Is history repeating for electric cars?
New car buyers are faced with more vehicle choices than ever before, and it’s not just about make and model. Today we can choose between petrol and diesel engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and even pure electric vehicles.
Well history has a way of repeating itself and you may be interested to learn that today’s plethora of choice is a curious echo of an earlier age, especially when it comes to electric cars.
Electric was more popular than petrol
Electric cars have a surprisingly long history. In the early days of motoring at the turn of the 20th century they outnumbered petrol powered cars in the USA by quite some margin, though steam powered vehicles outnumbered both.
This was hardly surprising. Petrol cars were noisy, smelly vibrating monstrosities that you had to hand crank to start. Their electric counterparts by contrast were far smoother and quieter, didn’t need gear changes and didn’t need hand cranking.
An electric car, the Jamais Contente, even held the world speed record, being the first vehicle to break the 100kph barrier in 1899.
With the development of electrical infrastructure electric cars and trucks really took off. A fast exchangeable battery service was even established in the USA by the Hartford Electric Light Company and operated between 1910 and 1924.
The rise of petrol
A combination of mass-produced petrol powered cars, cheap petrol and improved roads saw the demise of electric cars with their limited range, so that by the 1930s the early era of electric vehicles had ended, though it never totally died out. In the UK thousands of humble electric milk floats continued to trundle along for decades silently delivering milk to British homes.
There was the faintest whiff of a revival in 1959 in the form of the Henney Kilowatt, an electric version of the Renault Dauphine. The “high performance” second model boasted a 72-volt system producing a 97kph top speed and a range of 97 km on a single charge. With just 32 cars sold it failed to generate a lot of interest, though a handful are still around today.
The late 60s saw major American producers experimenting with electric cars, though none went into commercial production.
Lower emissions drive revival
Electric cars received a major boost in the early 1990s when the California Air Resources Board started demanding fuel-efficient lower emission vehicles to reduce the state’s air pollution problem. The major manufacturers responded with a range of electric vehicles including the GM EV1 and Toyota RAV4 EV. However they failed to promote them in a move that critics condemned as little more than a PR exercise designed to satisfy the clean air agency while they simultaneously lobbied against it. At the same time they claimed there was little public demand for them.
GM actually leased their electric vehicles out, controversially reclaimed them at the end of the lease against the very public protests of their lessees, then destroyed them.
While major manufacturers remained lukewarm about developing pure electric vehicles, with Toyota and others concentrating on hybrid development, the field was left open to niche manufacturers. Makers like Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) and the REVA Electric Car Company produced modest low speed city-based commuters.
Tesla transforms the market
In 2008 Tesla transformed the electric car market with its Roadster. Boasting supercar acceleration and handling with a range of 320km from its lithium-ion battery cells, it offered style, performance and everyday driveability to its well-heeled owners. It followed up with the Tesla Model S, offering similar stellar performance and up to 528 km in range. No other electric car on the market even gets near that range.
Today major manufacturers are switching onto mass produced all-electric cars with offerings like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf and the Volvo C30 Electric. With 180,000 sales worldwide at June 2015, the Nissan Leaf leads the market for electric cars.
What’s next for electric cars?
There’s little doubt that electric cars have great potential with their low running costs, impressive performance and zero emissions when charged from renewable energy. The sticking point, however, seems to be range, price and the availability of recharging options.
Tesla has overcome the range barrier but it remains to be seen how quickly major manufacturers can match it while keeping their cars affordable. As for recharging stations, well that’s a classic “chicken or the egg” dilemma, with little incentive to develop them while electric car ownership remains so low, partly as a result of “range anxiety”.
Climate change may prove decisive for the future of electric cars. Developing zero emission cars “fuelled” by renewable energy is now an imperative that may yet see electric cars as common on the roads of the 21st century as they were in the early years of the 20th century.
Can I get an electric car on a novated lease?
If you’ve got solar panels on your roof and your daily drive isn’t too onerous then you may be thinking that buying an electric car makes sense.
In Australia your choice at the moment is limited to the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Nissan Leaf, the BMWi3 and the Tesla Model S. With lower maintenance costs and the cheap, or even free, “fuel” it’s an attractive option – if you can just get over the high initial purchase price.
That’s why a Fleetcare novated lease makes sense - because that high initial outlay is replaced by a regular easy-to-manage payment. If you’d like to learn more about the advantages of getting an electric car on a novated lease, then call us today on 1300 777 600.
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