Electric vehicles: From the 1800s to today

Don’t let the minimalist design or ultralow emissions fool you. Electric vehicles may look every bit like cars of the future, but they’ve been around for years.

1800s

Earliest models

1830s

The birthplace of the electric vehicle is split between the U.K. and U.S. Robert Anderson of Scotland built an electric-powered carriage, while Thomas Davenport of Vermont invented an electrical car motor that operated on a track.

19th-century growth

1897

Electric car

The Pope Manufacturing Co. of Hartford, Conn., built around 500 electric cars over a two-year period. The first commercial electric vehicles enter the New York City taxi fleet.

1900s

EV early heyday

1900

Electric cars are the top-selling vehicle in the U.S, with 28 percent of the market.

Petroleum powers up

1908

The dominance of electric cars was short-lived. Gasoline-powered cars took over, with Ford’s Model T in 1908.

No need to crank

1912

Charles Kettering with electric starter

Charles Kettering invents an electric starter that makes it easier to drive cars with gasoline engines because there’s no need to hand-crank.

Electric dinosaurs

1935

Electric vehicles all but disappeared with the growth of gas-powered cars.

Simmering interest

1947

Tama electric car

Electric vehicles are brought up as an alternative when gasoline supplies are tight. When Japan struggled with depleted oil supplies after World War II, Japanese automaker Tama released an electric car that ran on a 40-volt lead acid battery.

OPEC oil

1973

The OPEC oil embargo sparked a new conversation about electric vehicles.

California sparks resurgence

1996

When California passed a requirement for zero-emission vehicles, GM responded with the mass-produced electric vehicle: the EV1.

Hybrids come to market

1997

Toyota begins sales of Prius, a gas-electric hybrid, in Japan.

2000s

New EVs and hybrids launch

2010

2010 Nissan Leaf

Numerous automakers roll out sleek new electric vehicles and hybrids. Nissan launched its all-electric Leaf in 2010. A year later, Autolib, a Paris-based electric car sharing service, started with a fleet of 3,000 vehicles.

Worldwide acceptance

2012

Chevrolet’s Volt, a plug-in hybrid, outsells half the car models in the U.S. market.

Source: International Energy Agency, hybridCARS.com.

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