The history of electric cars

The history of electric cars

Did you know that thanks to electric vehicles, we are actually going back to the origins of the automobile and to the logical order of things? Electricity has always existed and it always will. It was the energy that helped to boost the development of the first cars. Today we will take a look at the past and explain why electric vehicles did not manage to get very far until today.

The 1888 Benz Patent-Motorwagen is considered to be the first car in history, partly due to its design by Karl Benz and partly because his wife Bertha drove it on a 170km return journey (becoming the first person to make such a long automobile journey). The Motorwagen ran on petroleum ether, but different tests had been made in the field of electric mobility for some time and this technology was more advanced than that of the combustion engine. In fact, between the end of the 19th century and late 1910s, electric cars flourished and, without this peak period, cars would never have become accessible to the masses. In fact, it is perfectly true to say that cars would never have become a widespread commodity without electricity.

The electrification of vehicles dates back to the early 19th century, when the Scot Robert Davidson invented an electric locomotive with zinc and acid batteries in 1835. The invention was tested out on the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line, with the locomotive reaching the mind-boggling speed of 6 km an hour, and that was without any goods or freight on board. This invention demonstrated two things: first, that electricity really could move things and, second, that there was much headway still to be made in the development of electric vehicles.

However, after Davidson’s fiasco, another Scot also called Robert, but this time Robert Anderson, decided to apply the same kind of batteries to a carriage. It moved enough to demonstrate that a horseless carriage was possible, albeit moving very slowly for a very short space of time, and covering very little ground. What is more, not only were the batteries non-reusable, but they were also exorbitantly expensive.

Nonetheless, both Davidson and Anderson set precedents. The first would become known as one of the forefathers of the underground train, since his system paved the way for the design of an underground network of trains, running under the surface of the world’s big cities, while Anderson is the forerunner of the car.

Electrification systems and batteries underwent improvements in the mid 19th century, mainly thanks to the work of two leading inventors, researchers and entrepreneurs of the day: Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Edison’s nickel and iron battery represented an especially big step forward by improving the range and power of the electric vehicles in which it was used.

In the late 19th century, what really boosted electric mobility was the fact that the first car to break the 100 km an hour mark was electric. The proudly Belgian, chrome-plated Jamais Contente, shaped like a torpedo but with the driver’s whole body outside the cockpit, was the fastest car in the world in 1899.

One year earlier, the young engineer Ferdinand Porsche got all excited when a manufacturer asked him to design a horseless carriage, and he came up with the idea of a battery-fuelled engine with a 12-speed gear box, which he fitted to a carriage. The outcome was worthy of an electric car as it is known today, since the P1 – with P standing for ‘Porsche’ – could travel for 78 kilometres without its batteries needing to be recharged, travelling to up a speed of 34 km an hour. This was the first car that Porsche made before he founded the car company that bears his name.

From that point on, there was a big boom in electric cars, since big cities like New York and London began to introduce motorized taxi cabs, in addition to the carriages already widely used back then. To cite one example, according to the book ‘The Electric Car: Development and Future of Battery, Hybrid and Fuel-cell Cars’ by Michael Hereward Westbrook, in 1900 a total of 1,684 steam-powered cars, 1,575 electric cars and 963 petrol-driven cars were made in the United States.

People preferred electric cars because they were cleaner, quiet and very powerful, they released no exhaust fumes, and they had a sufficient range to keep going all day long so that they could then be charged overnight.

Does all this sound familiar?

Despite this, petrol, which was developed from crude oil by-products, finally won the battle as the source of energy used for vehicle transport during most of the 20th century, since the big advantage that it offered was its potential range.

Today, electric vehicles continue to offer the same benefits as they did a century ago: they are quiet, they do not release any harmful fumes they are powerful, and they have a better starting capacity than any petrol-driven vehicle…and now there are even ones with a greater range than a conventional car.

Another decisive factor in their progression is the number and location of the 330 available charge points throughout Catalonia to recharge their batteries. Next year, it is envisaged that anyone living in Catalonia will have access to a fast charge point within a radius of less than 25 km and work is being conducted to equip large numbers of private car parks with fast charge points, thanks to a plan by ICAEN (the Catalan Institute for Energy). Much better than in the 19th century!

At LIVE, we help you to trace the origins of the car. Check out our website to discover all the benefits of buying an electric vehicle, together with information on financial aid and subsidies.

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