Electric Vehicle History

Since the 1800’s, electric vehicles (EV’s) of one form or another have been a part of transportation and recreation worldwide, and practical use of commercial electric vehicles has been mostly limited to platform trucks, forklifts, tow tractors and urban delivery vehicles in the UK. The most famous use of them here in the U.S. are the electric rail cars of San Francisco.
Many countries adapted to using electric locomotives due to the lack of available fossil fuels. These locomotives were once used for coal transport as their electric motors did not utilize the precious oxygen in the mines.
In the early 1900’s, electric vehicles held prominence over the powerful internal combustion engine. Many electric automobiles held several land speed and distance records, surpassing even their fossil fuel counterparts.
Then in the 1930’s, the combustible engine automobile manufacturers, along with oil and transit companies, purchased several electric tram networks with the plan to replace them with GM buses. The partnership was convicted of conspiracy to monopolize the sale of equipment to their subsidiaries. They were later acquitted of another conviction of conspiring to monopolize the provision of transportation services. The old electric tramline technologies could be used today to power EV charging stations, providing virtually unrestricted driving distances. Although the technology is well-established, the infrastructure has never been built.
In early 1990, GM introduced its EV concept car called the “Impact”. In September of the same year, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued a mandate to automakers that the sale of EV’s begin in phases in 1998. GM had already started producing them in 1996. From 1996 to 1998 GM produced over 1100 EV 1’s, 800 of which were made available through 3-year leases.
Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan and Toyota all produced limited numbers of EV’s for the California market. Then in 2003, upon the expiration of their EV 1 leases, GM crushed every one of the vehicles. The demolition was attributed to 1) the auto manufacturers’ successful challenge of California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate, 2) a federal regulation requiring GM to produce and maintain spare parts for the remaining EV 1’s and 3) the success of the anti-electric vehicle campaigns launched by oil and auto manufacturers. Honda, Nissan and Toyota repossessed and crushed most of their EV’s as well. The movie, “Who Killed the Electric Car” explains the roles of the auto and oil manufacturers, the U.S. Government, and consumers in prohibiting the deployment of this valuable technology.
In recent years, due to the rise in fossil fuel costs, interest in EV’s has been resurrected and a race has begun by auto manufacturers for who will again be the first to market. The Tesla Roadster and the Chevy Volt that came out since last summer have reminded a lot of people that there is serious competition for the gasoline engine.
There is another market where electric vehicles have been in use here in the United States since the 1950’s – in the form of electric golf carts. In 1998, at the pinnacle of the electric vehicle evolution, the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) had a final ruling (FMVSS 500) allowing electric golf carts on the roadways as Low Speed Vehicles (LSV’s). Although not a practical replacement for the mainstream automobile, the LSV has become an acceptable, economical and eco-friendly mode of transportation. LSV’s also bear the new acronym NEV for “Neighborhood Electric Vehicle”. NEV’s are now widely used in retirement and other small communities as well as on large campuses and industrial properties as the main mode of transportation.
Eco-Friendly Transportation
Electric vehicles release almost no air pollutants. Another advantage is that electric vehicles typically have less noise pollution than a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine, whether it is at rest or in motion.
Although electric vehicles have few direct emissions, all rely on energy created through electricity generation, emit pollution and generate waste, unless it is generated by renewable source power plants. Since electric vehicles use whatever electricity is delivered by their electrical utility/grid operator, electric vehicles can be made more efficient or less polluting by modify the electrical generating stations. This can be done by an electrical utility under a government energy policy, in a timescale negotiated between utilities and government.
Fossil fuel vehicle efficiency and pollution standards take years to filter through a nation’s fleet of vehicles. New efficiency and pollution standards rely on the purchase of new vehicles, often as the current vehicles already on the road reach their end-of-life. Only a few nations set a retirement age for old vehicles, such as Japan or Singapore, forcing periodic upgrading of all vehicles already on the road.
Electric vehicles will take advantage of whatever environmental gains happen when a renewable energy generation station comes online, a fossil fuel station is decommissioned or upgraded. Conversely, if government policy or economic conditions shifts generators back to use more polluting fossil fuels and internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs), or more inefficient sources, the reverse can happen. Even in such a situation, electrical vehicles are still more efficient than a comparable amount of fossil fuel vehicles. In areas with a deregulated electrical energy market, an electrical vehicle owner can choose whether to run his electrical vehicle off conventional electrical energy sources, or strictly from renewable electrical energy sources (presumably at an additional cost), and switch at any time between the two.
The electric vehicle market and the renewable energy movement are definitely at a crossroads. Solar energy seems to be at the forefront of rising interests in both areas followed by wind and other sources of renewable energy. Solar energy is the pollution solution. It requires two-thirds less water with negligible air and water pollution emissions. This makes it the most environmentally-sound energy source, especially in transportation, which contributes over 34% of the CO2 emissions we must eliminate. The EPA reports that 90 million citizens breathe air below minimum quality standards with 33 areas exceeding federal smog standards.
Solar energy can also be the solution for independent electrical rapid charging stations along roadways as gasoline stations are for ICEVs today. The challenge will be joining the two successfully into a practical and economical solution.