One hundred seventy eight years after the first electric vehicle (EV) was built, we still see the technology as new, and it actually is. From 1837 until now EVs have come in and out of existence due to acceptance from the public. From my perspective, I see three clear periods where electric vehicles were at their height.
At its height, EVs were owned by a staggering of 38 percent of the automobile market in 1912. Car companies like Baker and Detroit Electric were developing these beautiful cars that were cleaner than their smelly gasoline-fueled counterparts of the era. The first Porsche, the Egger-Lohner P1, was actually built by Ferdinand Porsche in 1898 with more than 1,000 pounds of electric battery power. Porsche raced the P1 and placed first at an electric vehicle fair in Germany 18 minutes ahead of the next competitor.
This early success of EVs quickly dwindled into non-existence for many decades. The advances in gasoline engines and road infrastructure were the top contributors to this decline and the range-limiting EVs quickly became obsolete.
In 2006, a documentary called Who Killed the Electric Car? shed light on the deliberate destruction of the electric vehicle industry in the mid-1990s. Big oil companies and government quickly killed the second period of the EV journey. The General Motors line of EV1 cars were tragically crushed in an Arizona desert despite the fact many Americans adored this revolutionary automobile.
The third period started in 2010 with the Chevy Volt. This time we as Americans were more dedicated to change. In his 2011 state of the union address, President Obama made it a goal to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
2015 is here and so far there are just about 250,000 on the road. Although the American public feels the need to change technology to improve our Earth and atmosphere, the rate of acceptance is low. Currently, EVs make up only about 0.85 percent of total U.S. auto sales – less than 1 percent!
The exciting part regarding period three is that Chevy, Tesla and reimagined companies like the revival of Detroit Electric have shown their dedication to EVs by planning new models and improving range – a big one for skeptics – with battery technology.
Acceptance and the future
The reason why we are building EVs is not because they are cool but because future generations depend on new technology that leaves little or no footprint on our atmosphere. The road ahead, however, has a number of barriers. The purchase price of EVs need to decrease, charging stations need to increase and battery life needs to improve for the rate of acceptance to exceed 0.85 percent yearly.
The good news is new technologies are being introduced to help this process like Goodyear’s announcement of the BH-03 concept tire at the Geneva Motor Show this year. This concept is the future of electric vehicle recharging with tire technology that will help eliminate range anxiety of EVs by turning heat between the tire and the road into rechargeable energy.
In 1912, just 22 percent of cars were gasoline powered and 38 percent of all cars on the road were EVs. At the current rate of acceptance and with about 254 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States today, it will take the American automotive market until the year 2903 before we get back down to 1912 EV acceptance levels. That’s more than 888 years! Knowing this, our goal as an industry should be to focus on consumer education, funding for the betterment of EV recharging technology and diversification in other car technologies such as hydrogen, solar and natural gas.
We need to move past our dependence on gasoline powered vehicles for a better future, and we need to move faster than 888 years from now. The gasoline-powered car is the new cigarette. Will you continue to smoke?