.
The first response of automakers like Nissan, GM, and others to reduce vehicle emissions, was developing EV prototypes, but most of them were discarded before being mass-produced.
In 1973 with the Arab Oil Embargo, the oil and gasoline problem reached alarming levels, and the curiosity of the U.S. government towards EVs was reignited. In response to this crisis, the government passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act established in 1976.
The 1976 bill was designed to establish a five-year $160 million research, hoping to find a solution in the electrification of the mobility sector. Throughout the years, significant progress was achieved on the topics of battery technology, fuel cell systems, EV technologies in general, and others.
Current Government Policies on the Acquisition of EVs
As electric cars were released to the market and more affordable EV models were launched, government policies leant towards rebates and incentives that promoted the adoption of these vehicles. The most important incentive is the Federal Tax Credit on EVs. This incentive was first established in 2008 granting up to $7,500 for the acquisition of EVs, currently, this incentive offers around $4,000.
On top of the federal tax credit for EVs, many state governments and electric utilities have policies that promote the acquisition of EVs. Some of these policies offer incentives to citizens for acquiring EVs, while others offer them incentives for acquiring EV chargers, the endgame is promoting the acquisition of the technology to improve the economy and promote an environmentally friendly mobility solution.
EVs today can be acquired thanks to all the research and development that went into advancing the technology for e-mobility. These technological advancements can be categorized into battery innovations and the electric motor and powertrain developments.
Battery Innovations: Extending Range and Performance
The First Rechargeable Battery
In 1859 Gaston Planté invented the first lead-acid battery. This early model of the modern battery is where the true road for the rechargeable batteries used on EVs started. Several decades later, in 1881, Camille Alphonse Faure entered the picture with a remarkable breakthrough in the development of these batteries, allowing for their mass production.
The Gel, the Sealed, and the AGM Lead-Acid Batteries
In the 1900s, lead-acid batteries were a robust and simpler version of the modern batteries. In 1930, gel electrolyte was created, however, gel batteries were more expensive and did not perform as well, which is why they did not become as popular. Sealed flooded lead-acid batteries requiring little maintenance were invented in the 1970s towards the last years of the Vietnam War, being used for military vehicles.
A few years later in 1985, Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries were created for use in military aircraft. These batteries provided a much safer design that required little to no maintenance, they only required enough electrolyte to keep the glass mat within the batteries wet, while providing much better performance and safety.
The Lithium-Ion Battery
Figure 10: Nobel Prize Winners for Creating the Lithium Battery – Source: Battle Born Batteries
In 1976, British chemist Michael Stanley Whittingham patented the first design for the Lithium-based battery. The battery was developed by Whittingham, John B. Goodenough, and Akira Yoshino as they researched the movement of ions in solids, the achievement granted them the Nobel Prize in 2019.
The Lithium battery design promised to deliver a low weight and high energy density for rechargeable batteries. The technology kept on being researched through the 1980s, until Professor Jeff Dahn made a final breakthrough in 1990, allowing for the first commercial lithium-ion battery to go into the market in 1991, revolutionizing the battery industry forever.
In 1996, Goodenough and Akshaya Padhi presented the Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) battery, which improved the performance of the previous design of the lithium battery. Since that year, scientists have made other important achievements to improve the performance of lithium batteries, increasing their storage capacity, and reducing their manufacturing cost. All of these achievements allowed for the manufacture of better-performing, more accessible, and more autonomous EVs launched into the market.
Electric Motors and Powertrain Developments
The electric motor or electric engine and the powertrain of an EV are without a doubt some of the most important electromechanical parts of the vehicle. The powertrain converts stored electrochemical energy in the battery into electricity that can be used by components in the vehicle, this energy is then used to power the electric motor with the resulting mechanical energy being transferred to the wheels.
EVs may use one of two electric engines: the permanent-magnet synchronous motor (PMSM) or the AC Induction motor; some vehicles even implemented a PMSM engine for the rear axle and an AC induction motor for the frontal one. The efficiency for both engines goes from 90 – 93% for the AC induction engine up to 97% for the PMSM one.
The origin of the permanent-magnet synchronous motor dates back to the year 1869, when the simple synchronous motor was created, however, it was not until 1930 when alnico magnets were discovered, that it was possible to add the permanent magnet to the design of the motor. The AC induction engine on the other hand, was created by Nicola Tesla in 1887.
Other components such as the traction inverter and the onboard charger use modern power electronics, which were invented in the 1970s, this led to the design of the inverter created in the 1980s and improved further in the following decades. Most EV manufacturers develop and patent their version of this technology, creating a proprietary powertrain that perfectly fits the vehicle design for each model.
Expanding Charging Networks for Electric Cars
Modern high-power rate EV charging technology was developed thanks to power electronics. The earlier version of power electronics were invented in 1902 when inventors used mercury-arc valves for high-power rectification and high-power transmission. Then, the modern power electronic industry was developed with the popularization of semiconductors in the 1970s.
Just like in the present, EV charging technology was a necessity back in the 1900s when the first electric car in history was sold and became a sensation. The first EVs charged the batteries just like EVs today: cables ran from a receptacle in the vehicle to a DC charging station, charging the battery until it was full, but what type of EV charging stations existed?
Figure 11: EV Charger in the 1900s – Source: Automotive News
In the 1900s, inventors did not only design EVs but also earlier versions of EV chargers. One of the first EV charging stations was a gas-fueled EV charger invented by J.B. Merriam. General Electrics (GE) also manufactured its EV charging station called the “Electrant” or “Electricity-Hydrant”. Electrants were public chargers powered with underground DC power lines used to charge electric cars.
It is possible that if Ford did not come up with his T model, EVs would have taken control over the whole world, becoming a popular and environmentally friendly mobility option. At that time, expanding the EV charging network would have become a necessity such as it is today.
Regular EV drivers in the past could take a couple of hours to charge their vehicles, however, this was not the case for drivers in a hurry such as EV taxi drivers, so, what did they do to charge their vehicles? Did they fast-charge their vehicles or did they have an alternative option?
Fast Charging and Battery Swapping
Taxi drivers from the Electric Vehicle Company and other drivers in a hurry did not have the time nor the technology to fast charge their vehicles, which is why there was a very simple solution: battery swapping. Battery swapping was a service where discharged battery packs are rapidly exchanged for a charged one that is plugged into the vehicle, providing a rapid EV charging solution.
The battery swapping service was offered from 1910 to 1924 in several instances. A company that practiced battery swapping was the Hartford Electric Light Company which used the GeVeCo battery swapping service for their trucks. The service was offered to the public who purchased vehicles from the General Vehicle Company (GVC), these drivers had to purchase the battery from GeVeCo and swap batteries at the battery swapping station, paying the fee for the battery.
Another application was the EVC company. This is the taxi company that turned an ice arena into a battery swap station, where taxis drove into the arena with low batteries and drove out with fully charged ones. The whole battery-swapping process took a little over 5 minutes.
In the past, fast charging was not possible because they lacked power electronics that we have access to today. Besides, lead-acid batteries from that time would not be suitable for fast charging current rates. Today’s power electronics and lithium battery technology allowed for the creation of fast charging, which can charge up to 80% of the storage capacity of an EV in just 20 minutes to an hour. The fun fact is that battery swapping still exists.
Figure 12: Battery Swapping Station in China – Source: InsideEVs
Battery swapping with the current trend of EVs never became a popular charging alternative for many reasons, however, it is only adopted in some countries like China. Currently, companies like Nio and Aulton New Energy have placed more than 1,400 battery swapping stations over the whole Chinese country, planning to grow that number 18 times up to 26,000 by 2025.
Modern electric cars did not appear out of nowhere. The history of electric automobiles is long and filled with notable designs that have improved the technology and impacted the industry. Here we analyze them.
Iconic Electric Cars
William Morrison’s EV
Figure 13: William Morrison’s EV – Source: UPS Battery center
EV prototypes are iconic, but the most important one for the U.S. EV industry is William Morrison’s EV. This first fully functional EV in the country could successfully transport passengers with a front-wheel driving system, an electric engine of 4 HP that reached a top speed of 20 mph, and a 24 cells lead-acid battery that could last for as long as 50 miles before it had to be recharged.
Figure 14: The Electrobat – Source: KC Studio
The Electrobat rose as an iconic EV in our list because it is the first commercially viable EV (William Morrison only sold 12 of his EVs to a few selected people). The first version of this vehicle invented by Henry G. Morris and Pedro Salom had a robust design, however, subsequent models featured pneumatic tires, a lightweight design, two electric engines that took its speed up to 20 mph for an autonomy of 20 miles, and an elegant design for vehicles/carriages at the time.
Figure 15: Henney Kilowatt – Source: Renault Group
The Henney Kilowatt was produced by the National Union Electric Corporation conglomerate after it acquired several companies including Exide batteries, a custom coachwork called Henney, and others. With the knowledge and tools of these companies, the conglomerate decided to modify the Renault Dauphine, which featured a lightweight design and rear-mounted engine. The result was the Henney Kilowatt released in 1959. The EV sold 47 vehicles in total, implementing 12-6V batteries for an autonomy of 64 km, and it could reach a top speed of 64 km/h.
Lunar Roving Vehicle
Figure 16: Lunar Roving Vehicle – NASA
An entirely iconic EV is the Lunar Roving Vehicle used in the Apollo missions Nº 15, 16, and 17. This EV implemented 121 Ah silver-zinc potassium hydroxide non-rechargeable batteries that powered four DC motors, one per wheel, capable of 10,000 rpm or up to 8 mph on the moon. Four of these vehicles were built for a total of $38 million, making it the most expensive EV at the time.
Figure 17: EV1 – Source: Top Gear
The EV1 produced by General Motors (GM) was one of the first vehicles to fulfill the surreal expectations (at the time) of the 1996 California mandate for automakers to sell zero-emissions vehicles. This groundbreaking vehicle could reach a top speed of 80.4 mph and had an autonomy of 78.2 miles thanks to its 12 V / 53 Ah battery. GM also implemented all types of modern gadgets and electronics that were the top of the technology at the time but never released the vehicle to the public.
Figure 18: CitiCar – Source: Autoblog
Although it featured one of the most horrendous designs in the history of electric vehicles, the CitiCar is one of the first EVs that sold a large number of units after WWII, rounding up in total to over 4,400 units. This vehicle implemented a 2.5 HP engine that pushed the speed to 25 mph in the first model and 40 mph in later releases, while the 48V battery lasted for around 40 miles.
Figure 19: 2008’s Tesla Roadster – Source: Sports Car Market
The first generation of the Tesla Roadster released in 2008 entirely changed the image of electric vehicles forever. This vehicle featured a sports design and implemented a lithium-ion battery pack, pushing its autonomy to approximately 250 miles. The Roadster has a 215 kW / 288 HP AC induction electric engine that provides an acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 125 mph.
After the Tesla Roadster, new and more advanced EVs went to the market. Nowadays, not only Tesla, but lifetime automakers like Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, GM, Honda, Volvo, and others are releasing modern electric vehicles. There are also many new companies focusing on manufacturing EVs such as Lucid Motors, Faraday Future, Lightyear, and others.
Advancements in Design and Features
Electrified Horse Carriages: The First EVs in the late 1800s and early 1900s
Looking back at the past, the history of electric automobiles has been long, going from the first EV manufactured to the most modern versions of these vehicles. The most important add-ups aside from power electronics added to these vehicles are the electric engines and the battery technology, which paved the way for modern EVs.
The first prototypes of EVs used non-rechargeable primary batteries, which of course moved because of their design, but were not entirely functional. After the rechargeable battery was created and improved, the first fully functional EVs came into existence, offering limited autonomies in vehicles that could transport passengers, the speed was also highly limited for these inventions.
Modified ICE Vehicles: EVs in the 1960s to 1990s
After ICE vehicles took over with the creation of the affordable T Model by Ford, EVs disappeared for a few decades. When the interest in EVs came back to the surface in the 1960s, there was a favorable improvement during these years for EVs which was the development of power electronics in the 1970s. This and other technological advancements of the time gave automakers the opportunity to manufacture faster and more powerful EVs, improving their designs and technology.
While EVs manufactured during these years were modified ICE vehicles turned into EVs, they did implement new technologies. Such was the case of the Henney Kilowatt, introducing a simpler version of braking energy recovery and onboard electronics that include a speed controller and a drive system developed by Caltech scientists. Other innovative vehicles at the time were the Lunar Roving Vehicle and the EV1.
Several problems were still present for EVs at the time. First, the electric engine and battery technology was still similar to that of the 1900s, powertrain technology was also limited. The major problem was the still highly limited EV charging infrastructure, also there was no way to rapidly charge EVs because lead-acid batteries could get damaged and release toxic fumes if charged rapidly with high currents.
Modern EVs: EVs from 2008 to the present
While the 1990s and following years brought further development in power electronics, electric engines, and electro-mechanical technologies, the most important one was the creation of the lithium battery. There is simply no way that the first electric car made in the 21st century could have succeeded without this battery technology.
Figure 20: Lithium Batteries Used in EVs – Source: Vox
Lithium batteries can be charged with relatively high power rates with no major impact on the battery, they are lightweight, and packed a high energy density. Implementing lithium batteries into the design of EVs and adding other modern technologies finally opened up the road for vehicles such as the Tesla Roadster.
After the Tesla Roadster hit the market in 2008, other automakers started to adopt the technology and release electric cars and hybrids. Some remarkable EVs and HEVs include the Nissan Leaf (2010), Renault Zoe (2012), Chevrolet Bolt EV (2016), Tesla Model 3 (2017), Audi Q8 e-tron (2017), and others.
Electric cars are positive for the environment and provide the most sustainable mobility option. Here we analyze how EVs can reduce emissions, air pollution, and work as the best transport solution.
Reduction of Emissions and Air Pollution
The principle behind how IC Engines operate since they were created is that they burn gasoline for energy, since gasoline is 87% carbon and 13% hydrogen, this means a gallon of gasoline weighing 6.3 pounds can release 5.5 pounds of carbon into the air. Considering the metrics, the average passenger ICE vehicle releases around 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year, which is the same as 4,600 kg (10,141 pounds) of CO2.
Because there are 290 million ICE vehicles in the U.S. and at least 1.45 billion ones around the world, the metrics are truly alarming. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2022 emissions of the transport sector grew to 8 Gt CO2, this does not account for emissions from the industrial sector, the energy sector, the waste sector, the agricultural sector, and other ones.
The constant and enormous release of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by the transport sector is an important cause of climate change that produces problems like modified snow and rain patterns, droughts, rise in temperatures, and natural disasters in general.
Another distressing problem caused by fume releases from ICE vehicles is air pollution, which is an important health problem that can cause respiratory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other health problems. To eliminate health and climate problems that affect humans, the best solution is using EVs to tackle the root issue: GHG emissions.
Electric Vehicles as a Transportation Solution
Figure 21: ICE Vehicles Vs. EVs GHG Emissions (150,000 km) – Source: Allego
Since the very first electric car was ever built, electric cars have been a transport solution releasing zero tailpipe emissions when driven. However, this does not mean that they have no carbon footprint. EVs are only responsible for emissions produced during their manufacturing process, the generation of the electricity consumed to power them, and their disposal.
According to researchers, EVs produce only 64% or less less GHG emissions than ICE vehicles in their lifetime, considering the current energy mix in the country. Perhaps the first electric car ever built powered from coal power plants had a big carbon footprint, but EVs today are highly sustainable and produce even less GHG emissions if powered entirely with clean energy.
Electrifying road transport is an important tactic being deployed worldwide, studied by the EIA and other environmental agencies. Using EVs as a transport solution can limit global temperature rise to 1.5ºC as countries aim to achieve a Net Zero Emissions scenario by 2050, this includes replacing trucks, buses, boats, and other means of transport for EV alternatives in the U.S. and around the world.
EVs represent a viable solution to climate change and other problems caused by the release of GHG emissions. Here we address some challenges and opportunities that arise thanks to EVs.
Cost and Affordability of Electric Vehicles
A problem that has existed and remains consistent since the first electric car was invented is the high cost of these types of vehicles. It is possible that the first EV was expensive because vehicles at the time were hard to manufacture and had elevated costs in general, but EVs kept on being expensive over time.
The price for an average EV in 2023 rounds the $53,000, while ICE vehicles cost around $48,000, however, there are EVs such as the 2024 MINI Hardtop 2 Doors that can be bought for less than $28,000. The major reason why EVs are so expensive is because of their battery, a typical EV battery pack goes from $10,000 up to $12,000, while expensive ones can go up to $20,000.
For EVs to become more affordable, the price for lithium EV battery packs needs to go down, creating an opportunity for new car buyers to get their first electric car and increasing the number of EVs on the road. According to market research, lithium EV batteries in 2030 will cost around 50% less than in 2021, so it can be expected for electric vehicles to have a significant cost reduction by that year.
Overcoming Infrastructure Limitations and Grid Integration
Figure 22: EV Charger Distribution in the US – Source: Visual Capitalist
Currently, one of the main challenges EVs face in the U.S. is the limited EV charging infrastructure. According to the White House, there are around 130,000 public chargers available for an average ratio of 14.2 EVs per charger, with the recommended ratio according to the EIA being 10 vehicles per charger. This does not consider that EV acquisition might grow faster than the number of chargers installed.
This limitation represents a problem, but also an investment opportunity for those looking to create a business out of EV charging stations. The U.S. Federal Government through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) is aiming for $7.5 billion for incentives and projects to grow the charging infrastructure in the country, promoting a business opportunity that will help investors and EV drivers alike.
As the EV charging infrastructure in the U.S. grows, chargers should be integrated into the grid through the Internet of Things (IoT). The U.S. claims that the power grid can handle the demand from EV chargers, but countries such as Germany and the Netherlands have proven that it is easier said than done, which is why the policy of using smart EV chargers integrated into the power grid can help reduce that strain on the grid.
Technologies like Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) can provide further benefits by increasing the flexibility of the power grid as electricity is sent back to the grid to meet energy demand during peak hours, also ensuring economic benefits for EV drivers.
As we reach the end of this article, it is important not to simply analyze the current scenario on EVs, but also their future trends and projections.
Emerging Technologies in Electric Vehicle Industry
The modern EV industry is fairly new and it was born in an age of rapid technological advancements. Most of the devices and technology being used today were invented or enhanced just a few years or a couple of decades in the past, which is why emerging technologies have the potential to take the EV industry to whole new levels in just a couple of years or a decade in the future.
Carbon Fiber From Composite Materials
An interesting emerging technology is the use of composite recyclable materials to create carbon fiber that can be used to design the body of modern EVs. A company that is already taking the lead on this technology is AEHRA, with its exclusive ultra-premium all-electric sedan.
Self-driving technology has been present for a few years, but it has been heavily regulated and only a few companies have achieved a semi-functional protocol. It is expected that this technology will achieve its maturity in a few years and could make a revenue of more than $300 billion in the future.
NASA’s Solid-State Batteries
Lithium batteries have many benefits over other technologies, but they still use liquid electrolytes, which are potentially dangerous and have certain limitations. NASA is currently working on the research and development of solid-state batteries, which has already shown promising results by reducing the weight of batteries by 30% to 40% and increasing their capacity by more than 85% from its current 260 – 270 Wh/kg.
Enhanced Power Train for EVs
Automotive manufacturers are working on improving the design of their vehicles and developing more advanced ones. Current EV models being developed are improving the powertrain by increasing the power and torque, reducing the weight, increasing efficiency, and making components more compact. Further advancements might be implemented in the future as technology further develops.
Exciting Prospects for Electric Vehicles
Lightyear Zero (Previous Lightyear One)
Figure 23: Lightyear Zero – Source: Car US News
Former Lightyear One, the Lightyear Zero is a groundbreaking long-range vehicle designed by the Lightyear Company. This EV features a futuristic design and innovates the EV industry by engineering a 53-square-foot solar array into its design, increasing its daily range by at least 43 miles per day on solar power alone and pushing its efficiency to 169 Wh per mile thanks to its solar panels.
The Deus Vayanne is an upcoming luxurious hypercar that will be produced for 99 units. The vehicle has Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) technology designed for race tracks to implement more than 2,000 HP into its electrical engine, taking the EV from 0 to 60 mph in under 2 seconds, and 310 miles of autonomy thanks to its 21,700 cylindrical battery cells and a 0 to 80% charge in 20 minutes.
Faraday Future FF91
Figure 24: Faraday Future FF91 – Source: Faraday Future
The Faraday Future FF 91 2.0 is a hypercar luxury sedan that will implement many technological advancements with the help of AI. The vehicle implements the AI Space & Internet Technology System for entertainment, the FF aiDriving Technology System to improve the driving experience and advise the rider on the best routes during the trip, and other futuristic features unique to the brand.
The road from the first electric car ever built up to the most futuristic electric vehicles currently being developed took a little over a hundred years, but it was worth it.
While EVs still have to meet a few challenges in terms of their charging infrastructure and technology implementations to integrate with the power grid, the road is already paved. Current technologies being developed will only make EVs cheaper, more autonomous, and more powerful, they only require a little time to be perfected and implemented into modern EVs released to the market.
Currently, society is still adapting to the idea of EVs and they are beginning to learn about the technology, but the idea is becoming popular and the benefits can be rapidly measured. Without a doubt, EVs will not only provide a better driving experience and comfort but also help reduce climate problems that humanity is facing, making sure history remembers them as the ecological mobility solution that saved the planet.
Nick Zamanov is a head of sales and business development at Cyber Switching. He is an expert in EV infrastructure space and he is an EV enthusiast since 2012, Since then Nick strongly believed that electric vehicles would eventually replace Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars.