The evolution of the electric car

First came the horse and cart.

Then at the end of the 19th Century people began to experiment with what was possible for transportation. Petrol, diesel, steam and electrical power were all now available and ready to be harnessed into self-propelled transport.

So, how did electric cars start?

The evolution of the electric vehicle (EV) is a series of steps, from the discovery of electricity, through the development of the motor and to the creation of a rechargeable battery.

An electric motor was created in 1828, and used in a moving track-based vehicle, but it lacked the battery to be able to become viable transport. Then in 1859 the lead acid battery was created and improved over the years to increase its capacity. This meant that batteries could be created on a larger scale.

While electric powered modes of transportation were invented over the years it wasn’t until 1881 that something more recognisable as a car appeared on the Parisian streets. And then in 1884 Thomas Parker built the first production electric car. In America serval successful automobiles were created in 1894 and 1895, but they were large and heavy.

What about steam and petrol or diesel?

Steam was the most established of the three options for transportation and it was known by the public because it powered trains, boats, factories and mines. While it seemed like a good idea to try and use this technology, steam engines needed a long time to warm up and only ran to a limited range. Plus, they needed a constant supply of water.

The engine was developed in 1862 by Nikolaus Otto, and in 1893, Rudolf Diesel developed the diesel engine. These inventions were harnessed by Karl Benz and Henry Ford to create the world’s first production vehicles. These vehicles had more power compared to steam or the horse and cart, but there were still challenges. The crank start, changing gear could be tricky and they were loud and smelly from the exhaust fumes when they were being driven.

Why did combustion cars win over electric cars in the early 1900s?

As national electrification spread before the First World War, electric cars became easier to charge. Manufacturers began to experiment more with electric car concepts, supported by people like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who were keen to explore low-cost options.  But, the design of the combustion car was evolving, by losing the hand crank it became easier to start. And more oil was bring found while the road network was being improved.

Plus, the mass production process pioneered by Ford, highlighted how much easier and cheaper it was to build fossil-fuel cars rather than electric cars. The electric alternative could be three times as expensive to produce than combustion cars.

The result was that electric cars almost disappeared until the oil crisis in the 1970’s.

So, what happened next?

When the supply of oil was challenged, and the impact of fossil fuels on the environment became ever clear there was a drive to find an alternate means of transportation. And inventors and designers returned to the EV concept.

General Motors had experimented with EVs in the 1960s, but in the 1990s they created the EV-1, the first mass produced electric car. Tesla produced its first electric car, the Roadster, in 2008. This car drove a new electric car revolution as it used a lithium-ion battery, had a greater range and could achieve a faster speed.

Since then, the EV industry has evolved and adapted, and more people are curious and keen to embrace a lifestyle that will reduce their impact on the environment.

If you have more questions about EVs and charging points, why not check out our FAQ page where we have collated some helpful information for you.