Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association
A Brief History
of Electric Vehicles www.veva.ca
? 1831 Joseph Henry, a math professor in Albany NY, invented the electric motor in his quest to
understand electro magnets. It resembled an electric teeter totter.
? 1834 Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith in Vermont, read about Henry's motor in Silliman's
Journal. He played with the concept and made it spin. Davenport saw his invention as a
replacement for steam to drive locomotives, and used it to make a small model electric rail car.
Several Europeans designed similar prototype motors and dynamos.
? 1832 to 1839 Robert Anderson of Scotland invents the first crude electric carriage. ? 1842 American Thomas Davenport and Scotsman Robert Davidson independently build
successful electric road vehicles. They used non rechargeable batteries.
? 1865 Gaston Plante invents a storage (rechargeable) battery providing portable renewable
? 1881 Camille Faure improves on Plante’s design and paves the way for commercial electric
? 1890 William Morrison of Des Moines Iowa builds one of the first successful electric cars. The
car, equipped with high spoked wagon wheels for negotiating rutted roads, had a patented
innovative rack and pinion steering system. It was capable of running at 22 Km/hr for 13 hours.
Something neither horses nor gasoline powered vehicles could do at that time. This set the stage
for the popularization of electric vehicles. The electric car had gone from an engineering
curiosity to a practical means of transportation.
? William C. Anderson moved his carriage company to Detroit with financing from his new
partners, lumber baron William M. Locke and railroad equipment wholesaler William A. Pungs. ? 1896 September 7, 8, & 11, at the Rhode Island State Fair (Narragansett Park), in a series of five-
mile heats, a Riker (best average 26 mph) and a Morris & Salom Electrobat II (best average 26.2
mph) beat four of the third generation gasoline Duryeas (best average 22 mph). ? 1898 Count Chasseloup-Laubat achieved a speed of 62 Km/hr in his Jeantaud Electric
automobile. At that time only electric cars were capable of such speeds.
? 1899 The Belgian-built electric racing car “La Jamais Contente”, designed by Camille Jenatzy,
sets a land speed record of 108 Km/hr. Ferdinand Porsche designs his first car, an electric, with
a hub motor at each driving wheel; the racing version was capable of 56 Km/hr. Ninety percent
of the cabs in New York are electric.
? 1900 Thomas Edison introduces his lighter nickel iron storage battery. He pulls the battery off
the market when leaking and loss of charge problems are encountered. The battery will be
released again in 1908.
? 1901 The Pan American Exposition was held. The fair was lit by power from Niagara falls.
President McKinley was shot that same year and driven to the hospital in a Riker electric
ambulance. Neither survived the year.
? 1906 William C. Anderson recapitalized the Anderson Carriage Company to make cars under the
Detroit Electric brand. George M. Bacon from the Columbus Buggy Company was lead design
engineer. Bacon chose the Elwell-Parker motor/controller. It stood for many years as the most
efficient motor/control system for battery electric propulsion.
? 1907 Anderson delivered an electric Coupe to a Miss Grove of Chicago, shipped September 30,
1907. By the end of 1907, five Victorias and five Coupes had been shipped. The early cars were
the model A or B Victoria, model C two-passenger Coupe, and model D four-passenger
Brougham. The Coupe and Brougham were fully enclosed. The Brougham had the distinctive
curved glass front quarter windows, and carriage style body; this was to be the classic signature
design. Most earlier Broughams followed horse drawn design and put the driver high and outside,
as if they still had to look over the horse. From the start Detroit Electrics were built with the
driver on the inside. The Coupes were similar to the Rauch & Lang or Baker, but those cars had
straighter lines, and the suicide doors that were characteristic of the Cleveland coach builders.
Anderson's big seller at this time was a light one-seat, one-horse buggy that sold for twenty-five
? 1910 The North American market for personal automobiles shifts from electric to gas powered
cars. The gentle reliable electric came to be associated with senior citizens. ? 1918 The remaining electric car companies fight for a share of the diminishing market. The
outbreak of World War I and the influenza pandemic spell the death knell for these companies.
Vehicle sales fell from 1,139 units in 1918 to 191 units in 1920 at the Detroit Electric Car
Why did the electric cars succeed?
In the early years of automobile production the electric car was superior to combustion powered cars in many ways. The range of production electric cars varied from 60 to 160 kms. At the same
time a horse and carriage could only travel about 16 to 19 Km, about 2 hours travel, before having to stop for water and a rest. A steam car could only travel 16 to 24 Km before needing water and could travel about four times that distance before needing fuel. Gasoline cars would travel about the same distance of 16 to 24 Km before needing water for cooling as the radiator had not been developed yet. This was not seen as a disadvantage as gasoline cars were often in need of minor repairs after about 30 Km.
Electric cars were just as fast, or faster, than their gasoline cousins. The world land speed record was held by electric cars from 1898-1902. The 1912 Baker Electric had a top speed of 56 Km, faster than the model T Ford.
Electric cars were seen as clean and quiet especially compared to gasoline engines. Electrics were simple enough for a child to operate and didn’t require shifting gears, which could be quite a
challenge in early gasoline engines.
What did in the Electric Car?
The weight of heavy batteries proved a disadvantage on wagon rut roads after a rain fall causing the electric cars to bog down.
Access to proper charging facilities was not something to be taken for granted. Electric lighting was coming in to popularity but there was no standardized electric grid available at that time. The local power generated could be AC of a variety of frequencies or DC of any non standard voltage. At this time only the well to do could afford to have their houses wired and a place to plug in your car was not readily available. Significant rural electrification did not begin until the 1930s. It is a good thing that the electrics had such good range for their time. On the other hand, by 1905 many general stores, carriage shops, smithies and even liveries were keeping large cans of gasoline on hand for
sale. By 1920 gasoline pumps were evident throughout North America, before wide spread
The cost of gasoline at the start of the century was approximately 5 cents per gallon, whereas electricity was 20 cents per kilowatt hour. Today of course the values are reversed with gas running Recent Developments almost $4.00 per gallon ($1.00 per litre) and electricity is about 10 cents per Kilowatt hour.
? 1920-1990 The electric car remained an oddity except in Britain in the 1940s and 50s, which had
the worlds largest fleet of electric delivery vehicles for such things as milk, bread, and mail. ? 1990 California issues its ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate) requiring that 2% of all new
cars sold be zero emission vehicles as defined by CARB (California Air Resources Board). GM
unveils the Impact, an electric car at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
? 1997 GM offers 650 of the EV-1, an electric vehicle using lead acid batteries, for lease only.
Willing customers are not allowed to buy the vehicle and at the end of the lease term are not
allowed to re-lease it.
? 1998 Honda presents the EV Plus using NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries. It has a range
of 160 Km. Toyota produces the RAV4 EV also using NiMH batteries and with a range of 190
Km and a top speed of 126 Km/h. The RAV4 EV can outperform the gasoline powered RAV4 in
acceleration tests and is capable of moving with the flow of traffic at any posted speed. Nissan
responds with the Lithium battery powered Altra.
? 1999 GM produces 465 EV-1s with NiMH batteries. There was never a time when an EV-1
could not find a willing lessee. All of the original lead acid EV-1s were returned to GM. The
California Air Resources Board pressures GM to re-lease 200 of the lead acid EV-1s. At the end
of their leases all EV-1s, except for a few retained in the Michigan proving grounds, are
destroyed in Mesa Arizona.
? 2003 CARB bows to the automotive industry and instates “an alternative path” employing fuel
cell technology and compliance is not required until 2018. Basically, all major car manufacturers
can scrap their electric car programs. Toyota discontinues production of its RAV4 EV. ? 2007 Small productions of electric vehicles are made by such companies as Tesla, Altavoya, and
conversions are made by CANEV (Canadian Electric Vehicles). These vehicles bear little
resemblance to their ancestors other than the fact that they are electric. With improvements in
charging technology, battery technology, electronic controllers and engineering designs these
vehicles have the range and speed to meet most modern driving needs. Renewed interest in
reaching Kyoto targets has once again sparked interest in electric vehicles.
Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association - www.veva.ca