An electric car is an automobile that runs by the use of one or more electric motor to propel its engine. It uses batteries and/or any other energy-storage device to store electricity. Electric cars have a smooth acceleration due to the smooth torque that electric cars give. Electric cars have not been in popularity in recent days since gasoline vehicles are relatively cheaper. They were popular in the early 20th century and the late 19th century. Different car companies are now trying to revive the use of the electric cars due to different disadvantages that the gasoline engine presents such as risk of fire, high price of gasoline and emission of green-house gases. The electric car has risen and fallen in popularity since its invention.
Early History and Popularity
The first step to the invention of the electric car was made with the invention of the electric motor by a Hungarian scientist Anyos Jedlik in 1828. He also created a tiny car from this motor. Thomas Davenport who was a Vermont blacksmith later invented the first American electric motor and used it in a model car in 1834. He operated his car on an electrified track which was circular. Other scientists who improved the electric motor and used it in cars where Professor Sibrandus Stratingh (1835) and Robert Davidson who created a car which could attain a speed of 4 miles per hour. Robert Anderson (Britain) and other American scientists later used electric cars in electric rails in the 1840s. The use of rechargeable batteries started in 1856 by Gaston Plante, a French physicist (Exum 24). The invention by Plante led to improvements in the battery technology in Europe. The two-wheel cycle led by Franz Kravolg (Australia) in 1867 led to the widespread use and development of electric cars with Great Britain and France as the pioneers. The three-wheel automobile came into existence after 1881 thanks to a French inventor, Gustave Trouve. A German engineer Andreas Flocken (1888) built the first four-wheeled electric car.
These cars became immensely popular in the 1800s, and their use in short distances spread all over America and Europe. There was also a widespread use of electric trains in countries which had enough resources. Different cars could reach different speeds, which led to differences in price. Camile Jenatzy (1899) improved electric engines to reach a speed above 62 mph. Other engineers such as Jamais Contente made engines which could reach the speed of 65.79 mph and Ferdinand Porsche who made the first four-wheel drive electric cars (Wakefield 15). These cars were relatively expensive and popular among the rich. Their batteries ran to a maximum of less than 12 hours. By 1912, 38% of American automobiles (33,842 cars) ran by electricity. The value of an electric car was between $28,000 and $80,000 (converted to the current value). The manufacturing companies offered maintenance of the batteries.
Gasoline Domination and Recent Revival Interests
The gasoline-engine domination started in the 1920s due to the discovery of gasoline in Texas, Oklahoma and California. The improvement of infrastructure between different cities also demanded improvement of automobiles to cover long distances. The range of electric cars was 40 miles before recharging. They were also relatively slow with a high of 20mph on average. Faster electric cars were only affordable to a few. Gasoline cars provided cheaper options with higher range and speed. Gasoline cars were easier to operate due to the use of a manual gear system and an electric starter. The difference in value for similar gasoline and electric vehicles was about $1400 in 1916 (roughly $30,000 today). With these advantages, the popularity of the electric cars reduced from early 1920s. The efforts by different companies such as American Motors Corporation (AMC) to improve electric cars were not successful in increasing their popularity and their use only remained in towns.
The transport system improvement such as tarmac roads did not favor electric cars. The efforts by companies to improve electric cars diminished due to increased demand of gasoline vehicles (Michael 6). The energy crisis of 1980 aroused the need for electric cars. Companies such as GM announced the launch of new prototypes but did not manufacture the cars. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Air Boards in different states such as California began to push for the use of fuel-efficient vehicles with zero-emissions in the early 1990s. This led to the developments of models such as Chrysler TEVan, GMEV1, Honda EV plus and Ford Ranger EV which were available for leases to the public (Skibo & Schiffer 115). The sale of electric cars began in the late 1990s after protests from customers who leased the cars. This also led to the development of hybrid electric vehicles which combined gasoline and electric power. The global economic recession has led to public demanding of cars which are immune to fluctuations of fuel prices. Environmentalists also pushed for legislation in favor of zero-emission vehicles. Different Automakers such as Nissan and GM have come up with new models, which are affordable (Eckermann 238).
The future of electric cars lies not only on the willingness of the public to purchase them but also on future improvements of car batteries. The running time of the batteries and the amount of energy they can hold will require in-depth technological consideration for their advancement. The motor companies will require investing more on research in battery life and power improvement. The recent announcement by the General Motors Company on plans to build a new lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant shows that the electric car has a bright future. This will trigger action by other leading car companies in China and India in an effort to reduce competition. This competition will lead to building of long-driving and affordable electric cars to replace gasoline ones.
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