111 years of EVs

Thomas Alva Edison’s incandescent light bulbs are being swapped out for more energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs around the world, however his advocacy of electric vehicles 111 years ago seems to be gaining wattage in the U.S. and internationally.

Let’s begin in India. Have you heard about Project Edison? The Hindustan Times reports today that India maybe one of the first markets to get a global small car being developed by a collaboration between Mercedes Benz (Smart), Renault (see the Renault Zoe concept car above) and Nissan.

You may find it strange that a cooperative venture called Project Edison will most likely yield a Smart-sized new car for the subcontinent powered by small gas and diesel internal combustion engines. But because we eagerly anticipate broader distibution of the MB/Smart electric vehicles in the U.S., and we are aware of Renault’s EV in Israel, as well as this year’s U.S. rollout of the Nissan’s Leaf, we figure its a good bet there will also be an electric car option for India from Project Edison.

In the United States, we are already rolling in Leafs and are looking forward to getting behind the driver’s seats of the Mitsubishi electric vehicle (the iMiEV pictured below) that has been running on the roads of Japan for a couple years and tested in the U.S.

And we often wonder what’s up with the EV offering from two car companies with 4-letter names,  India’s Tata and Italy’s Fiat which have had a deal to create a car together that has encountered some patches of rocky road. We’ll keep you posted.

When people hear “electric cars” their first thoughts are usually not of vehicles made back in the year 1900. But 111 years ago, Thomas Edison was a big advocate of electric vehicles. Back then,  for just over $2K you could get a four-passenger electric coupe with removable top and your choice of solid or pneumatic tires.

Back in 1900 there were a total of 2370 automobiles in New York, Chicago and Boston. Of these, 1170 were steam-powered, 400 were powered by gasoline, and 800 were electric. So back at dawn of EVs there were twice as many electric vehicles as those powered by gas. It was by no means apparent to anyone back then which power source would prevail.

Put an imaginary EV’s pedal to the metal through electric vehicle history to the present. January 2011, Cleantech Investor Conference in Palm Springs. Tesla’s founder and CEO Elon Musk (who is said to have drawn some of his inspiration from Thomas Edison) announces what electric vehicles he’ll be introducing next. To start with, Tesla will be giving us the Model X electric or “ESUV” later on this year. Two years from now Mr. Musk says he will share with us his Tesla Model S electric sedan (pictured here). Finally, in 2015, Tesla plans to provide a mainstream EV for $30,000.

The $30K price point is important as it is the top price that the largest group of U.S. consumers with steady median-wage jobs, low debt and good credit are likely to be able to afford in their family budgets. In short, most green family car buyers will only purchase electric cars as second vehicles when they become affordable, which currently relies on alternative power vehicle purchaser tax credit from government agencies.

Beginning back 111 years ago and for next 15 years or so, EVs gained in popularity. They were used for driving around the major cities, just as Edison had envisoned. In fact they brought the electric power companies which Edison the inventor-businessman had founded more customer dollars to pay back his investors.

The electric vehicles of Edison’s day were sometimes called “opera cars” and (as in the case of the Waverly electic vehicle ad shown above) were sometimes advertised to women as being clean, quiet, and easy to start. It is said that doctors also purchased EVs back in their early days, back when doctors still made housecalls in the middle of the night. 

Their electric cars didn’t wake the neighbors.


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