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Diesel's been discredited, the turbocharger is on its way out, Ferrari's planning on going electric, and Tesla's cars are now on posters. Times sure have changed, as any petrol head will tell you.
In fact, it's a safe bet to assume that the best days of the Internal Combustion Engine are behind us, and while it'll take several decades for the transition, it's not that hard to visualise a future when the cars we use will run on batteries.
They're As Old As The Petrol Engine
While inventors had been working on electric carriages and locos since the early days of the 19th century, it wasn't till the invention of the lead acid battery (the kind you still find in every petrol or diesel car) that electric cars became viable. In 1888, William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa displayed his new invention - a car with a top speed of 20 miles per hour and a 50-mile range.
Electric Cars Were A Big Deal Back In The Day
And boy, were electric cars hot or what. Even the legendary Thomas Edison started working on battery technology which he believed would be necessary to make electric cars more popular. Everyone was getting in on the action, with several models displayed at the 1893 Chicago World Fair and New York City getting battery-powered cabs. In fact, in 1900, out of the 4000-odd cars built in the USA, a quarter were electric!
And guess what, back in the early days of the motor car, electric vehicles were often faster than their steam- or petrol-powered counterparts - in 1899, the 67hp 'La Jamais Contente' became the first car to cross the 100km/h mark.
A Bump In The Road
But that was as far as things went, and a few factors eventually tipped the balance in favour of the Internal Combustion Engine - electric cars had a lousy range, and with the US car industry coming up and Texas becoming a major oil producer, petrol became the ideal fuel to power what was soon to become the world's biggest industry. And of course, with Henry Ford pioneering the production line and churning out the affordable Model T by the gazillion, the electric car seemed doomed.
The Lean Period Carries On
What was true in the early 20th century was true till recently. Petrol was simply a better, more practical alternative to battery-powered cars. As the years passed, petrol (and diesel) engines became better, faster, cheaper, and more reliable. Meanwhile, oil prices stayed low, and even when they spiked due to some geopolitical crisis, car makers responded with even more efficient tech. On the other side of the divide, battery technology hadn't moved ahead enough, slow charging made batteries impractical, and the coal-powered plants most of the world used for electricity production were horrifyingly polluting.
But The Electric Car Soldiered On
Even though electric cars never mounted a strong challenge to their petrol-powered counterparts, they still soldiered on. Over the 50 and, the 60s, a bunch of companies tried their luck, but no one really succeeded (There was the Henney Kilowatt of 1959 and the AMC Amitron concept).
In the 70s, American scientist Victor Wouk, working with a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency, came up with a hybrid (fun fact for readers - It was the legendary Ferdinand Porsche who developed the first hybrid car, back in 1900) that was based on a popular Buick sedan - but the EPA torpedoed his idea, claiming they weren't interested in hybrids.
Meanwhile, over in the UK, the Enfield 8000 two-seater was carrying the flag, although only around a hundred were ever sold.
Things Improve (Slightly, At Least)
Then in 1974 came the biggest moment of glory for the electric car - Sebring-Vanguard announced the CitiCar. Laughably small by the standards of the day (American cars from that era, as any petrolhead knows, were normally quite massive), this car had a top speed of 36mph and a range of 40 miles. With under 5,000 CitiCars sold over the next few years, it was hardly a success, but that still made the CitiCar the most popular electric car in the US till Tesla came around and shook things up.
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But change wasn't far away - oil prices were soaring and pollution was a real issue. In 1990, California (always the pioneering hipster state) introduced a law which made it compulsory for every carmaker to make a certain number of zero-emission cars. That did spur on development for a while, although the car industry hated the new law.
The Prius Changed Everything
The 1990s was when electric cars re-entered the mainstream - Ford, GM, Toyota, everyone was building new models, even if these were just conversions of existing petrol cars and made in very small numbers. Chevrolet even built an electric version of its S10 pickup truck, while Toyota offered its RAV4 SUV in an electric avatar.
And finally, came the moment of salvation for alternative-fuel cars - the Toyota Prius hybrid. This futuristic looking car eventually became one of the coolest vehicles anyone could buy, with environment-conscious Hollywood stars being some of the biggest fans!
There was even an Indian company getting involved - Reva (now owned by Mahindra), which even exported its battery-powered cars to the UK (sold as the G-Wiz).
The Tesla Made Electric Cars Sexy
Launched in 2003, Tesla started off selling an electric conversion of a Lotus roadster in 2008, (a decent success), but in 2012 they struck gold with the Model S - a luxury sedan that could leave V12 supercars in the dust (in a straight line, at least)
Tesla hasn't stopped at that - The Model X SUV and its futuristic design, the Model 3, which got an astonishing half-a-million orders, the Tesla Semi and even their home batteries - Tesla's forced everyone to wake up and acknowledge what's possible.
There's Plenty Of Choice Now
Today, buyers can choose from a wide bunch of hybrid and electric cars - there's the Chevy Volt hybrid, the Chevy Bolt EV, the Nissan Leaf, the BMW i3, and many others.
As for the Indian market, Toyota sells the Prius and Camry hybrids, Mahindra has the E2O and the E-Verito, while Tata's also working on an electric version of the Tigor.
Best of all, each generation of electric cars is better than the previous one - electric cars have always been fun to drive (instant torque!), quick (check out some videos of the Tesla Model S), easy to maintain (no complex engine, just good 'ol electric motors), and now, with better batteries and fast-charging tech, they're about ready to take on petrol-powered cars!
You'll Find Electric (And Hybrid) Supercars As Well
You don't need a V12 or a supercharged V8 to satisfy your need for speed - The BMW i8 hybrid is there - even Porsche, McLaren, and Ferrari (almost like a holy trinity of car marques) have hybrids. And there's even a proper, all-electric supercar - the Rimac One.
And guess what - Ferrari's also said to be working on a new battery-powered supercar. We guess that with that legendary name deciding to turn to the green side, electric cars have surely finally arrived!
Photo: © Ttesla (Main Image)
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