photo from the collections of The Henry Ford
That Henry Ford and Thomas Edison became good friends later in their lives is well known. They camped together, they presented each other with lavish gifts, they owned houses immediately adjacent to each other. Many Ford enthusiasts also know that, at the time Ford first drove his Quadricycle on the streets of Detroit in 1896, he was working for Edison at the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company. They also know that a couple months later, when Ford was introduced to Edison and showed Edison his plans for a gasoline automobile, Edison encouraged him to pursue those plans.
That Edison and Ford later put their minds together to conceive a low-priced electric car is not so well known.
At about the same time Ford founded his eponymous automobile company, Edison had made inroads into battery technology and began offering nickel-iron storage batteries for several uses, among them automobiles. His announced plans that same year to convert four large touring cars from gasoline to electric power (using his own batteries, of course) reeks of a publicity stunt to sell his new batteries, but it was enough to get him listed in the Standard Catalog. And though he prodded Ford off into production of gasoline cars, by 1903 he was denouncing them.
Electricity is the thing. There are no whirring and grinding gears with their numerous levers to confuse. There is not that almost terrifying uncertain throb and whirr of the powerful combustion engine. There is no water circulating system to get out of order – no dangerous and evil-smelling gasoline and no noise.Ford, however, still high on Edison’s encouragement (he’s often quoted as saying that Edison was the greatest man in the world, so he would probably have jumped off a bridge if Thomas Alva told him to), not only rigorously pursued the gasoline-powered car and left Detroit Edison to found his own automobile company, he also ordered the development of a flywheel magneto system for the Model T specifically to avoid using batteries. (One story I’ve read, possibly apocryphal, is that during one of Henry Ford’s camping trips, the battery in a pre-production Model T overturned, cutting the trip short and causing Ford to ban batteries from his new low-priced car.)
Just about five years later, Ford began to change his mind. In early 1914, word had gotten around that work had started on a low-priced electric car. Reports appeared in the Wall Street Journal, in the trade magazines, and in other newspapers as far away as New Zealand regarding Ford’s foray into electric cars. Ford himself even confirmed the rumors in the January 11, 1914, issue of the New York Times:
Within a year, I hope, we shall begin the manufacture of an electric automobile. I don’t like to talk about things which are a year ahead, but I am willing to tell you something of my plans.Read More...
The fact is that Mr. Edison and I have been working for some years on an electric automobile which would be cheap and practicable. Cars have been built for experimental purposes, and we are satisfied now that the way is clear to success. The problem so far has been to build a storage battery of light weight which would operate for long distances without recharging. Mr. Edison has been experimenting with such a battery for some time.
Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is uncertain), Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the first crude electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.
By the 20th century, electric cars and rail transport were commonplace, with commercial electric automobiles having the majority of the market. Over time their general-purpose commercial use reduced to specialist roles, as platform trucks, forklift trucks, tow tractors and urban delivery vehicles, such as the iconic British milk float; for most of the 20th century, the UK was the world's largest user of electric road vehicles.
Electrified trains were used for coal transport, as the motors did not use precious oxygen in the mines. Switzerland's lack of natural fossil resources forced the rapid electrification of their rail network. One of the earliest rechargeable batteries - the nickel-iron battery - was favored by Edison for use in electric cars.
Electric vehicles were among the earliest automobiles, and before the preeminence of light, powerful internal combustion engines, electric automobiles held many vehicle land speed and distance records in the early 1900s. They were produced by Baker Electric, Columbia Electric, Detroit Electric, and others, and at one point in history out-sold gasoline-powered vehicles.
In the 1930s, National City Lines, which was a partnership of General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil of California purchased many electric tram networks across the country to dismantle them and replace them with GM buses. The partnership was convicted of conspiring to monopolize the sale of equipment and supplies to their subsidiary companies conspiracy, but were acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the provision of transportation services. Electric tram line technologies could be used to recharge BEVs and PHEVs on the highway while the user drives, providing virtually unrestricted driving range. The technology is old and well established (see : Conduit current collection, Nickel-iron battery). The infrastructure has not been built.
|Former type||Automobile Manufacturing|
|Headquarters||Detroit, Michigan, United States|
|Area served||United States|
|Parent||Anderson Electric Car Company|
 Historynickel-iron battery was available from 1911 to 1916. The cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles (130 km) between battery recharging, although in one test a Detroit Electric ran 211.3 miles (340.1 km) on a single charge. Top speed was only about 20 miles per hour (32 km/h), but this was considered adequate for driving within city or town limits at the time.
The Detroit Electric was mainly sold to women drivers and physicians who desired the dependable and immediate start without the physically demanding hand cranking of the engine that was required with early internal combustion engine autos. A statement of the car's refinement was subtly made to the public through its design which included the first use of curved window glass in a production automobile, an expensive and complex feature to produce.
The company production was at its peak in the 1910s selling around 1000 to 2000 cars a year. Towards the end of the decade the Electric was helped by the high price of gasoline during World War I. In 1920 the name of the Anderson company was changed to "The Detroit Electric Car Company" as the car maker separated from the body business (it became part of Murray Body) and the motor/controller business (Elwell-Parker).
As improved internal combustion engine automobiles became more common and inexpensive, sales of the Electric dropped in the 1920s but the company stayed in business producing Detroit Electrics until after the stock market crash of 1929. The company filed for bankruptcy, but was acquired and kept in business on a more limited scale for some years building cars in response to special orders. The last Detroit Electric was shipped on February 23, 1939, (though they were still available until 1942), but in its final years the cars were manufactured only in very small numbers.
Notable people who owned Detroit Electrics cars included Thomas Edison, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Mamie Eisenhower, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. who had a pair of Model 46 roadsters. Clara Ford, the wife of Henry Ford, drove Detroit Electrics from 1908, when Henry bought her a Model C coupe with a special child seat, through the late teens. Her third car was a 1914 Model 47 brougham.
Detroit Electrics can be seen in various automobile museums. For example, in the Belgian AutoWorld Museum in Brussels, and in Altlußheim, Germany. A beautifully restored and operational Detroit Electric, owned by Union College, is located the Edison Exploratorium in located in Schenectady, NY.
EtymologyElectric cars are a variety of electric vehicle (EV); the term "electric vehicle" refers to any vehicle that uses electric motors for propulsion, while "electric car" generally refers to road-going automobiles powered by electricity. While an electric car's power source is not explicitly an on-board battery, electric cars with motors powered by other energy sources are generally referred to by a different name: an electric car powered by sunlight is a solar car, and an electric car powered by a gasoline generator is a form of hybrid car. Thus, an electric car that derives its power from an on-board battery pack is a form of battery electric vehicle (BEV). Most often, the term "electric car" is used to refer to pure battery electric vehicles.
 Historyinternal combustion technology soon rendered this advantage moot; the greater range of gasoline cars, quicker refueling times, and growing petroleum infrastructure, along with the mass production of gasoline vehicles by companies such as the Ford Motor Company, which reduced prices of gasoline cars to less than half that of equivalent electric cars, led to a decline in the use of electric propulsion, effectively removing it from important markets such as the United States by the 1930s. However, in recent years, increased concerns over the environmental impact of gasoline cars, along with reduced consumer ability to pay for fuel for gasoline cars, and the prospect of peak oil, has brought about renewed interest in electric cars, which are perceived to be more environmentally friendly and cheaper to maintain and run, despite high initial costs. Electric cars currently enjoy relative popularity in countries around the world, though they are notably absent from the roads of the United States, where electric cars briefly re-appeared in the late 90s as a response to changing government regulations.
 1890s to 1900s: Early historyBefore the pre-eminence of internal combustion engines, electric automobiles held many speed and distance records. Among the most notable of these records was the breaking of the 100 km/h (62 mph) speed barrier, by Camille Jenatzy on April 29, 1899 in his 'rocket-shaped' vehicle Jamais Contente, which reached a top speed of 105.88 km/h (65.79 mph). Before the 1920s, electric automobiles were competing with petroleum-fueled cars for urban use of a quality service car.
Hartford Electric Light Company for electric trucks. The vehicle owner purchased the vehicle from General Electric Company (GVC) without a battery and the electricity was purchased from Hartford Electric through an exchangeable battery. The owner paid a variable per-mile charge and a monthly service fee to cover maintenance and storage of the truck. The service was provided between 1910 to 1924 and during that period covered more than 6 million miles. Beginning in 1917 a similar service was operated in Chicago for owners of Milburn Light Electric cars who also could buy the vehicle without the batteries.
In 1897, electric vehicles found their first commercial application in the U.S. as a fleet of electrical New York City taxis, built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia. Electric cars were produced in the US by Anthony Electric, Baker, Columbia, Anderson, Edison [disambiguation needed], Fritchle, Studebaker, Riker, Milburn, and others during the early 20th century.
Despite their relatively slow speed, electric vehicles had a number of advantages over their early-1900s competitors. They did not have the vibration, smell, and noise associated with gasoline cars. They did not require gear changes, which for gasoline cars was the most difficult part of driving. Electric cars found popularity among well-heeled customers who used them as city cars, where their limited range proved to be even less of a disadvantage. The cars were also preferred because they did not require a manual effort to start, as did gasoline cars which featured a hand crank to start the engine. Electric cars were often marketed as suitable vehicles for women drivers due to this ease of operation.
In 1911, the New York Times stated that the electric car has long been recognized as "ideal" because it was cleaner, quieter and much more economical than gasoline-powered cars. Reporting this in 2010, the Washington Post commented that "the same unreliability of electric car batteries that flummoxed Thomas Edison persists today."
Timeline: History of the Electric Car1832-1839
Scottish inventor Robert Anderson invents the first crude electric carriage powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.
American Thomas Davenport is credited with building the first practical electric vehicle -- a small locomotive.
French physicist Gaston Planté invents the rechargeable lead-acid storage battery. In 1881, his countryman Camille Faure will improve the storage battery's ability to supply current and invent the basic lead-acid battery used in automobiles.
William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa builds the first successful electric automobile in the United States.
A handful of different makes and models of electric cars are exhibited in Chicago.
The first electric taxis hit the streets of New York City early in the year. The Pope Manufacturing Company of Connecticut becomes the first large-scale American electric automobile manufacturer.
Believing that electricity will run autos in the future, Thomas Alva Edison begins his mission to create a long-lasting, powerful battery for commercial automobiles. Though his research yields some improvements to the alkaline battery, he ultimately abandons his quest a decade later.
The electric automobile is in its heyday. Of the 4,192 cars produced in the United States 28 percent are powered by electricity, and electric autos represent about one-third of all cars found on the roads of New York City, Boston, and Chicago.
Henry Ford introduces the mass-produced and gasoline-powered Model T, which will have a profound effect on the U.S. automobile market.
Charles Kettering invents the first practical electric automobile starter. Kettering's invention makes gasoline-powered autos more alluring to consumers by eliminating the unwieldy hand crank starter and ultimately helps pave the way for the electric car's demise.
During the 1920s the electric car ceases to be a viable commercial product. The electric car's downfall is attributable to a number of factors, including the desire for longer distance vehicles, their lack of horsepower, and the ready availability of gasoline.
Congress introduces the earliest bills recommending use of electric vehicles as a means of reducing air pollution. A Gallup poll indicates that 33 million Americans are interested in electric vehicles.
Concerns about the soaring price of oil -- peaking with the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 -- and a growing environmental movement result in renewed interests in electric cars from both consumers and producers.
Victor Wouk, the "Godfather of the Hybrid," builds the first full-powered, full-size hybrid vehicle out of a 1972 Buick Skylark provided by General Motors (G.M.) for the 1970 Federal Clean Car Incentive Program. The Environmental Protection Association later kills the program in 1976.
Vanguard-Sebring's CitiCar makes its debut at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Washington, D.C. The CitiCar has a top speed of over 30 mph and a reliable warm-weather range of 40 miles. By 1975 the company is the sixth largest automaker in the U.S. but is dissolved only a few years later.
The U.S. Postal Service purchases 350 electric delivery jeeps from AM General, a division of AMC, to be used in a test program.
Congress passes the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act. The law is intended to spur the development of new technologies including improved batteries, motors, and other hybrid-electric components.
Roger Smith, CEO of G.M. , agrees to fund research efforts to build a practical consumer electric car. G.M. teams up with California's AeroVironment to design what would become the EV1, which one employee called "the world's most efficient production vehicle." Some electric vehicle enthusiasts have speculated that the EV1 was never undertaken as a serious commercial venture by the large automaker.
California passes its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate, which requires two percent of the state's vehicles to have no emissions by 1998 and 10 percent by 2003. The law is repeatedly weakened over the next decade to reduce the number of pure ZEVs it requires.
Toyota unveils the Prius -- the world's first commercially mass-produced and marketed hybrid car -- in Japan. Nearly 18,000 units are sold during the first production year.
1997 - 2000
A few thousand all-electric cars (such as Honda's EV Plus, G.M.'s EV1, Ford's Ranger pickup EV, Nissan's Altra EV, Chevy's S-10 EV, and Toyota's RAV4 EV) are produced by big car manufacturers, but most of them are available for lease only. All of the major automakers' advanced all-electric production programs will be discontinued by the early 2000s.
- Electric Vehicle (EV) History, Ford, Edison and the Cheap EV They Tried to Make
- Edison’s 1912 Electric Car Restored – Gas 2.0
- Ford, Edison and the Cheap EV That Almost Was | Autopia | Wired.com
- UPDATE 1-Ford invests $135 mln in Michigan plants, add jobs | Reuters
- Ford’s Electrifying Plan to Boost Efficiency | Autopia | Wired.com
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