The electric car : nearly 200 years of history

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The electric car

The beginnings of electric automobile

First electric vehicle appeared around 1830 (1832-1839). The first person to invent an electric car was Robert Anderson, a Scottish businessman. It was more of an electric cart.

Lord Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat, on Jeantaud Duc electric in 1899.

Around 1835, the American Thomas Davenport built a small electric locomotive. Around 1838 the Scotsman Robert Davidson came up with a similar model that could travel at up to 6 km/h. In 1859, the Frenchman Gaston Planté invented the rechargeable lead acid battery. In 1891, the American William Morrison built the first real electric car. 1896, Andrew Riker’s electric Riker won a car race. In 1897, the first electric taxis could be seen on the streets of New York. 1899 in Belgium, a company built “La Jamais Contente”, the first electric car to exceed 100 km/h (it reached 105 km/h). The car was driven by the Belgian Camille Jenatzy, and fitted with Michelin tyres. It was shaped like a torpedo.

The golden age

Two electric cars of the Parisian post office

From 1900 onwards, the electric car had its heyday. More than a third of the cars on the road were electric, the rest being petrol and steam cars. In 1902 Wood’s Phaeton could travel 29 kilometres at a speed of 22.5 km/h and cost $2,000. By 1912, electric vehicle production was at its peak. But the introduction of the gasoline-powered Ford Model T in 1908 would begin to take its toll. The Anderson Electric Car Company presented its model in 1918 in Detroit.

The revival

In 1966, the American Congress recommended the construction of electric vehicles to reduce air pollution. American public opinion was largely in favour and with the increase in the price of petrol in 1973, Victor Wouk, the godfather of the hybrid vehicle, built the first hybrid car, the Buick Skylark for General Motors (GM) in 1972. In 1974, the Vanguard-Sebring CitiCar, which looks a lot like an electric Golf cart, appears and can drive 64 kilometres at a speed of 48 km/h.  In 1976, the US Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act. The purpose of the Act was to promote the development of new hybrid battery, motor and component technologies.


Between 1996 and 1998, GM produced 1117 EV1s, 800 of which were leased with a 3-year contract. In 1997, Toyota launched the Prius, the first hybrid car to be marketed in series. 18,000 were sold in Japan in the first year. From 1997 to 2000, many manufacturers launched hybrid electric models: the Honda EV Plus, the G.M. EV1, the Ford Ranger pickup EV, Nissan Altra EV, Chevy S-10 EV and the Toyota RAV4 EV.

The modern times

In 2003 in France, Renault made an attempt with the release of its Kangoo Elect’road hybrid car but abandoned production after about 500 vehicles. In 2003-2004, the EV1 came to an end. GM will collect all the vehicles one by one and destroy them, despite several protests. In 2006 Tesla Motors unveils the electric Roadster convertible for the first time.

In 2007, there were still 100,000 electric vehicles on the road in the United States. From 2008 to 2010, the Californian manufacturer Tesla Motors Inc. produces its electric sports car Tesla Roadster. In 2009, Mitsubishi Motors launched the i-Miev in Japan. Following a partnership with the Japanese manufacturer, PSA Peugeot Citroën introduced the Miev’s European cousins, the Peugeot ion (2009) and the Citroën C-Zero (2010). In March of the same year, Vincent Bolloré announced that the Pininfarina Blue Car would be available for 2010 on a monthly rental basis at 330 euros.

Today’s electric cars

La Renault Zoé : electric car
Renault Zoé

In 2009, Renault produced its first electric car, the Fluence ZE, based on the Renault Mégane III. The Twizy (2011), Kangoo ZE (2011) and Zoe (2012) models will follow. 2010 sees the birth of an electric reference, the Nissan Leaf, which will be the best-selling electric vehicle in the world for a decade. In 2012, Tesla releases the Model S sports sedan. This is followed by the Model X SUV (2015), and the Model 3 family sedan (2017).

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To continue reading, do not hesitate to consult our article about Polestar’s carbon neutral goal

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