Electric Vehicles 101: Evolution of an Industry

Strangely enough Edison had one of the first electric vehicles and Detroit made them until World War II. Then they died until in the 1990s some electric battery driven cars were recreated as something brand new to the marketplace. Then they withered and were reborn again in the present age of locomotion. Why was this? Is it doomed never to quite win a marker place niche? Although electric cars often give good acceleration and have generally acceptable top speed, the lower powered batteries available in 2010 compared with Carbon-based fuels means that electric cars need batteries that are fairly large fraction of the vehicle mass but still often give a low travel range between charges. Recharging can also take significant lengths of time. For shorter range commuter type journeys, rather than long journeys, electric cars are practical forms of transportation and can be inexpensively recharged overnight but some place to charge is necessary.

Who built the first electric car?

There is some debate as to who built the first electric car. Credit usually goes to Scottish inventor Robert Anderson, who built an electric carriage with non-rechargeable electric cells. Around the same time, Dutch inventor Sibrandus Stratingh created an electric vehicle, as did Thomas Davenport of Vermont.

Detroit Electric (1907 – 1939) was an automobile brand produced by the Anderson Electric Car Company in Detroit, Michigan. They were known as high-end, reliable cars popular with women and the wealthy. Detroit Electrics were most popular during the years before, during and after World War I, when gasoline prices were high and gasoline-powered cars were unreliable and difficult to start. Offered with lead-acid batteries or an optional Edison nickel-iron battery, Detroit Electrics had top speeds around 20 mph and a reliable range of 80 miles. What killed them was that gasoline driven cars became more efficient and less expensive to operate and build. The first battery driven car did not compete and did not evolve.

Fuel efficiency standards

Many automakers have conceded that electrification of some kind — hybrids, plug-in hybrids or battery electrics — is the only way they will meet tightening Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards. Ford, for example, has said 25 percent of the vehicles it sells by 2020 will be electrified. The current rule requires automakers to achieve a fleet-average fuel economy of 35.5 mpg by 2016, and there is talk of increasing it to as much as 62 mpg by 2025.  That and higher gasoline costs will assist electrification.

The earlier push for electric type vehicles in the 1990s had the same environmental need but the government is forcing the industry’ s direction more than then. The Barack Obama administration has set aside $25 billion to spur the development of electric vehicles. It also has allocated another $2.4 billion for battery and EV component manufacturers and $4 billion for smart-grid projects. Electric vehicles also qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, and several states offer further incentives.

Range anxiety

Range anxiety is a reason that many automakers marketed electric vehicles as daily drivers suitable for city trips and other short hauls. The average American drives less than 40 miles per day; so a typical electric vehicle would have been adequate for the daily driving needs of about 90% of U.S. consumers.

The Tesla (electric) Roadster gets 245 miles per charge; more than double that of other prototypes and evaluation fleet cars currently on the roads. The Roadster can be fully recharged in about 3.5 hours from a 220-volt, 70-amp home outlet.  Other electric vehicles are only approaching this sort of range and charge time.

But where can you recharge? For most it has to be at home where a special charger might be necessary. Some municipalities such as New York City are planning to build public charging stations but they are not yet common.

Smaller vehicles need smaller charge time and batteries.

Electric motorcycles and scooters are vehicles with two or three wheels that use electric motors to attain locomotion. Increasingly accepted as capable forms of transportation, particularly in densely populated urban areas, electric two-wheel vehicles is a category that includes electric bicycles, electric kick scooters, electric motorcycles, and electric scooters. According to a recent report from Pike Research, worldwide sales of electric two-wheel vehicles are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 9.4% through 2016.

The Segway PT is a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicle invented by Dean Kamen.

Computers and motors in the base of the device keep the Segway PT upright when powered on with balancing enabled. Users lean forward to go forward, lean back to go backward, and turn by using a “Lean Steer” handlebar, leaning it left or right. Segway PTs are driven by electric motors at up to 12.5 miles per hour. Use has been limited to special situations where roadways are not rough for example.

Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy ENN.

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5 comments on “Electric Vehicles 101: Evolution of an Industry

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