History of electric cars: Where it all started

Fast read

Ever since the mid-nineteenth century, electric vehicles have been on the road. Petrol vehicles, however, gained popularity in the twentieth century due to their taxability and the growth of the oil sector. Electric cars returned in the 1970s, but the market was still small. Not until Tesla and Elon Musk rendered electric vehicles mainstream in the twenty-first century.

Electric vehicles are now available from several manufacturers, and this is expected to be the dominant mode of transportation in the future.

The history of EVs explained

Many people believe that electric cars are a new invention. However, it may surprise you that electric cars have a long history. It all started in the middle of the 19th century.

Anyos Jedlik, an inventor, engineer, and priest from Hungary, invented an electric motor to power a small moving “the car” as far back as 1828. Inventors in several western regions demonstrated rudimentary electric cars to varying degrees of success during the following few decades. 

You might not know this, but three different technologies were pushed when we started the move from the horse and cart to the car. One was the petrol car, one was like a steam engine style of car, and one was the electric car.

However, the electric car had a slight disadvantage in that the batteries at the time were not rechargeable. This added to the cost and was a significant disadvantage in the early generation of electric cars.

two women leaning on electric vehicle
Electric vehicles have increased in popularity in the 21st century

Electric Vehicles in the 20th century

You might be surprised to find that in 1901 electric automobiles accounted for roughly 35% of all cars on the road, while petrol cars only accounted for 20%. Steam cars filled the rest and had possibly the most significant market share with 45%.

Obviously, with petrol cars, you need petrol, which means oil. At the time, the ability to tax oil was very appealing to Governments and might have contributed to the petrol technology becoming the winning one for the 20th century. 

Then came the oil shock in the 1970s, and electric cars came to the market again. Originally only as a niche product, with very little chance against the onslaught of the petrol car and the oil industry, which were making billions and billions with no real competition. 

Unbeknown to the world, the associated burning of fossil fuels also contributed to the CO2 output, which is now heating up the planet.

Elon Musk’s Tesla moved the EV out of the niche market

EVs were a niche market till Elon Musk and Tesla decided to look into the future and see that the issue with the CO2 reduction and generation from petrol was something that potentially, down the track, would make the petrol car something of a liability.

So through the start of Tesla and the success of Tesla, that’s when the electric car came into its own. Now, every car maker is developing or offering a range of electric car models, which are a close competitor or even trumping that of their petrol counterpart regarding quality and reliability.

So it looks like the future is electric. But we must be careful that the recycling of batteries and raw materials has to go hand in hand with this new technology. Otherwise, we’re going just from one problem to the next.

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