December 7, 2021 | Aimee Tweedale
Electric cars may seem futuristic, but they have a surprisingly long past.
In fact, tracing the history of electric cars takes us back to the early 19th century, with the invention of electric motors and batteries. After almost 2 centuries of innovation, new developments continue to be made in the world of electric vehicles all the time.
Have you ever wondered when and where the first electric car was invented? Here's a timeline of electric vehicle development, from the first "horseless car" to the first Tesla and beyond!
When were electric cars invented?
The history of electric cars goes back much further than you might think. In fact, battery-powered cars were invented before gasoline-powered vehicles.
The first electric motor was invented in 1828 while the lead-acid battery was invented later in 1859. This led to what was considered the world's first electric car debuting in the late 19th century.
Who invented the electric car?
The answer to who invented the electric car is not entirely simple. Electric cars, as we know them today, come from the inventions of a few different brilliant minds.
hungarian engineerÁnyos Jedlikhe was the first person to invent the electric motor, in 1828. The motor lives in amuseo en budapest, and it still works perfectly fine to this day.1!
the scottish inventorroberto andersonhe was apparently the first person to put this technology to use in road transport. He strapped a motor and battery to a carriage sometime in the 1830s, creating a crude prototype of electric cars as we know them today.2.
In 1859, the French physicistGaston Planthe invented lead-acid batteries, which are still used in some electric vehicles today. His invention was later improved by the English engineerThomas Parker. Parker and Planté filed a patent for an improved lead-acid battery in 1882, and both were granted.
Parker then set up a lead-acid battery factory in Wolverhampton. together with your partner,Pablo Elwell, developed several prototypes of electric cars.
but it waswilliam morrison, a Scottish-American inventor, who created the first successful electric carriage in the United States. He completed the first prototype of it in 1887.
One of Thomas Parker's electric cars outside his home near Wolverhampton, circa 1895 / Photo Credit: Wikipedia
What was the first electric car?
As you can see, there were many early prototypes and experiments on electric vehicles. But it was William Morrison's design that became widely known as the world's first electric car in the late 19th century.
Between 1888 and 1890, he refined his design to include gears, steering, and other features. It became famous for being a “horseless carriage”, capable of moving down the street without needing to be pulled by horses!
Electric cars in the 20th century: how gasoline replaced batteries
In the late 19th century, Morrison's design exploded in popularity. In fact, in 1900, electric cars made up a third of all vehicles on American roads.3! So what changed?
The answer isHenry Ford.If you have not heard of the American businessman, surely you have heard of his company,ford engines. In 1908, they introduced the Model T: the first cheap, easy-to-drive, and widely available gasoline-powered car. It was extremely popular and paved the way for automobiles as we know them today.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, more and more gasoline-powered automobiles entered the market. Meanwhile, road infrastructure improved and it became common for middle-class families to own a gasoline-powered car for trips away from home. Electric cars, which were slower and could only drive short distances, fell out of favor.
Later in the 20th century, interest in electric vehicles increased again. This was first driven by increases in gasoline prices in the 1960s and 1970s, and later by concerns aboutof Climate Change. But electric cars still couldn't travel as far or as fast as cars with gasoline or diesel engines, so they remained a niche.
Everything changed with the invention of the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. When it hit the market in 1991, electric vehicles got a boost. Lithium-ion batteries made it possible for electric vehicles to travel much further than lead-acid.
As the 20th century drew to a close, innovation in electric vehicles began to pick up speed.
Electric cars in the 21st century: the biggest advances yet
The greatest advances in EV technology have occurred in this century. Here's a quick guide to key developments.
Battery technology improvements
Lithium-ion batteries were around during the 1990s, but experts agreed they weren't powerful enough to give electric vehicles the same range and reliability as gasoline-powered cars.
At the turn of the century, 2 new varieties of lithium-ion batteries were created: aluminum nickel-cobalt lithium oxides (NCA) and lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt oxides (MNC).4. These forms of battery technology gave cars more fuel economy, allowing them to have more power and travel longer distances.
The discovery of NCA and MNC battery technology led to an explosion in electric cars, including the launch oftesla, which mainly uses NCA batteries.
Want to learn more about electric vehicle battery technology and how long they last? Read our guide!
When was the first Tesla made?
Elon MuskTesla's electric car company released its first model, the Tesla Roadster, in 2006. Customers were able to buy it between 2008 and 2011.
With a starting price of $110,000, it was something of a niche car. Only 2,400 of them were sold.5. But the Roadster was very important for what it represented: it was the first electric vehicle on the market capable of going more than 200 miles on a single charge.
These days, Teslas (and electric cars in general) have lost their niche status. In March 2020, Tesla became the first automaker to produce 1 million electric cars.6.
Learn more about the range of electric cars and how far an EV can go
The development of plug-in hybrid cars
The concept of a hybrid car is almost as old as electric cars, with the first being made in 1898.7. But most of the developments in hybrid car technology began in the early 21st century.
In 1999, the first hybrid car (a car with a combustion engine and an electric motor) was released to the public in the United States: the Honda Insight. Toyota followed with the Prius in 2000, the first 4-door hybrid sedan available to American customers.8.
But the first plug-in hybrid car available to buy in the US was the Chevrolet Volt, released in 2010.9. (A plug-in hybrid has a battery that can be charged, just like an EV, along with its gasoline/diesel engine.)
Read more about hybrid cars and how they work
The future of electric cars
In 2020, the UK governmentAnnouncedthat it will be illegal to make gasoline and diesel cars after 2030. This means that electric cars will surely be a big part of our future.
While electric vehicles have come a long way from where they started in the 19th century, there is still a long way to go.
Electric car batteries todaycan travel up to 300-400 miles on a single charge. But researchers around the world are working on creating batteries that can go even further, to end "range anxiety" once and for all.
Scientists are also working on new technologies that could reduce the time it takes to charge an electric car. In early 2021, researchers at Pennsylvania State University in the United States claimed to have invented an EV battery that can be fully charged in just 10 minutes.10.
As this technology develops and more charging infrastructure is installed across the UK, electric vehicles should become as cheap and convenient as petrol cars.
For more information, readour comprehensive guide to the future of electric cars and the top electric vehicle trends in 2021.
Sources and references:
See more of these categories
What is the history of electric cars? ›
The history of electric cars can be broken up into five distinct periods: the early pioneers of electric mobility (1830-1880), the transition to motorized transport (1880-1914), the rise of the internal combustion engine (1914-1970), the return of electric vehicles (1970-2003), the electric revolution (2003-2020), and ...What was the first electric vehicle? ›
Around 1884, inventor Thomas Parker helped deploy electric-powered trams and built prototype electric cars in England. By 1890, a Scotland-born chemist living in Des Moines, Iowa, William Morrison, applied for a patent on the electric carriage he'd built perhaps as early as 1887.Was the first car gas or electric? ›
Electric cars have existed since at least 1834, long before gasoline cars were invented.When was the first fully electric car? ›
Here in the U.S., the first successful electric car made its debut around 1890 thanks to William Morrison, a chemist who lived in Des Moines, Iowa.What year did cars have electric start? ›
The 1912 model Cadillac became the first car to replace the hand crank with an electric starter motor. Most automobile manufacturers switched over to the electric starter during the teens, although Ford's Model T continued using the hand crank through 1919.Did we have electric cars in 1917? ›
The Golden Age of Electric Vehicles
The first EV hybrid car was made in 1901 by Ferdinand Porsche, and by 1917, 38 percent of the cars on US roads were EVs, 40 percent were steam-powered cars and the remaining 22 percent were gasoline-fueled.
Before the Prius and Tesla, came the EV1. The world's first mass-produced electric car was launched by General Motors back in 1996 and was capable of nought to 60 in eight seconds.Did electric cars use gasoline? ›
Electric vehicles (EVs) have a battery instead of a gasoline tank, and an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are a combination of gasoline and electric vehicles, so they have a battery, an electric motor, a gasoline tank, and an internal combustion engine.What did cars run off of before gas? ›
The first automobiles actually ran on steam and electricity. You may also be surprised to learn the first vehicles were developed in the late 1700s. Those first “vehicles” were powered by steam. It was an energy source that had been used for many years to power trains.What did cars run on before gasoline? ›
And of the approximately 8,000 automobiles on the road, most were steam-driven. Steam had been used as early as 1769 to power a road vehicle.
Did 1920s have electric cars? ›
Electric vehicles enjoyed success into the 1920s with production peaking in 1912. several major developments as follows: By the 1920s, America had a better system of roads connecting cities, and bringing with it the need for longer-range vehicles.Were there electric cars in 1910? ›
In the 1910s several electric roadsters appeared on the market, modelled after their popular gasoline powered cousins (equipped with a faux radiator), and aimed at male drivers (early electrics had mainly been marketed to women).Did they have electric cars in 1914? ›
1914 Detroit Electric Model 47 Brougham, Personal Car of Clara Ford - The Henry Ford.Do electric cars take oil? ›
“EVs do not require oil which is necessary to lubricate the number of moving parts in a combustion engine. EVs are powered by electric motors, not the oil mandatory engines.”Why do electric cars not need oil? ›
So, do electric vehicles need oil changes? The short answer is, nope! Fully electric vehicles don't have an internal combustion engine, which means they don't rely on oil to cool, lubricate, or protect the engine.How many barrels of oil does it take to make an electric car? ›
It takes 100 to 300 barrels of oil to manufacture a single electric ca... TikTok.What year will they stop making gas cars? ›
Last month, California regulators passed rules banning the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, a move hailed as a significant victory in the fight against climate change.Will cars ever stop using gas? ›
California will ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, but the conversion to battery-powered vehicles poses numerous unresolved issues. California made it official last week — the state will ban sales of gasoline-powered new cars after 2035. Gov.
It is predicted that we will run out of fossil fuels in this century. Oil can last up to 50 years, natural gas up to 53 years, and coal up to 114 years. Yet, renewable energy is not popular enough, so emptying our reserves can speed up.Is 10 year old gas still good? ›
Degradation occurs from the get-go but most gas stays fresh for a month or two without issue. However, gas that is more than two month old is generally OK to use with only minor decreases in performance. Gas that is older than a year can cause issues, like engine knocking, sputtering and clogged injectors.
How did people get gas before gas stations? ›
Before there were filling stations, consumers bought gasoline out of a barrel at the grocery or hardware store. But the new market for gas and consumer desire to buy gas more easily soon led to a landscape dotted with gas stations—more than 200,000 by 1935.Who first sold gasoline? ›
The first important leap to gasoline for automotive use was made by German engineer Karl Friedrich Michael Vaillant Benz (1844-1929), a graduate of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, who built the first gasoline fueled mono cylindric motor prototype in 1879, which finally was patented by Daimler in 1886.Is the Nissan LEAF the first electric car? ›
Nissan is celebrating 10 years of the all-electric LEAF, the world's first mass-market electric vehicle (EV). The pioneering LEAF hit the roads in December 2010. First sold in Japan, Europe and America, it's now driven in 59 markets. Customers worldwide have bought more than half a million LEAF electric cars.Was the Toyota Prius the first electric car? ›
The first-generation Prius, at its launch, became the world's first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid car.
Key Takeaways. Tesla Motors was founded as an electric carmaker by engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in 2003. Elon Musk, co-founder of Paypal, led the initial rounds of investing for Tesla before taking over as CEO. In 2008, Tesla released its first electric car, the Roadster.Did Ford make the first electric car? ›
|Ford Focus Electric|
|Height||58.2 in (1,478 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,640 lb (1,651 kg)|
However, only some electric vehicle owners know this. So, if you are among those who don't have the figures, the replacement cost of a Nissan leaf battery is around $8,000 for a 24kWh battery. The process can take up to three hours. While the replacement is expensive, it will be worth it in the long run.Who has the first electric car? ›
William Morrison, from Des Moines, Iowa, creates the first successful electric vehicle in the U.S. His car is little more than an electrified wagon, but it sparks an interest in electric vehicles. This 1896 advertisement shows how many early electric vehicles were not much different than carriages.How many years will a Nissan LEAF battery last? ›
The Nissan LEAF battery should be changed every 3-5 years.What was the first electric car released in the US? ›
Hart. The first electric car in the United States was developed in 1890–91 by William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa; the vehicle was a six-passenger wagon capable of reaching a speed of 23 kilometres per hour (14 mph). It was not until 1895 that consumers began to devote attention to electric vehicles after A.L.
What was the first hybrid car in the US? ›
The first mass-produced hybrid vehicle was the Toyota Prius, launched in Japan in 1997, and followed by the Honda Insight, launched in 1999 in the United States and Japan. The Prius was launched in Europe, North America and the rest of the world in 2000.How many years does a gas powered car last? ›
Cars last around 15 years, so it will take us to 2050 before we get rid of most of the gasoline-powered cars. “Drivers will be willing to wait 10 to 15 minutes to charge their cars so they can drive 200 more miles. But if they have to wait much longer, they will not be happy.”Why are people against electric cars? ›
The most common reasons drivers avoid EVs include fear the battery will run out of charge before reaching their destination, also known as “range anxiety,” fear of too few charging stations, long charge times, and initial higher upfront vehicle costs.How much does it cost to charge a Tesla? ›
Assuming a consumer drives 50 miles per day, they would pay $1.94 charging a Model S. A Model 3 would cost $1.73 per day. For a Model X, this Tesla driver would spend $2.28 a day to charge. With a Model Y, the charging cost is $1.94.How long do Tesla batteries last? ›
On average, Tesla owners can expect at least 267 miles of range on a single charge of their car's battery. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, your Tesla batteries are supposed to last for 300,000 to 500,000 miles, or 1,500 battery cycles.Why did Edison's electric car fail? ›
Rather, as Bryan wrote, the downfall of the Edison-Ford electric car came about because Ford demanded the use of Edison's nickel-iron batteries in the car and would have no other battery powering the car.Why did Ford stop making electric cars? ›
Ford announced today that it is separating its electric vehicle and internal combustion businesses into two different units, as the automaker is trying to navigate a future that is undeniably electric while dragging a large internal combustion engine business with it.Who is the largest EV manufacturer? ›
- Tesla. With a market cap of over $400 billion, Tesla is the largest EV manufacturer in the world. ...
- Li Auto. Li Auto, a China-based EV manufacturer, follows Tesla with a market cap of $22 billion. ...
- NIO. ...
- Lucid Motors. ...
- Rivian. ...
- The EV Market Is Growing. ...
- More from Industry Trends.