Environmental Leadership
December 19, 2017

Electric vehicle history 101: how we got here

An Intriguing Legacy of Reincarnation.

Are we at the crossroads of mass electric vehicle (EV) adoption or just nudging our way along the slow entrance ramp of fringe market acceptance?
Do you realize we have been here, several times before?

Surprisingly old origins

Electric Vehicles are much older than most people may realize. During the turn of the last century, from the 1890s and into the 1910s, our nation saw an abundance1 of EVs. The surge in interest in the horseless carriage (automobile) along with the delivery of new electric service to homes and businesses created a demand for EVs. In fact, one in three vehicles on the road in the first decade of the 20th century was an EV.

By 1912 Henry Ford had developed the assembly line process of manufacturing which made his automobiles affordable to the middle class. At the same time, the oil boom in Texas and other states brought cheap and plentiful oil and gasoline to America. By the 1930s EVs were driven off the roads.

Era Two: The OPEC Affect

In the early 1970s, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) began an oil embargo which resulted in soaring prices and supply shortages. OPEC’s embargo caused renewed interest in electric vehicles. Although America noted that NASA’s first moon car, the Lunar Rover, was all-electric, too, only some small EVs were introduced at the time and none gained sales momentum in the market.

By 1975, the federal government established fleet mileage requirement standards for cars and light trucks (trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). This began a slow progression of improving Miles Per Gallon (MPG) standards, which seemed to take away the focus on electric vehicle development.

Era Three: The EPA Influence

1990 marked Clean Air Act Amendment and in 1992 the Energy Policy Act plus new transportation emissions regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board which helped help start another EV renaissance. In 1996 GM’s EV1 model all-electric vehicle gains a small yet loyal following. The EV1 is never brought to the general market. The next year marks the introduction of the first mass-produced hybrid, the Toyota Prius. Nine years later Tesla Motors introduces a luxury sports EV.

For reference see the documentaries Who Killed the Electric Car? and Revenge of the Electric Car.

So, are we there yet?

Is this start-and-stop process for electric vehicles finally over? With the advancement of battery technology enhancing range and what seems like a real desire to cut carbon emissions, we may be on the start of a journey towards EV mainstream acceptance with a significant market share of sales.
Will you be part of that? See our post entitled: Are you up for the Electric Vehicles Lifestyle?


Xcel Energy and EVs

Xcel Energy is not advocating one EV manufacturer over another. It’s our goal to help you drive electric easily and affordably, and be your resource to charging your EV when the time and offer is right. Visit xcelenergy.com/EV and join our EV network to learn more about EV technologies, events, special rates plus ways we help make charging simple and other related topics.

1 https://energy.gov/articles/history-electric-car