Electric vehicles have been around for more than 140 years

By | CYH

It should be obvious to many that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the future.

But you might find it surprising that EVs are actually older than gasoline cars. The first EV was built in 1881 by Gustave Trové. The first gas-powered car came 5 years later in 1886, built by Carl Benz.

In fact, consumers have to choose among steam, electric and gasoline cars in the past. Based on the US car population in 1900, 40% were steam, 38% were electric and 22% were gasoline.

Each has its pros and cons.

People were more familiar with steam engines in those days as they have the most experience with the engine that was developed in the 1700s. Steam cars were easy to operate as they dud not have a clutch or gearbox. But the biggest bugbear was that it took 30 mins to start the car.

Electric cars were the quietest and easiest to operate. But they could only be driven in cities and towns where electricity was available. Yet, it was also expensive and only the wealthy could afford. Their range was limited and could not be driven out of the cities/towns.

Gasoline cars were the noisiest and highly pollutive. The biggest problem was that one would need to manually crank the engine to start it. And a backfire could break a person’s arm! But the invention of the electric starter was an important development that removed the need for cranking and improve the desirability of the gasoline car.

Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line for the production of gasoline cars and that drove down the cost. He was also brilliant in paying his workers a much higher salary so that they could buy the cars they manufacture, on top of solving the high staff turnover issue. He created the demand as well as the middle class consumption lifestyle – work hard and buy material goods to enjoy life.

By 1910, significant oil fields have been discovered and that drove down the price of oil, making gasoline cars even more affordable.

Ford Model T was a runaway success with 15 million sold between 1908 and 1927 – it was the most sold car in history before being surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle in 1972, 45 years later.

Steam and electric cars faded into the background. Electric cars disappeared by 1920 while the last steam car manufacturer ceased business in 1930.

Now, EVs are making a comeback. Batteries are more efficient and their ranges are comparable with gasoline cars – a full tank of gas could give a 482 km range while most EVs have a range of 200-490 km on a single charge.

EVs still cost more on average when compared to gasoline cars but the difference has narrowed over the years. On the other hand, electricity costs less than petrol. In Singapore, the cost of electricity per km is $0.05 while petrol may cost about $0.14 per km, depending on the fuel efficiency of the car.

I believe the cost of EVs will continue to go down while efficiencies improve and it will be more affordable than gasoline cars in time to come. EVs will do unto what the gasoline cars did unto them in 1920.

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