The evolution of the electric car


Image via Flickr creative commons from exfordy

One of the most striking automotive technological developments of the last few years has been the electric car. At a time when the need to take decisive steps to tackle the growing problem of climate change is becoming ever more apparent, there are those who hope that the electric car will eventually come to supersede petrol and diesel-powered cars. However, it has to be said that electric cars are yet to make the break into the mainstream and so remain relatively niche. However, it is interesting to look at just how the electric car has evolved over the years. Contrary to being a brand new innovation, its history does in fact back well over a century.

According to an article from, it is still disputed as to just who invented the first-ever electric car, but Hungarian Anyos Jedlik did invent a small-scale vehicle powered by an electric motor he designed himself as far back as 1828. Another electric-powered carriage was invented by Scotsman Robert Anderson as some point between 1832 and 1839, while a Professor Stratingh of Holland and his assistant Christopher Becker designed a small-scale electric car of their own in 1835. In that same year, another small electric car was created by American blacksmith Thomas Davenport.

Around 1842, both Davenport and Anderson devised improved electric-powered road vehicles, powered by non-rechargeable electric batteries. Frenchman Gaston Plante developed a more effective battery in 1865, while his compatriot Camille Faure improved on Plante’s battery in 1881. Because the newer generations of batteries provided more effective storage and were longer-lasting, they therefore enabled electric cars of the era to become more practical. Of course, it would prove to be some time before the electric car truly made an impact on the mainstream consciousness. Nevertheless, there have been experiments with electric vehicles for many years.

By the turn of the century, electric, steam and petrol-powered cars were available in the US. As we now know, it was the latter which went on to be comfortably the biggest seller and remains so to this day. However, electric vehicles did still have selling points over and above their gasoline-fuelled counterparts in the early 20th century. They were free of the not-inconsiderable noise, grime and pollution associated with petrol-powered vehicles, for one thing. However, by the 1920s, the need for longer-range journeys lent the gasoline car a crucial advantage over its electric and steam-powered rivals. Charles Kettering’s invention of the electric starter in 1912 also eliminated the need for the hand crank. By the mid-1930s, electric cars had almost disappeared entirely.

As an article from the Guardian points out, it wasn’t for another three decades that the electric car would resurface. The oil price spike of the late 1960s into the 1970s would prompt a global economic crisis which took more than a decade to play out. While Ford, GM and AMC all started to carry out tentative experiments with new electric cars, the eventual decline in oil prices brought this phase to an end. It wasn’t until the 1990s that electric cars once again started to attract the attention of the dominant car manufacturers.

GM’s EV1 attracted a great deal of media attention, but was eventually widely derided as a failure – and within a decade of its appearance, more or less every EV1 had been recalled or destroyed. At around the turn of the millennium, however, manufacturers such as Nissan and Mitsubishi had more success with their own electric cars and in 2011, it was predicted that electric cars would account for 20 per cent of all vehicle sales come 2016. If you’re thinking of buying a used car – and there is used car finance available from ACF Car Finance, incidentally – then you’ll find there are a lot of models to choose from. But don’t overlook the electric car right away, because you could be surprised at what you find.