California’s plan to mandate an electric vehicle market isn’t the first such undertaking and certainly won’t be the last. But as the Golden State ratchets up for its next big step toward zero-emission vehicle status in 2018, it might be wise to consider a bit of history.
History tells us that the development of an electric car market is harder than it looks. The core of the problem is the battery. Batteries are like quicksand -– simple, yet deceptive. They often thwart the best material scientists in the world.
Then there’s the consumer: Spoiled by one of the world’s most amazing fuels, consumers don’t want to pay more for what appears to be less.
California regulators know all this, of course. But they see technological progress on the horizon. That’s why they’re predicting success this time around.
Unfortunately, predictions can go awry -– and electric vehicle history is littered with such predictions. We’ve collected a few forecasts from the past, along with photos of electric vehicles that enjoyed varying degrees of success. Consider them food for thought.
Click on the photo below to start the slideshow.
The Electrovette was developed as a safety measure by GM in the 1970s, in case gas prices hit $2.50 a gallon. At the time, GM said it expected 10% of its sales to come from electric cars by the 1990s. (Source: General Motors)
“It is simple, light, easy to take care of, and far more efficient than the old lead battery. It has none of the disadvantages of the latter, which resulted in bringing electric transportation into such disfavor abroad.” -- The New York Times, November, 1911 (describing Thomas Edison’s new electric car battery).
“In response to a question, (Elliott Estes, president of GM) predicted that by 1990, perhaps 10 percent of auto production might be electric vehicles, most of which would be the second or third car in a family.” -- The New York Times, September 25, 1979.
“Describing the advance as 'perhaps one of the most meaningful developments since the turn of the century,' David N. Judelson, president of (Gulf & Western), said at a New York news conference that the company’s zinc-chloride battery could be in production within four years and would play a key role in solving the country’s long-range energy problems.” -- The New York Times, June 6, 1980.
“The president of the Ford Motor Company thought he had a development important enough to call a news conference. The company's researchers, he announced, had achieved a breakthrough in advanced battery technology that would make mass production of electric cars feasible within five to 10 years. That was in 1966.” -- The New York Times, July 10, 1981 (describing sodium sulfur batteries).
“'The polymer battery may well be the breakthrough the electric car industry has been waiting for.'" -- George Moser, president of C&D Batteries Division of the Eltra Corporation, The New York Times, September 25, 1981.
“The beta battery can store more than four times the energy of conventional batteries of equal weight and has a projected life of at least five years in vehicles and 10 years or more in utility applications, G.E. said.” -- Associated Press, May 15, 1981 (describing sodium sulfur batteries).
“The shiny maroon vehicle, housed in the body of a Chrysler van, is a prototype that the producers hope will be in production in about three years.” -- The New York Times, November 15, 1989 (describing an electric van powered by a nickel-iron battery).
“That means that about 70,000 electric vehicles must be on the road in six years, beginning with the 1998 model year.” -- The New York Times, May 21, 1991 (describing California’s plan for future electric vehicles).
“The electric car's missing ingredient has been a suitable battery. Our Ovonic nickel metal hydride battery, chosen by the United States Advanced Battery Consortium, permits a range of 250 to 300 miles, lasts the car's lifetime, has the power to accelerate the sportiest automotive models, recharges in 15 minutes, uses environmentally safe materials, is easily manufactured, and has a cost in production that allows the car's operation at one-third a gasoline engine's.” -- A published letter to The New York Times from Stanford R. Ovshinsky, president, Energy Conversion Devices, July 12, 1993.
“But the electrochemistry is promising. In this country, the consortium's two largest research contracts are for lithium-polymer batteries. The longterm goal is a battery that generates 400 watt-hours a kilo (about eight times better than lead-acid batteries), and costs no more than $100 for each kilowatt-hour of electricity stored.” -- The New York Times, October 30, 1994.
“The electric vehicle is not for everybody. Given the limited range, it can only meet the needs of 90 percent of the population.” -- Ed Begley Jr., from the 2006 film, Who Killed the Electric Car?
“The Coda, 14,000 of which will be on the road in California over the next year and can travel 100 miles on one overnight charge, is a combination of Chinese-made batteries and complex American-system electronics -- all final-assembled in Oakland (price: $37,000). It is a win-win start-up for both countries.” -- Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, September 25, 2010. (After selling 100 Coda cars in California, Coda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in California in 2013, according to Wikipedia.)
“(Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Nissan) said, however, that the Leaf would hit 500,000 units a year in three years. Mass production, he explained, would lower costs enough to make the car a sales success without subsidies sooner than once expected.” --The New York Times, November 16, 2010. (Nissan sold 22,610 Leafs in 2013, according to greecarreports.com.)
“One Million Electric Vehicles by 2015.” -- Title of a US Department of Energy Status Report, February, 2011.
“The US Department of Energy on Thursday eased off President Barack Obama's stated goal of putting one million electric cars on the road by 2015, and laid out what experts called a more realistic strategy of promoting advanced-drive vehicles and lowering their cost over the next nine years.” -- Reuters, January 31, 2013.
Sorry to spoil your party but... maybe true in the past, NOT SO TODAY.
The set circumstances' outlined in this article were simply trumped by muted almost non-existent global prosperity but most of all, HUGE new oil reserves (north seas) which lead to cheaper oil prices for decades to come (bottoming at <$10 ppb).
Forward to today whereby we have the exact opposite: Plateau-ing oil prices at $80 to $100ppb and a HUGE burgeoning global population whereby demand for automobiles could very easily TRILPLE in a matter of mere years - not decades.
Where is that oil to power these vehicles going to come from? Not so, and therefore to meet demand an alternative to the fossil fueled (sorry nat gas is also limited) combustible engine would need to come of age.
Working in the energy-related industry for over fifteen years, I can see first hand how companies are going further and much much deeper to extract energy sources.
@JimT: That is a very inspiring story indeed. I think this is a start for something big and new for the future. Surely there will be some big names and products / services coming up. So this will be a part of it for sure.
Just found another neat link on the Vintage Voltage site, detailing Rock Legend Neil Young's entry into EV research. See this YouTube link detailing the effective conversion of a 1959 Lincoln, to prove that EV efficiencies could be optimized to power even a behemoth of that era. Very Interesting: (4 part video)
I had a close working peer make an EV in his garage, using a Nissan 240SX with a blown engine. It started as an experiment "to see if he could"; --- and he did, for a personal investment of less than $15,000. He still drives the 240SX as his daily vehicle. From the experience, he started Vintage Voltage, LLC, and now is in the lithium battery pack development and charging business. See his story at http://vintage-voltage.com/240sx/
That is what you would have said in 1900 when the ICE became a new product. No gas stations existed. Only the very rich could afford it and in some places speed limits were to be set less than a horse could trot preceeded by a man with a bell warning of the approach.
Fast forward, no longer looking to be buried waste high in horse poop, we face Climate Change which could seriously disrupt everything on our planet including abundantlife and food. We have this filthy relec called an ICE that is dirty, reequires multiple levels of service constantly through its life, a fuel that is carcingenic and so grossly inefficient that it has to dump the vast majority of its energy into the air as heat!
Enter Silicon Valley entrepreeurs and disruptive technologies.... the electric car. It can run on 100% renewables but during the transition, runs on the EXCESS generation capacity on the nightime grid....multiple sources. Service? LOL!!! rotate tires, check brakes RARELY ( regereration saves most of that as electric so almost no brake wear)... well perhaps you MIGHT check battey cooling fluid or firmware update.
Today, MOST families have more than ONE vehicle and commute under 40 miles R/T to work. Virtually ALL BEVs will cover that with room to spare. Guess what... no stops for gas as you charge at night. Cost of fuel, depending on where you live, about $1-2 / day.
Is every BEV right for every need? Of course not. If you wanted to buy a vehicle that served 100% of your needs you would buy a moving van since every few years you might need it to move, but would pay for gas every day to go to work. Makes sense? Of course not....that is why we rent when we need exceptional needs.
We now have a Ford Focus EV for daily commutes and a RAV4EV for longer journies up to 200miles r/t ( with one stop for topping). We will now see how much the old Prius is used when a gas vehicle is needed. For really long trips I have ALWAYS rented as it is much cheaper and you have exactly the vehicle you need without paying for it all year long.
Why BEVs for us? Yes, we want to save the planet but the Prius was doing a good job at that already. Once you drive electric you MUST have one. Best ride going, quiet, PERFORMANCE, overall cost. I can not tell you how many I know have tried riding in mine and bought for themselves.
So all you buggy whip peapole, move over for the ICE crowd, soon to occupy the bench of history!
If the car won't move and you need it ASAP it is irrelevant what led to the lack of fuel or that it takes five minutes to refuel - my experience is that it takes at least 20 minutes from the time I call to get help, and usually more than 30.
With modern chargers and properly designed batteries you can get a significant charge in 30 minutes. But charging time isn't what makes EVs inappropriate for many - it is the (mis)perception of what people really need - which nothing but a serious ad campaign is going to change. And above all else the cost - and the biggest cost right now with the current state-of-the-art is the batteries. And for how most EVs are going to be used (and in my mind should be used), there is more capacity built in than necessary. And no, shorter range EVs would not work for everyone. Just as minivans and motor homes are not appropriate for everyone (but ideal for some).
Most families that I know are multi-car families, as am I, so an electric would be the perfect second car for a large portion of that market segment if the cost was a little more in line with other options.
Obviously you are not being serious with your reply or don't think very well if you can't figure your post out. Of course you don't heat your EV ALL winter, just 20 minutes before you need it. Why would you think otherwise?
Don't many far north gas cars heat their engines 24-7 from the grid in deep winter? Are there not outlets everywhere for them? Thus they have an even worse cold problem, no? How long does it take a gas car to warm up? How long for an EV to start heating?
On heating 1kwhr/hr is about right so stuck in traffic for 8 hrs is 8 kwhrs. How many cars already ran out of gas idling? How many KWhrs does the EV have? 24-40 kwhrs? Which is worse?
Which can you die from gas poisoning? Which doesn't?
You are just making up easily solved or non existing or similar to gas car problems. Why?
Personally I find EV's likely to be much better in the cold for the normal 1 hr or less trips EV's are for. No?
If you can't handle not running out of gas you can handle not running out of electricity. Or do you not think you can handle such things?
And you can always put a generator in the trunk, on a trailer hitch, etc if you can't, No?
There are suppose to be designers and engineers here yet too many don't seem to be able to see even the most obvious solutions.
And yes just like I said, 377 mile max range and Boston to NYC on a single charge. No? 2 different things.
I owned the Solectria Sunrise 2 sistership all CF body/chassis but had health problems so had to give it to one who could finished it.
There are about six finished and another 4 body/chassis parts from thecomposite preproduction run.
>One last more damning thought. >IF... I used most of my range getting home one cold and lonely night only to find that I needed to run an emergency "pick me up at ..." for a loved one...
I've had that scenario. Unfortunately, I had parked on a hill, with my fuel tank nearly empty (had planned to gas up the next morning) so it wouldn't start. ***it*** happens. No vehicle is going to reliably cover 100% of the possibilities we all eventually encounter. That's where taxi's come in mighty handy, or borrow a friend or neighbors car (I used the friend option then; neighbor has used my car for non-emergency pickup)... If it is a truely life threatening situation, call the police.
By now, most followers of the electric car market know that another Tesla Model S caught fire in early February. The blaze happened in a homeowner’s garage in Toronto. After parking the car, the owner left his garage. Moments later, the smoke detector blared, the fire department was called, and the car was ruined. To date, no one knows why.