You might think electric cars were a relatively new thing – but you’d be wrong. The first practical, production electric car was actually built in 1884 by a man named Thomas Parker in London.
Sometimes described as the “Edison of Europe,” Thomas was a machinist by trade, but his insatiable curiosity lead him into chemical engineering where he developed improvements to lead-acid electric batteries and designed his own “dynamo” which is an electric generator using direct current. Parker’s dynamo was capable of generating enough power to run the whole electroplating department at the factory where he worked – a first for the time which earned him a silver medal at the British Smoke Abatement Exhibition of 1881.
After this, Parker started a partnership with Paul Bedford Elwell who ran a family factory producing nails and horse shoes. Elwell-Parker began producing dynamos that lead to the first electric lighting in mines, the first electric trams – and the first electric cars.
As the world moved into the 20th century, electric cars were the preferred type of motorized vehicle with over 30,000 of them on the roads at the beginning of 1900. But improvements in the internal combustion engine lead to gas powered cars having an advantage over electric with greater driving range and lower refueling times. The rapid expansion of the petroleum infrastructure and introduction of the electric starter motor for gas powered cars meant no more hand cranking and demand for electric cars faded away.
But in the 1990’s electric cars started to make a comeback fueled by regulations on fuel efficiency and emissions.
In 1996, GM introduced a limited version fully electric car called the EV1 in Califormia and in 1997, Toyota launched a fully electric RAV4 (as well as the Prius hybrid). Since then, the Tesla Roadster, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt have become best selling fully electric cars. Doubt their popularity? Then don’t go to Norway – 39% of all new car sales there are fully electric vehicles!
Manufacturers are stepping up their electric vehicle production too – Volvo announced in 2017 that they would be phasing out combustible engines beginning with the 2019 model year. So next time you head to the dealership for a new car, you may be surprised at all the electric vehicles available to you!