The History of Electric Vehicles - a time capsule
The history of electric vehicles (EVs) commenced longer ago than most imagine! In fact, several EVs were developed in both Europe and the United States during the late 19th century. The more common internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle had significant issues in its infancy, such that electric vehicles were seriously explored during the development of the earliest motor cars.
Internal combustion engines advanced quickly, however, and cars based on this technology dominated car sales worldwide until recent decades. In the last twenty-five years, EVs have come to the fore again! So much so, in fact, that they now threaten the very existence of combustion engine vehicles. This article looks at some of the milestone production vehicles key to the public’s growing acceptance of EVs.
Milestone Vehicles on the Road to Modern EVs
1996 GM EV1: The first generation had a lead-acid battery and capacity of approx. 70 miles
1996—General Motors’ EV1
The Toyota RAV4 EV enabled the public to buy from a highly reputable manufacturer with important standard inclusions, such as warranty and dealer support."
1997—Toyota RAV4 EV
Toyota was also important in the modern chapter of the history of electric vehicles. In 1997 Toyota began selling the RAV4 EV, a variant of their popular gasoline-engine RAV4. Also powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery, the first generation propelled the car for around 95 miles. The vehicle used a factory-supplied, wall-mounted charger that plugged into a standard US 240v dryer socket. California was again the key market with almost 1500 RAV4 EVs sold there – although again, under leasing agreements. Production of the Gen-1 RAV4 EV ran until 2003, after which the general-public purchased the cars as their leases expired.
The RAV4 EV was an important electric vehicle milestone in two ways:
- It expanded the early marketplace for EVs, and
- It enabled the public to buy from a highly reputable manufacturer with important standard inclusions, such as warranty and dealer support.
In 1997, Toyota also began production of the Prius, although the vehicle was only available in Japan until 2000. The early Prius was not a pure ‘battery electric vehicle’ but rather an ICE / battery ‘hybrid’. The car was important in the development of EVs because it was a mass-market vehicle genuinely powered—at least in part—by battery. A second-generation Prius was later introduced with significantly better specifications. While there were other important Hybrid EVs around this time—notably the Honda Insight—Toyota’s first- and second-generation Prius was the standout, selling around 1.3 million units, combined.
The Prius also became a virtual poster-child for people wanting to demonstrate their ‘green credentials’ in both a practical and visible way.
Toyota maintains the Prius brand-name to this day. Over the years, it has produced a variety of Prius types including a battery-only model and a Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (PIHV) model. The Prius was key in shaping drivers’ expectations of lower running costs, providing approximately 50 miles per gallon in normal daily driving. The Prius also became a virtual poster-child for people wanting to demonstrate their ‘green credentials’ in both a practical and visible way. More than 2 million Prius vehicles had been sold by the end of 2016.
Toyota's Prius hybrid EV is notable: it's evolved - internally and externally - over more than 20 years.
The base cost for a new 2019 Leaf is only $29,000 – that’s a great price for an entry-level EV with nearly 250 miles of range!
First introduced in 2010—and still in production—the Nissan Leaf has been an extremely successful EV. The Nissan Leaf has won many ‘Best Car’ awards, including:
- 2011 European Car of the Year
- 2011 World Car of the Year
- 2011–2012 Car of the Year Japan
2012—Telsa Model S
The Chevy Bolt is important to the electric vehicle timeline because it’s the continuation of major car manufacturers offering EVs as an extension of their vehicle range.
2017—Telsa Model 3
In 2017, Tesla began delivering a much lower cost car than the Model S: the Model 3. The Model 3 costs anywhere from around US$40,000-$65,000, depending on configuration. These more compact cars have driving ranges between 220-310 miles, and are a very practical replacement for a mid-sized ICE vehicle. Tesla have expanded their vehicle range to include the Model X – a mid-sized SUV crossover—allowing them to offer a complete range of EVs.
As of the second quarter of 2019, Tesla has sold a combined total of 720,000 vehicles, with a production rate around 90,000 vehicles per quarter. Although the Model 3 has only been shipping since 2017, it now holds the world-record for total EV units shipped!
Tesla has been of critical importance to the EV industry. Not only have they designed and built great electric cars, but they have excelled at marketing them. In doing so, they have mobilized a virtual cult-following around their products. This ‘vibe’ permeates other areas of the electric vehicle market and promotes EV adoption. In this way, Tesla has given much needed support to the industry worldwide at a critical time in its development.
|Years||Manufacturer & Model||Units Produced|
|1996-2002||General Motors EV1||1,117|
|1997-2003||Toyota RAV4 EV||1,500|
|2017-2019||Telsa Model 3||290,000|
|1997-2019||Toyota Prius||More than 4 million|