Are Electric Cars Finally Here?

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Are Electric Cars Finally Here?

The first electric cars were produced in France and England in the late 1800s. By 1897, New York City had a fleet of electric taxicabs.1

By 1902, you could buy a Wood's Phaeton electric car for $2,000; that's almost $50,000 in 2009 dollars. It had a range of 18 miles at 14 miles an hour.

In 1899 and 1900, electric vehicles outsold those powered by steam or gasoline, and production of electric cars reached its peak in 1912.

But as roads between cities improved, cars were no longer seen as being useful for merely getting around a small area of town. People wanted to go places and that meant having the much longer range afforded by a large gas tank. At the very same time, the famous oil well known as Spindletop blew near Beaumont, Texas, marking the beginning of the oil boom in that state. Oil — and therefore gasoline — became abundant and cheap. In 1912 the hand crank for starting a gas engine was replaced by the electric starter, making internal combustion travel much more convenient. Mass production by Ford introduced affordable cars for everyone. Prices dropped from thousands for the luxury vehicles to as low as $500 for a basic Ford. Meanwhile, the price of electric vehicles continued to go up. As a result, there were virtually no electric cars on the market by 1935.

The pollution in the 1960s and the oil crisis of the 1970s reignited interest in electric vehicles. The race was on to come up with a workable electric car, and it's still on today. There have been many significant steps along the way.

A company named Boyertown Auto Body Works joined with the Battronic Truck Company, Smith Delivery Vehicles, and the Electric Battery Company to create the first electric truck. The first unit was purchased by the Potomac Edison Company in 1964. With a range of 62 miles and a payload of more than a ton, it could go 25 miles an hour. Battronic teamed up with General Electric to manufacture vans for industrial use. About 175 were produced. In the 1970s, Battronic built 20 buses for passengers.

During that same time frame, between 1974 and 1977, a company in Florida called Sebring-Vanguard built 2,000 tiny two-seat CitiCars with a range of 60 miles and a cruising speed of 38 miles an hour. Some people might still recall the CitiCar which had a distinctive wedge shape. The company was purchased by Commuter Vehicles, Inc., which built its version of the CitiCar between 1979 and 1982.

At the same time, Elcar Corporation was building the Elcar with a top speed of 45 miles an hour and a similar range, costing around $4,000...

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