The history of the electric car dates back nearly 200 years, which may be a surprise to some. Certainly, the first model electric cars were far more primitive than their current fully electric passenger car counterparts today, but the last few decades have greatly expanded the capabilities and demand for electric vehicles.
The first model electric vehicles began popping up around Europe in the 1830s with electric locomotives ramping up around the same time. It wasn’t until a couple of decades later in the 19th century that the first full-scale electric vehicles began to take form, eventually expanding in their manufacturing just before the turn of the century. The popularity of electric vehicles grew quickly in the United States at the start of the 20th century as they offered a handful of advantages over their competitors, including the avoidance of requiring gear changes and manual effort to start. The turn of the century saw 40 percent of automobiles being powered by steam, 38 percent by electricity, and 22 percent by gasoline.
Sales of electric cars peaked in the early 1910s but dwindled in the coming decades due to a lack of power infrastructure and the growing desire for a greater range than that offered by electric cars. Many companies began expanding their experiments and innovations in electric cars throughout the 1960s and in 1971 an electric car received the unique distinction of becoming the first manned vehicle to drive on the Moon. The energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s brought about renewed interest in the perceived independence electric cars had from the fluctuations of the hydrocarbon energy market with a number of companies making battery electric vehicles converted from existing manufactured models. Throughout the 1990s, consumers in the United States began preferring larger, truck-based vehicles, causing U.S. automakers to adjust their product lines to sport utility vehicles instead of the smaller cars that were preferred in places like Europe and Japan.
Tesla began the development of its Roadster in 2004 before delivering it to customers in 2008, which introduced the widespread use of lithium-ion battery cells. This sparked increased consumer demand as well as renewed innovation and production efforts by automakers throughout the 2010s and the sales of electric cars continue to expand today. The Tesla Model 3 is the world’s all-time best-selling plug-in electric car. Sales of electric vehicles are at an all-time high and with the improving power infrastructure as well as concerns for the environmental impact of vehicles, they don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.