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.
I'm not sure "promoters of electric vehicles overpromise" so much as marketing folks at companies overpromise. Most of the quotes in the article read like press relase jargon, and we all know the purpose of the press release is to hype a company and keep it in the minds of investors and potential customers, not to realistically portray a new product or technology. Someone once said, "You know you're in trouble when you start believing your own press releases." You're also in trouble when you start beleiving other people's press releases.
So you are saying you don't want a better solution that costs less?
First you wouldn't use a Miata to tow a big boat, why would you compare a commuter, town car EV with a long distance car?
Next you ignore plug in hybrids easily solve your problem.
So if you want to keep paying more it's your choice.
But my new EV can have a 250 mile range as I just found lithium at under $100/kwhr and could carry 400 miles worth in the battery compartment. But just 100 mile range with a 6.5hp generator, I'm aero and under 1,000lbs, gives me uunlimited range at over 120mpg on gasoline or 330mpg equivalent on battery.
I should note this could be produced for just $12k in 1,000 unit lots and nothing on it would take longer than 30 minites to repair, most repairs by the owner under 10 minutes. I can even rebuild, R+R the motor in 30 minutes.
It'll cost 20% of yours to run. It can, like my other EV's, tow a trailer piled high with lumber, etc. And has lots of luggage space.
And likely always go up in value, not lose it like yours. Likely go up so much it'll cover the low driving costs for years making driving it near free ;^)
Now tell me again why you like your expensive to run fix, drive polluting Putin, oil dictators, terrorists, big oil corporate welfare supporting gas car?
Meanwhile with my EV's I'm laughing all the way to the bank.
You the same, just the money is coming out, not going in to support those that oil does.
And YOU pay 20% more in YOUR income taxes to pay for big oil, coal corporate welfare they stick the gov, us with. Like that don't you?
Ralphy Boy "IF... I used most of my range getting home one cold and lonely night only to find that I needed to run an emergency "pick me up at ..." for a loved one, will the onboard computer do the battery/travel conditions analysis to determine how long they will be waiting for my batteries to charge up enough for me to make that run? And what if they can't wait, or it's not safe to wait?"
Great question I had not thought of come home have 20 miles left and your kid breaks an arm needing to get to the E-room ASAP what do you do call a ambulance at 500$. try to make it only to end up stuck out of power, wait while your car charges.
Run up and down the street looking for someone with an ICE car so you can do what is needed.
Scary. If you want electric go with a PlugIn-Hybrid-EV. It give you the EV benifits but the range as backup when you need it. Even though this type of vechile would fit much better than a pure EV the green will not accept anything but pure EV as their acceptable solution.
@ RogueMoon, I must say these are very balanced comments and a fair analysis of EVs. The most important thing is to keep trying and overcoming the problems. There is no point in talking big without actually coming up with something. It is the most effective way of silencing the critics to come up with the break through and provide solution to the problems.
Jerry, you are clearly passionate about EV's, but also mis-informed.
I live in one of the coldest metro areas in the country, and NO, we do not "heat our engines from the grid 24-7". In fact I've never needed to plug mine in. I don't even have a tank or block heater. I have heat in -30F weather when I'm about 2 miles from my home. I do use synthetic oil to reduce cranking power requirements and running friction.
And my completely modern car has heated seats, so I'm comfy in 30 seconds.
My car has a 20 gallon tank, I get about 30mpg around town, over 35 on the road. I can go over 2 weeks on a tank driving 44 miles round trip to work, as well as some incidental driving.
I can quite literally drive from Minneapolis to Portland, stopping only twice for fuel.
Oh, and my trunk holds luggage, not a generator. The car is lightweight, handles great, is fun to drive, and doesn't look like an ugly Prius.
@ imagineer1000, you are absolutely right. If we take serious marketing efforts out of the equation, even great products can be spoiled. The problem lies in immediate monetary benefits. Besides, there are many other interests at stake of ICE manufacturers. So whatever they did amounted to a lip service only so that they may show that they had tried but it didn't work.
My apologies if I offended you as this is was by no means my intent (although it may have certainly appeared this way).
I suppose that over time one simply becomes jaded with typical "text-book" responses when discussing the much debated and dreaded "green topics". I am very familiar with the script of this discussion and am simply by no means interested in entertaining a dialogue with a dead end - it is simply a fruitless endeavor.
Furthermore, I am "APOLITICAL" and realize that this issue of oil, energy and environment goes hand with strong political affiliations. This is what makes this topic for so difficult (almost taboo) to discuss when in fact should be pretty simple and should go something like this:
*Clean energy = Good for environment
*Dirty energy/emissions = Bad for environment
*I realize I should include a length disclaimer of why this is not ALWAYS the case; but most of the time holds true.
From your last post-"But anyhow, I rest my case and realize that it is simply impossible to make a case with this "denial-ist" line of thinking. It' always a waste of time and all is lost in what I refer to as "stone-wall logic". A glimmer of hope is that the youth is more open-minded about these issues and are not set in hard-nosed ways. "
This is an ad hominem statement. My questions were honest and I tried to make my case on the evidence as I understand it. You have no reasonable basis from which to saddle me with terms like "denial-ist" or accuse me of "stone-wall logic".
This tactic is a sub-par way of conducting/exiting what might have been a productive discussion. Good day.
A half century ago, cars were still built by people, not robots. Even on some of the country’s longest assembly lines, human workers installed windows, doors, hoods, engines, windshields, and batteries, with no robotic aid.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.