We discuss the past, present and future of electric cars, as well as their pros and cons. Are electric cars worth it? Check out our public discussion and vote
History of electric cars
Before discussing the present and future of electric cars, it is worth having a closer look at their past. Electric cars or electric vehicles (EV) are not a novelty as many think. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century automobiles propelled by an electric motor were popular in Europe and America. The invention of the acid-lead rechargeable battery by French physicist Gaston Planté in 1859 paved the way for the electric car. The first electric car was built by the English electrical engineer Thomas Parker in 1884. In the US, the first electric car was created by William Morrison in 1890. The next year German engineer Ferdinand Porsche developed the first hybrid electric car, powered by both electricity and gas.
Initially electric cars were considered cheaper, cleaner, and quieter than the other alternatives. Both in London and New York electric cabs became a popular means of transportation. It is estimated that in 1900 more than third of the cars sold in the US were powered by elecricity, while 40% used steam and only a fifth of them were powered by gasoline.
The advances in car engine technology, and in particular those in the area of internal combustion made the electric alternative less appealing. Gas cars grew in popularity, in particular due to the much quicker and easier refueling process. The processes of mass production by companies such as Ford and the fast growing oil industry and gas station infrastructure served to marginalize both electric cars and those powered by steam. In 1920 electric cars went out of production in the US.
In the mid-1950s concerns about air pollution grew. Some companies and government funded institutions in the US initiated research projects to develop new electric cars, such as the 1961 Henney Kilowatt. Unfortunately the performance and practical problems of these cars hindered their commercial success. The oil crises in the 1970s brought back the interest in developing electric cars, but it was not until the 1990s when government agencies and car makers put a serious effort into advancing electric car engine technology.
The Toyota Prius, launched in Japan in 1997 became the first mass produced hybrid electric car. The Honda Insight also became a success. The rising gas prices as well as the growing concerns with pollution and climate change have since stimulated the market. Most major car manufacturers have launched projects for electric and/or hybrid cars. New companies such as Tesla and Coda Automotive have entered the market. There are currently about fifty different models of electric cars available and different market segments according to cars' speed capabilities, such as low speed neighborhood electric vehicles, city cars, highway capable vehicles, and electric race cars, with a top speed near 120 mph (200 km/h). The future of electric cars seems bright. It is estimated that by 2020 the market share of electric cars will grow to 7% of the global market.
Electric cars pros and cons
There is now a growing diversity among electric cars, however they share similar advantages and limitations:
- Electric cars are very quiet, much more than gas cars
- Electric car owners don't suffer the strong fluctuations in gas prices
- The performance of electric cars is improving fast
- The design of electric motors is relatively simple. Some of the maintenance duties necessary for gasoline cars are not necessary in electric vehicles
- The inclusion of less parts than in combustion engines reduces the likelyhood of mechanical problems
- Probably the most important pro is that electric cars are much more environmentally friendly than gas cars. Their owners have the right to feel that they are contributing to a cleaner and more sustainable world
- Recharging the batteries is a relatively slow process. How long does it take to charge an electric car? It depends, some electric vehicles can be charged in 4 hours, others need 15 to 20 hours. So overall it still takes much more time than filling up the gas tank of a regular car
- Since charging stations are not still widespread everywhere, taking the car out of town and in particular long road trips are problematic
- Charging electric cars home during peak hours can increase your utility bill
- Reduced choice. Although the range of electric cars available is growing fast, they are still a small portion of the total number of cars available in the market
- Although some companies such as Tesla are putting great effort in the design of electric cars, overall they tend not to be very appealing
After considering all these factors, would you reconsider your stance on the electric cars vs gas cars debate. Would you consider buying an electric car?
If you change your mind, you can change your vote simply by clicking on another option.
Electric cars pros and cons: should you buy one?
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