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Worldwide research and development of the automotive industry began as early as the 17th century and since then has taken several different design paths, with each country forging its own innovative trail and hundreds of prototypes emerging into the market. Vehicles—with steam-powered, electric, and combustion engines—began to play a major role, not only in the Industrial Revolution, but in everyday life. Although many believe that electric vehicles (EVs) are relatively new to the market, they have actually been around since 1832. Unfortunately, for the environment at least, gasoline-powered vehicles won the race as mass production, automatic starters, and cheaper oil prices gave them the upper hand. So, where did the major innovation for EVs truly begin?
While gasoline-powered engines emerged as the leading design, they were not without fault. For that reason, General Motors released its first electric car in 1996—the EV1—however, the push to bring this car to market was feeble, resulting in unfavorable outcomes. EV1s were sold solely through “limited lease-only agreements,” and only to residents of Los Angeles (California). The scant supply resulted in GM’s very selective and restrictive consumer bias. These cars often landed in the hands of the elite, making the idea of owning an EV unattainable to the average consumer. Ultimately, GM decided that electric cars were an unprofitable niche of the automobile market; this resulted in the company buying back and crushing most of its electric cars. The undoing of this product line led to an industry pullback from EVs as whole.
As years went by, automotive manufacturers failed to automate and mass produce, and the product line continued its downfall. The pushback on electric vehicles continued as the Bush Administration proposed $1.2 billion in research funding to develop clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles. The federal government joined the oil and car industry to push hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, knocking EVs a decade further away. Despite the strong pushback from car manufacturers to switch to EVs, Toyota moved forward, releasing its completely redesigned Prius in 2003. Finally, the consumer demand for EVs met market expectations. Consumer sales surpassed monthly sales targets more than 100%. But again, these vehicles were driven by the elite and high society celebrities. In 2006, Tesla Motors, a mere startup company from Silicon Valley, promised to deliver a vehicle with the luxury feel of a sports car, combined with a range of 200+ miles. In 2008, that dream became reality when Elon Musk, chairman of Tesla, debuted the first Tesla Roadster. This sent shock waves through the automaker industry as consumers flocked to EVs in greater numbers than expected.
To read this entire article, which appeared in the March 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.