Electric Car (R)evolution

Experiments started during the first half of the 1800s, and towards the end of the century electric car pioneers in several countries entered the city streets.

  • In the US, the first practical electrical car hit the road in 1884. Or 1890-91 depending on your definition of electric car, and depending on whom you ask.
  • In France, Gustave Trouvé fitted a small electric motor and the recently-developed rechargeable battery to a tricycle in 1880, claiming to be the world’s first electric vehicle.
  • In Germany, Andreas Flocken built the first real electric car, the Flocken Electrowagen, in 1888.

And then they all disappeared for the next 100 years or so. Why?

No doubt electric cars came with several benefits: They were easier to start and easier to drive than cars running on petrol. And they were quieter than the available alternatives at the time (gas and steam-driven, respectively). Due to these rather “soft” benefits the new electric cars were often marketed toward women. Which, in turn made quite a few men shy away from them. Because a real man couldn’t be seen in a “women’s car”, could he?


Two more substantial shortcomings of electric cars were limited speed and maximum driving distance. But, as the roads outside the urban areas were too rough for comfort anyway, this wasn’t regarded as a major problem. No, much like today, the #1 electric car drawback was the price, and even more so after Ford launched their cheap, mass-produced Model (1908-1927).

But before the early E vehicles were totally defeated by gasoline and diesel powered cars, they had a considerable impact in the USA. At the turn of the century, ninety percent of the taxi cabs in New York City were electric.

In London, a fleet of thirteen electric cabs was launched in August 1897, and reached a modest peak just a few years later. The vehicles could run between thirty and thirty-five miles per charge and offered the driver three alternative speed settings: three, seven, and nine miles per hour.



There were several disadvantages besides the limited range. The cabs weighed around two tons (including its 700 kg battery) which caused severe wear and tear on the wheels as well as rapidly escalating noise and vibrations.

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