Published On: Mon, Apr 22nd, 2019

Electric Cars and the Search for Alternatively Powered Vehicles

It’s a long forgotten fact that electric motor vehicles actually predate petrol or gasoline vehicles and the story of how they are making a comeback in an environmentally conscious first world, is a fascinating and heartening one.

The automobile industry has, according to many commentators, been a passenger of the relentless driving force that is the oil industry for more than 50 years. And consequently, the history of the electric car, is one of apparent terminal decline. Expanding communities and extended travel distances, which only gas powered vehicles could provide have been a major factor in its failure to compete with the internal combustion engine. Petrol cars have dominated the market for almost 100 years, boasting superior mileage capabilities, top speeds, design and most obviously the technology and infrastructure for refuelling.

However electric cars and hybrid electric and petrol vehicles are beginning to re-establish their place in the automobile market as battery technology progresses and consumer concerns about the environment multiply.

Oil Concerns Fuel a Search for Alternatives

The search for alternatively fuelled vehicles began in earnest in the 1960s due to the amount of pollution from petrol fumes. The reliance on expensive foreign crude oil was also a driving factor in finding a new transport option.

One of the first and most infamous failures of the post-war electric car was Sebring-Vanguard’s CitiCar. The Citicar followed the company’s much more basic earlier Vanguard model, which was closer in its design to a golf cart than a fully-fledged motor car. The CitiCar was powered by either 6 or 8 standard 6-volt lead-acid batteries and capable of speeds of up to 50mph and able to go without recharging for 50 miles. However only 2,000 CitiCars came off the production line before it was abandoned after heavy criticism from industry critics.

Electric Cars, Alternatively Powered Vehicles

Despite more similar breakthroughs, it is arguable that these new breeds of electric cars had a negative effect on perceptions. While being viewed as practical for many everyday a to b journeys, their unflattering designs, diminutive size and lack of modern comforts, created opinion that electric cars were niche fancies and impractical for extended use. Another issue with the lightweight electric cars, was there safety or lack of, in terms of protection in the event of a collision.

The large automobile manufacturers all developed electric vehicles for the consumer market but not without stumbling blocks in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, Ford offered an electric version of its classic Ford Ranger pickup. It had a range of about 65 miles utilising lead acid batteries, and an impressive top speed of 75 mph.

Modern Designs Begin to Challenge Petrol Vehicles in the 1990s

A million miles in design terms from the CitiCar and its contemporaries, General Motors launched the EV1, an attractive 2-passenger sports car. The EV1 managed 80 mph with a maximum range of 80 miles. GM ultimately decided it was too expensive to make in mass quantities.

Although the vehicles of the 1990s were capable of meeting the requirements of basic car users, prices remained prohibitively high.

Environmental concerns continued to press into the 1990s and 2000s encouraging new legislation around the world and a commitment to curb vehicle emissions.

As we entered the 1990s, some manufacturers focused on converting existing petrol models such as Toyota and Honda, and some set about producing a new design specifically for electric drives.

Toyota’s Rav4 EV, launched in 2001 failed to win over consumers, as it needed a separate wall mount for its charger. In 2006 the Tesla Roadster, was launched, but way overpriced for the average car buyer with a $90,000 price tag.

A New Era for Electric Cars

So where do we stand now. The progress of manufacturing has been slow as the automotive industry has dragged its heels and consumers have been unconvinced by electric as a viable option. Hybrids vehicles combining electric and gas, although not offering the best of both worlds, offer something more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.

There are a number of popular hybrid models on the market now, such as the Toyota Prius to the Honda Civic Hybrid and finally the electric car is re-emerging from the automotive sidelines and finding its feet, or wheels, once again.

And the future? There is new confidence in the electric car industry that the tide is turning. The Chevrolet Volt is one of the first models which it is hoped will bring back the heyday of the electric vehicle. The Volt is due to be released in November 2010 and is showing more promise than its predecessors. It is a plug-in hybrid with a gas powered engine that acts as a generator to recharge the car’s batteries. The Volt’s powerful lithium-ion battery pack can be fully charged by plugging the car into a 120-240VAC residential electrical outlet so motorists can charge at home and go.

It really is a glimpse of the future and an indication that electric cars are making an unexpected comeback.

About the Author

- Paul Linus is an eminent online journalist who has been writing news, features and editorials on different websites from across the world for about a decade. He can be contacted at knowledgeherald@gmail.com

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