Electric Vehicles: A Push Toward a Sustainable Future By: Juan Valiente

History of the EV

Electric vehicles, or EVs, have been around longer than most people think. The first successful electric automobile in the U.S. was built by William Morrison in 1891. Between 1899 and 1900, EVs outsold any other type of car; 28 percent of all cars produced in the U.S. in 1900 were electric. EVs even had some perks compared to their internal combustion counterparts. They were more quiet, not as smelly and didn't vibrate as much as gas-powered cars. However, when Henry Ford implemented his revolutionary assembly line, he began mass producing combustion engines, which made gas-powered cars much cheaper than electric ones. By 1935, EVs in the U.S. basically vanished.

Brochure for an EV produced in the U.S. in the 1910s

It wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that people began looking to EVs again. Rising concerns about pollution and rising fuel prices led consumers to search for alternatives to gas-powered vehicles. In 1976, the U.S. government put the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research Development and Demonstration Act in place to research and develop electric and hybrid vehicles. In the 1970s, two companies took the lead in the EV industry, Sebring-Vanguard and Elcar Corporation. Sebring-Vanguard produced over 2,000 "Citicars" throughout the 1970s, which made it the most produced American electric car until the Tesla Roadster in 2011. Elcar produced, you guessed it, the "Elcar." Unfortunately, the Elcar was not nearly as successful as the Citicar. More electric cars were produced in the 70s; however, not many sold as a result of limited range, speed and style. EV popularity once again died down in the 1980s.

Photos of the Sebring-Vanguard Citicar; Citicars were manufactured in Sebring, Florida

In the 1990s, increased environmental regulations led to another increase in EV development. The Clean Air Act and Energy Policy Act, along with regulations in California that required automakers to begin producing zero-emissions vehicles forced manufacturers to start mass producing EV's. In 1996, Chevrolet debuted the "EV1." Chevy built 1,117 of them, and they were only available for lease in California, Arizona and Georgia. However, the EV1 was not profitable for GM, therefore it led them to recall the cars once the leases expired in order to crush them; all but 40 of them were destroyed. The remaining EV1s were donated to museums and other institutions for historical purposes. Also, Toyota's unveiling of the Prius in 1997 further led to a rise in interest in fuel efficient cars; to date, Toyota has sold over 5 million Prius models.

In 2006, Tesla Motors unveiled the revolutionary Tesla Roadster, which changed the way people looked at EVs forever. The sporty look and increased range made the car an instant hit with the public. However, the vehicle was not affordable for most people as it cost just over $100,000. In 2010, Nissan began producing the all-electric Nissan Leaf, and Chevrolet debuted the Volt in 2011. Since then, EVs have slowly become a viable alternative to internal-combustion engines for most people. As EV technology advances and becomes mass produced, prices will continue to decrease and quality will continue to increase.

Photo of a Tesla Roadster running on an autocross track

EVs & Society

Because electric vehicles utilize technology that produces zero-emissions, society will be able to breathe healthier air and future generations will not have the burden of relying on fossil fuels.

It is not hard to figure out the many benefits of electric vehicles becoming readily available in not only U.S. markets but also the rest of the world. The biggest benefit is obviously the decrease in air pollution. Air quality is a huge issue as the majority of big cities in the U.S. suffer from smog and acid rain. With people opting to drive electric vehicles instead of gas-powered ones, the levels of air pollution will slowly but surely begin decreasing because EVs don't have any emissions. According to Sherry Boschert, author of Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that Will Recharge America, with more and more electric cars on the road, smog-forming pollutants produced by cars will be reduced anywhere form 32 to 99 percent. And even though EVs are produced in coal-burning plants, they reduce CO2 emissions by up to 22 percent when compared to gas-powered cars, according to Newsmax.com. With air pollution levels going down, people in these large cities will be able to breathe healthier air. Furthermore, whether it be 50 years or 500 years, fossil fuels will eventually run out. Therefore, we must find ways to be able to power society's forms of transportation. EV technology is at the forefront of alternative power as it is becoming more technologically advanced and cheaper than ever before. With EVs starting to become mass produced by several automotive manufactures, such as Nissan and Chevrolet, future generations will not be forced to rely on fossil fuels and will be able to focus on finding alternative power sources. With air quality rising and other forms of powering our vehicles becoming available, society will soon reap the benefits of EV technology.

Are EVs Perfect?

In short, no, EVs are not perfect. The battery life of the majority of electric vehicles on the road today are not powerful enough to last on long trips, and the fact that batteries take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to recharge means that any trips longer than 200 hundred miles are not feasible. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining an EV is still very expensive as a battery could cost thousands to replace; batteries need to be replaced even 3 to 10 years depending on the car and manufacturer. Also, an EV owner's electric bill is going to skyrocket because of the amount of energy it takes to recharge the vehicle. Cities facing electricity shortages and towns with limited resources are going to have a hard time adapting to electric vehicles as well. That being said, EV technology is advancing every single day. The fact that we have electric vehicles that are cost effective from the factory, are stylish and are reasonable with regards to battery life is a huge accomplishment. It is important not to let these drawbacks hinder our ability to look toward a healthier, more sustainable future for not only us, but our children. Although electric vehicles are far from being perfect, they are still our best hope at a future we can all look forward to with regards to transportation.

Photo of a BMW i3 & i8

References

Advantages and Disadvantages of Electric Cars. (2016, December 24). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-electric-cars.php

Shaw, J. (2015, March 22). Global Warming: 6 Ways Electric Cars Are Better for the Environment. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/cars-global-warming-electric-cars/2015/03/23/id/631734/

Thompson, C. (2015, December 27). The fascinating evolution of the electric car. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/electric-automobile-history-2015-12/#in-response-traditional-automakers-like-general-motors-and-volkswagen-are-ramping-up-investment-in-the-space-15

Created By
Juan Valiente
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Credits:

Created with images by The National Roads and Motorists' Association - "2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5S - Review" • dok1 - "1908 Rauch & Lang Electric" • Bo Hee Kim at Richmond Confidential - "Green Drive Expo citicar" • ilikewaffles11 - "Sebring Citicar" • biosfear - "Citicar Electric Car" • joeracer - "Carl's New Tesla 42" • Blomst - "tesla tesla model x charging" • Blomst - "tesla supercharger battery" • Autoviva.com - "BMW i8 and i3 during presentation"

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