In today’s economy, people are looking to save money any way they can. Fuel prices remain high, so there has been a strong resurgence in the popularity of cars with above average fuel economy. One option for drivers that seems to be making news again is the electric car. You may be surprised to learn that the electric car is nothing new; as a matter of fact, electric cars have been around since the 1800’s.
The first commercially produced electric cars in the U.S. were used in the late 1800’s as New York City taxis. Electric cars gained popularity during the early 1900’s. They were quieter, smoother, and less smelly than their gas powered counterparts and were especially popular as local commuters. As with modern versions, electric cars had nowhere near the range of cars powered by internal combustion engines. The lack of range (30 – 40 miles per charge) and speed (15 – 20 mph) along with the increased availability of inexpensive gasoline lead to a downturn in the popularity of the electric car by the 1920’s.
The increased popularity of the gasoline engine forced the electric car to take a backseat and focus on the development of better batteries to increase both speed and range. Over the years, many electric vehicles have been produced both privately and in research centers for major auto manufacturers. In the past 20 years or so, there has been a renewed interest in electricity as an alternate power source for our cars.
Automakers regularly bring incredibly cool electric vehicles to the public stage at events like SEMA and the Los Angeles Auto Show. Advances in batteries have made possible the development of viable electric cars and manufacturers across the globe are looking to produce serviceable vehicles with acceptable range and speed. A notable “new kid on the block” is the Tesla Roadster, which has a top speed in excess of 100 mph and a range of greater than 200 miles.
Quiet: An electric car is propelled by an electric motor so there is virtually no noise, other than the sound of wind on the car and tires on the road.
Clean: Electric cars are emissions-free; there is no fuel being burned so no exhaust gases are produced.
Economical: Electric cars do not require you to empty your wallet in order to fill your vehicle with gasoline. You simply need a place to “plug-in” when not driving in order to maximize range.
Simple: Electric motors are much simpler devices than internal combustion engines. An electric motor, basically, has one moving part and requires less service than a gasoline engine.
Power: Electric cars do not, typically, have the acceleration and speed of comparable gasoline engines (although the Tesla is showing a great deal of promise in this area).
Range: Electric cars still have a limited ranged—usually 60 – 100 miles. Advances in electric car technology continue to improve range for these vehicles.
Charge Time: When a gasoline powered car gets low on fuel, you stop at a gas pump and are quickly back on the road. Electric cars require a greater amount of time to re-charge—usually 1 – 3 hours.
Price: The technology to develop batteries that are able to deliver the power and range that drivers are looking for is not inexpensive. Electric cars cost more to drive off the lot than comparable gasoline powered cars.
Electric cars most likely have a very bright future. Battery technology is not quite where we would like it to be, but it is good enough for manufacturers like Nissan to mass-produce vehicles like the Leaf (which has a top speed of over 70 mph and a range of over 100 miles). Automakers with a focus on quality electric car production may have it right—the 2011 Leaf was sold out a full 6 months before it was slated to be available at dealerships. If the success of the Leaf is any indication, we can expect a much greater selection of quality electric vehicles in the next few years.