The history of electric vehicles or EVs, in short, is a captivating journey that spans over a century. From the early days of electric carriages in the late 19th century to the recent surge in popularity, EVs have undergone significant advancements. In this blog, we’ll go through the brief history and detailed timeline of electric cars.
A Journey Through the History of EV
Let us start this journey by exploring the earliest EVs.
Electric vehicles (EVs) actually predate cars that run on gasoline. In the 1830s, there were experimental prototypes of EVs in Hungary, the Netherlands, and the UK. The first EV that was considered practical was made by an American inventor named William Morrison around 1890.
In the 1800s, advances in batteries and motors made it possible for pioneers in engineering and automotive industries to create the first electric vehicles in Europe and America. Now, let’s go through the in-depth history of EV.
1. Electric Cars During 1830-1880
The first electric car’s creator is a topic of debate, but it is attributed to various individuals such as Robert Anderson, Anyos Jedlik, Sibrandus Stratingh, Thomas Davenport, Gaston Plante, and William Morrison. Let’s explore each of their contributions.
In 1835, Robert Anderson, a British inventor, showcased an electric vehicle at a conference. His vehicle used a disposable battery fueled by crude oil to move the wheels.
During that time, Ányos Jedlik from Hungary, Sibrandus Stratingh from the Netherlands, and Thomas Davenport, an American blacksmith turned inventor, also created model electric vehicles. Davenport is believed to have invented important parts of the electric motor used in the first electric car.
However, these early attempts were mostly prototypes of carts that could only travel at a maximum speed of 12 km/h, had difficult steering, and limited range. In the 1860s, a French physicist named Gaston Plante invented the first rechargeable lead-acid battery, a significant breakthrough for electric mobility.
But it wasn’t until the late 1880s that William Morrison, a chemist from Des Moines, Iowa, combined batteries and electric motors to create the first practical electric vehicle. Morrison converted a traditional horse-drawn Surrey carriage, popular in 19th century America, to run on a battery. His electric carriage could accommodate up to 12 people and reached a maximum speed of 32 km/h (20 miles per hour).
2. Transition During 1880-1914
At the beginning of the 20th century, a lot of individuals started replacing their horse-drawn carriages with motorized transportation. Cars became really popular, and a battle started over how people will move around in the future with possible options being: Steam, gasoline, or electric.
Back then, almost a third of American vehicles were powered by steam and electricity combined, and only less than a quarter by gasoline. Steam vehicles were popular in the US at the turn of the century but had major setbacks that led to their downfall. Ultimately, although steam was a dependable source of energy for factories and locomotives, it was unsuitable for individual transportation.
a) Invention of the Internal Combustion Engine
In 1886, Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz created the first combustion engine automobiles in Germany, while William Morrison was developing his electric vehicle. Gasoline-powered cars need the driver to manually shift gears and initiate the engine through a strenuous hand crank. In addition, they were considerably louder than their steam or electric counterparts and discharged emissions from their tailpipes. I wonder in this scenario, how and when did electric cars become popular?
In comparison to the two other vehicle types on the market, electric cars proved to be a competitive option. They didn’t emit harmful emissions, require gear shifting, or have long startup periods. As a result, these vehicles became more effortless to operate and significantly reduced the level of noise produced.
During this phase in the history of EV, they became popular in cities with easy access to electricity, and their popularity grew as more people gained access to electricity.
b) The Emergence of Hybrid Cars
The popularity of EVs prompted several pioneers to take action. For example, Porsche invented the world’s first hybrid car, and Thomas Edison joined forces with his friend and former employee Henry Ford to produce an affordable electric vehicle. The introduction of Ford’s cost-efficient assembly line and the increased accessibility of gasoline marked the end of this momentum.
3. The Rise of the Internal Combustion Engine During 1914-1970
The introduction of mass-produced internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles caused a setback in the development of EVs. The widespread availability and affordability of gasoline-powered cars were made possible by the introduction of Ford’s Model T.
Oil discovery in Texas made gasoline cheap and accessible for many, but electricity was only available in cities. Electric cars didn’t improve much in the next 30 years and by the mid-1930s, they were almost gone from the market.
Gasoline was cheap and easy to get, and cars that ran on it were getting better all the time. This meant that people weren’t very interested in buying cars that ran on other kinds of fuel. Consequently, the electric car remained inactive for more than fifty years.
4. The Return of Electric Vehicles During 1970 and 2003
Moving ahead to the 1970s, when oil prices and gasoline shortages became a major concern, there was a growing interest in reducing society’s reliance on oil. It was a turning point in the history of EV. Automakers began noticing this shift and started exploring alternatives like electric cars. General Motors, for example, developed a prototype for an electric vehicle suited for urban areas, while NASA’s electric Lunar rover gained attention as the first manned vehicle on the moon.
However, electric cars faced challenges compared to gasoline-powered ones, such as limited range and slower speeds, which made them less appealing to consumers. Nonetheless, scientists and engineers persisted in their efforts. Over the next 20 years, automotive companies modified popular models to create electric versions, aiming to improve batteries and achieve ranges and speeds closer to those of gasoline-powered vehicles.
A significant breakthrough occurred with the introduction of the Toyota Prius. Released in Japan in 1997 and worldwide in 2000, the Prius became the world’s first widely available hybrid electric vehicle and enjoyed immediate success. Rising gasoline prices and growing concerns about carbon pollution contributed to the Prius becoming the best-selling hybrid globally.
However, the real turning point for battery electric cars came in 2003 when two entrepreneurs, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, recognized an opportunity. This is also when electric cars become popular.
5. The Electric Revolution During 2003-2020
In 2003, Tesla Motors was founded by Eberhard and Marc, who were impressed by the expansion of lithium-ion battery capacity during their previous business venture. In 2006, the startup from Silicon Valley revealed its plan of crafting a high-end electric sports car with the capacity of running more than 320 km after a complete charging session. This was a pivotal point in the history of EV.
Meanwhile, advancements in battery technologies emerged, leading to a better range and reduced costs for EV batteries. As evidence, even though there was a slight increase in battery costs in 2022 due to inflation and raw material prices, the price of lithium-ion batteries has dropped by over 97% since 1991. This decrease has made electric vehicles more affordable for consumers, contributing to the overall reduction in their costs.
In recent years, nearly every major car manufacturer has joined the electric vehicle trend, with many committing to cease the production of internal combustion engine cars entirely.
6. Turning Point for Electric Vehicle Expansion (2021 and Beyond)
The expansion of electric mobility, especially in passenger electric vehicles, has been remarkable. Whether we consider EV sales, EVs on the roads, government mandates, EV market share, or automakers’ commitments to electric mobility, it is evident that electric vehicles are gaining significant momentum among governments, society, and consumers as a key component of the future. Three key figures exemplify this trend:
- The number of electric vehicles on the roads has skyrocketed, going from virtually none in 2010 to approximately 1 million in 2016, and reaching a staggering 26 million electric cars worldwide by the end of 2022.
- Tesla, the electric vehicle pioneer, has become the most valuable automotive company globally, surpassing established combustion engine manufacturers. Due to Tesla’s success, its Co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has become the richest person on Earth.
- In 2022, global EV sales surged by 60% compared to the previous year, setting a new record of 10.6 million electric cars sold. Electric vehicles accounted for over 14% of total global car sales in 2022.
This growth is not limited to specific countries but has been observed across major markets worldwide, with Europe leading the charge. While China has the largest number of electric vehicles, European countries have witnessed a rapid acceleration in EV sales, claiming the top spots in the market. Norway, in particular, stands out as a frontrunner, having nearly phased out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle sales already. Nearly 80% of new cars sold in Norway are electric, and the country aims to achieve 100% EV sales as early as 2025, setting a global precedent.
Norway may be at the forefront, but it is not alone. By 2035, all major automotive markets are projected to transition to electric vehicles. According to McKinsey & Company, this exponential growth in electric mobility signifies that we have reached a tipping point, a stage beyond which significant and often irreversible changes occur, particularly in passenger EV adoption, which occurred in the latter half of 2020.
This remarkable growth shows no signs of slowing down. Governments, companies, and individuals are increasingly embracing EVs as a vital step toward achieving a sustainable future and decarbonization goals.
All these points beautifully depicted the history of EV (Electric Vehicle). They helped you understand when did electric cars become popular and for what reasons.
A Quick Glance at Electric Cars Timeline
With this table, let’s try to get a better insight into the electric cars timeline:
|1830s||Experimental prototypes of EVs developed in Hungary, the Netherlands, and the UK.|
|1835||Robert Anderson showcases an electric vehicle in Britain.|
|1860s||Gaston Plante invents the first rechargeable lead-acid battery.|
|Late 1880s||William Morrison creates the first practical electric vehicle.|
|1886||Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz create the first combustion engine automobiles in Germany.|
|1890||William Morrison converts a horse-drawn Surrey carriage into an electric vehicle.|
|1914-1970||The rise of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles leads to a setback in the development of EVs.|
|1970-2003||Growing interest in reducing reliance on oil sparks renewed interest in EVs.|
|2003||Tesla Motors founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning.|
|2006||Tesla Motors reveals plans for a high-end electric sports car.|
|2020||Nearly every major car manufacturer joins the electric vehicle trend.|
|2022||Global EV sales reach a record of 10.6 million electric cars sold.|
|2025||Norway aims to achieve 100% EV sales, setting a global precedent.|
|2035||All major automotive markets to transition to electric vehicles.|
This table should have given you a brief history of EV.
When Were Modern Electric Cars Invented?
Modern EVs of the 21st century have their roots in the late 20th century, spurred by the 1973 Oil Crisis and escalating climate worries. So, when were the first modern fully electric cars made? They emerged in the 2000s with the introduction of the Toyota Prius in 1997, followed by the development of hybrid vehicles. In 2010, the Nissan Leaf became the first mass-market EV. Since then, the EV market has experienced remarkable growth.
When was the First Electric Car Mass Produced?
It was a milestone in the history of EV. The Prius was first launched in Japan in 1997 as the world’s first hybrid electric car produced on a large scale. The year 2000 saw the global launch of the Prius, which swiftly won over celebrities, serving to elevate the automobile’s prestige. When did the first modern electric car come out? The answer to this is in the year 1997 when Prius was launched.
Which Was the First Modern Electric Car With the Most Sales?
You would be surprised to know that Prius was the first modern electric car with the most sales worldwide. Electric car sales exceeded 10 million in 2022 and now one in seven global vehicle sales are electric cars. The future of electric mobility looks promising as the world moves towards sustainability and governments prohibit the sale of internal combustion cars.
From early experiments to mass production, EVs have faced challenges and emerged stronger. Today, they are at the forefront of sustainable transportation, offering viable alternatives to conventional vehicles. For more EV content, keep reading our blogs.