The Advent of EV (Part I)
Imagine walking along the road; everything is calm and serene. You hear the birds chirping, leaves rustling, and you feel as though you are one with nature. Suddenly you feel the wind picking up, and a sparkling metallic car rushes past you. Did that car even have an engine? There appeared to be no sound at all. That, my friend, is what you call an EV.
An electric vehicle (EV) uses one or more electric motors for propulsion. EVs are vehicles that are either partially or fully powered by electric power. EVs include trains, buses, bikes, underwater vessels, light aircraft and even some spacecraft. But we will be focusing on the fantastic journey—one filled with many ups and downs—of EV’s most popular sub-set; cars.
The Age of Enlightenment:
Thomas Davenport built the first practical electric motor in 1835, even before the gasoline engine’s invention, which didn’t come about until 1870. In 1881, French Inventor Gustave Trouvé improved the efficiency of the DC battery-powered motor. He fitted it with an English James Starley tricycle to create the world’s first electric vehicle, or “The Horse-less Carriage”, as they called it, on the streets of Paris.
Although the invention of the EV dates back to the late 1830s, almost two centuries ago, personal daily-use EVs gained popularity in the early 1900s. Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of Porsche, developed the P1 in 1898. It was one of the first vehicles he developed.
EVs slowly gained popularity because the early gasoline vehicles required dangerous hand-cranking to start and emitted loud noises, even giving out foul-smelling exhaust while driving. The electric cars at the time were quick to jump, clean, easy to accelerate and quiet to run. But most of all, they were safe and did not explode as often as the other vehicles of the time. The only downside of owning one included the limited distance it could travel.
But this didn’t affect its popularity much. In the early 1900s, there were few paved roads to travel. Early vehicles were not equipped for off-road travel and were mainly used to run personal errands around one’s locality or for short leisure drives. This made electric vehicles the number one choice of the common folk, those who could afford a personal car.
The Ford Era:
Even Thomas Edison, one of the world’s most prolific inventors, thought electric vehicles were superior to their fuel-powered counterparts. He worked with a friend towards making a low-cost electric vehicle for the masses. Many believed electric vehicles to be the future of transport.
But that’s when it all starts to go downhill. More roads were getting paved, especially near the countryside, where setting up electric charging stations became a hassle. So now, the low range of EVs has become more of an issue. Moreover, due to the invention of the electric starter, fuel-powered vehicles had advanced so much that they didn’t need to be hand-cranked each time they were started. They could also be used to travel off-road, which suited the needs of customers seeking to escape the city in search of land near the quiet countryside.
Now, remember the friend who worked with Thomas Edison. He was none other than the future “automobile king”, Henry Ford. Ironically, in working with Thomas Edison towards furthering EVs, he understood and solved the problems associated with his fuel-powered cars, thereby leading to the death of EVs in the early 1910s. His own Model T put the final nail in the coffin. His development of the moving assembly line made his cars cheaper, better and more popular than the rest.
Another cause of the downfall of EVs was the increasingly gendered nature of automobile advertisements at the time. Electric cars were considered “easy to drive parlours on wheels” and therefore were marketed towards women. Even Henry Ford’s Wife owned an electric vehicle. In contrast, gas-powered cars were painted as dirty, greasy, powerful and masculine cars that could take you out to the countryside and let you speed through streets. And this was 20th century America we were talking about, where white men had both money and power to buy such vehicles, aka the primary buyers of cars. They tended towards buying gas-powered vehicles.
General Motors: The Birth of the EV 1:
The passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment and the 1992 Energy Policy Act, plus new transportation emissions regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), helped create a renewed interest in electric vehicles in the US. In response, many automobile companies began converting their gas-powered cars into EVs. But then General Motors (GM) steps into the ring with its EV1. The EV1 was developed from the ground with the goal of it being purely an electric vehicle. Calling it an electric car would be an understatement. It was an electric beast. With a range of 80 miles and the ability to accelerate from 0 to 50 miles per hour in just seven seconds, it quickly gained a cult following and became a critical and commercial success. It made automotive history. It was the perfect electric car.
EV1: The Betrayal:
There was a twist in this fairy tale. The car could only be leased. This loophole turned the fairy tale into a modern tragedy. As after the lease ended, GM recalled all the EV1s. EV enthusiasts and previous leaseholders protested, held mock funerals for their cars and even raised enough money to buy all existing EV1s. But GM denied all their offers. But it did not end there; after being recalled, the EV1s were shipped out of state and were crushed in junkyards. Other companies followed suit and destroyed large amounts of their fully functioning EVs. These EVs could have been the early steppingstones for the future of the automotive industry.
Why would GM kill its darling EV1? Let’s rewind. GM created the EV1 only because of the newly passed CARB regulations. GM never believed EVs could be a profitable venture. They saw that they would incur long-term losses if they were to develop EVs. Regular cars require expensive maintenance and parts replacement. Servicing and repairs account for a large percentage of profits for car manufacturers. EVs required little to no maintenance and viewed this as a threat to their profits. Also, EVs don’t run on oil or gas. Essentially EVs would hurt two extensive bedrock industries in the US.
In 1995, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, which consisted of representatives from GM, Ford and many more, hired a PR firm to campaign against CARB’s EV mandates. An uncovered document revealed that automakers wanted to oppose the mandate despite the growing demand for EVs. Even the oil and gas industry opposed the ruling and began lobbying for its retraction. Buckling under immense pressure, the state of California decided to dismantle the CARB EV mandates, leading to the sorrowful demise of the EV dream.
EVs were a concept dating back to the early 19th century. It began from the dreams of many notable scientists. Then went on to become a reality in the early 1900s, which could have been the start of a new EV era. But history had other plans. EVs could not compete with the genius of Henry Ford. Ford’s meteoric rise and cost-effective cars for the general public sealed the fate of EVs for a long time. There was a short-lived revival of EVs in the early 1990s. Due to the CARB mandates, automakers had to create more EVs, which, as a result, led to the creation of the EV1. Due to GM and other automakers’ sabotage, the CARB mandates were repealed, which led to the destruction of EV1. With the fall of the EV1, the EV dream was cast into darkness. It wasn’t GM or Ford who killed the EV dream but human greed and profits.
Consequently, the earth’s climate was poorly affected. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel. We will see everything from Tesla’s volcanic rise, future fuels, The Elon Impact, rise of EVs and the future of human transport in The Advent Of EV (Part II).
Written by Soham Sadhukan and Kenneth Stephen for MTTN
Edited by Adeela Fathima for MTTN
Featured Image by Future Market Magazine