Written by: Lee Ann Rush
One rather cool thing about writing a blog is that you really do learn something new every day. In today’s world of greenhouse gas-induced wacky weather patterns, where monthly “storms of the century” are predictably followed by huge spikes in the price of gasoline (draw your own conclusions on any cause-and-effect happening there), people from all walks of life are scrambling to save on fuel. Often, the only sure way to accomplish that is to use less of it. Whether motivated by a desire to preserve the environment, or just to preserve some semblance of their lifestyles, folks are lowering their thermostats, cutting back on non-essential driving, and some are looking toward alternatives to gas-powered vehicles.
Consider this: electric cars outsold all other types of vehicles in the United States at the turn of the century. No, I’m not dizzy from inhaling too many exhaust fumes, I’m referring to the turn of the twentieth century. Back then, cars were available with gas, steam or electric power, and the years 1899-1900 saw the zenith of the electric vehicle (EV). A gas/electric hybrid car was even introduced by the Woods Vehicle Company in 1916! Of course, back then there were few paved roads, long-distance driving was unheard of, and average vehicle speeds were less than 20 mph. Bare-bones electric cars could be had for about $1000, but by 1910, most cost around $3000.
As American roads improved, oil became readily and inexpensively available, and Henry Ford mass-produced the internal combustion engine, EVs began to decline in popularity. By the mid-1930s, they had all but disappeared. A brief attempt at a resurgence occurred during the 1960-70s when concerns about exhaust emissions and dependency on foreign oil began to surface. Several thousand electric “CitiCars” and “Elcars” were produced by Sebring-Vanguard and Elcar Corporation, respectively, and the United States Post Office even bought 350 electric delivery jeeps from American Motors in 1975 for a test program. Looks as though they failed the test; the fact is that none of these really caught on. Had you ever heard of an Elcar before now?
Yes, times have indeed changed. It’s now 2013 and we’ve all heard of the Toyota Prius and the Ford Fusion and the Chevy Volt, right? We probably know somebody who has one; you may even own one. But the specter of $5.00/gallon gas and blizzards in Arizona may not be driving EVs out of the showrooms, even with the billions in federal aid the Obama administration has been throwing at companies like Tesla Motors. According to GreenCarReports.com, only 71,000 EVs (counting both plug-in hybrids and fully-electric cars) were sold in the United States during the past two years. Why? First, they’re expensive; EVs are grouped into models “under $40,000” and “over $40,000” and those sticker prices are hefty by any measure. Next, the performance of EVs doesn’t match their high cost. EVs have limited driving ranges and long charging times, and these impediments are not popular with many drivers. Finally, think about where the electricity to power the EVs is coming from. Ah yes, the dreaded fossil fuels.
The jury is certainly still out on the future of EVs; we’ll revisit this topic at a later date.