at the turn of century and transitioning to electric methods


At the turn of the century, 40 percent of American cars were powered by steam, 38 percent by
electricity and 22 percent by petrol. Most of the early electric car were massive and with
extravagantly designed wagons with luxurious interior full of expensive materials. These cars were
produced for the upper class of very wealthy customers that stood out by owning such a car. Basic
models of electric cars cost around $ 1,000 (approximately $ 28,000 today), and on average they
cost about $ 3,000 (about $ 84,000 today). The sale of electric cars had its peak in 1912.
Picture: Electric Victoria, year 1902; Detroit Electric Roadster Model 46, year 1915

Source: Electric and Hybrid Cars, Curtis D. Anderson and Judy Anderson
Picture: Milburn Coupe, year 1915; Detroit Electric Coupe, year 1917

Source: Electric and Hybrid Cars, Curtis D. Anderson and Judy Anderson
Picture: Charging of electric car in Detroit, year 1919

Library of Congress,
The First World War created a huge demand for electric vehicles in Great Britain and Europe. It is
estimated that in 1914 the whole of Europe had approximately 3,200 electric vehicles (cars,
buses...). Commercial electric vehicles were produced primarily in Europe. The safety of electric
vehicles, their simple design and easy driving made them vehicles that even inexperienced and
new, young drivers were able to drive. Norway and Sweden had on the market a large fleet of
commercial electric vehicles and large energy hydropotential and were very promising markets
after the war. Italy also generated electricity from hydropower, also representing a promising
market for electric cars. Australia, Japan, Mexico and France were exporting electric vehicles in
large quantities so their future looked bright because the demand was high.
After success at the beginning of the century, electric cars began to lose their position in the car
market. This was a result of a series of events. In the 20’s of the 19th century, road infrastructure
was improved and the way between American cities was opened. 

To use these roads, a vehicle
with a greater range than that offered by electric cars was needed. The discovery of large oil
reserves in Texas, Oklahoma and California led to the wide availability and affordability of fuel. The
use of electric cars was limited to urban environments because of their low speed (not more than
24-32 km/h) and very limited range (50-65 km). Petrol-powered cars were now able to travel
further and faster than equivalent electric cars. In 1912, petrol-powered cars became easier to
drive due to the invention of Charles Kettering and his electric “starter”, which eliminated the need
for a handle to start the petrol engine. Noise also became bearable due to the silencer, invented by
Hiram Percy Maxim in 1897. Finally, the start of mass production of vehicles with petrol drive was
initiated by Henry Ford. In 1915, the price of his car was $ 440 (today this is about $ 10,000), and a
year later it even fell to only $ 360 (today this is about $ 7,700). In contrast, the price of similar
electric cars was still increasing. In 1912, the price of an electric car was approximately $ 1,750
(today this is about $ 42,000). How did Henry Ford turn the then inferior car into the market
leader? Not using technology, but using a better business policy. He understood the nature of the
market and assumed that if people saw more Ford cars on the street they would want to buy the
Ford brand. Low cost of car production and their availability launched an avalanche of demand.
On 31st July 1971, electric car became the first vehicle the man drove on the moon and so it got
became distinctive from all other cars. It was the Lunar Roving Vehicle, first deployed during the
Apollo 15 mission. “Moon Buggy” was developed by the companies Boeing and Delco Electronics.

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