Learning from the e-car history - 19 May 2009

It is interesting to note that the e-car is not new.

In fact the first 30 years of the car industry was dominated by e-cars. The first e-cars began to emerge as early as 1897. They were mainly used as commercial vehicles, and taxis in particular ran on electricity until well into the 1920s. Some of the commercial e-cars lasted into the 1940s.

With the arrival of the combustion engine the reach of cars could be expanded, and one could drive into the country. There was already a well-established gasoline distribution network for household purposes (mainly stoves) and the first private cars were used purely for leisure, so a trip into the country was high on the list for those early drivers.

At that time electricity was still a novelty outside the cities.

The residential mass market quickly discarded the e-car and soon after WWI most private vehicles were petrol-driven.

After the oil crisis in the 1970s e-cars received renewed attention but the car and oil industries - while paying lip service to the development - never seriously threw their support behind them.

A very promising initiative was taken in California in 1990, which saw the arrival of modern well-designed e-cars. However, once again the American car and oil industries were able to undermine the project and eventually the last e-car was literally ‘destroyed' in 2005.

In the meantime Japan continued its e-car development and is currently leading the world, with an estimated head start of ten years on the American car producers.

Learning from the history of the e-car it is clear that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution and a balanced approach is essential to make sure this is not another false start.

Paul Budde

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