Did you know that electric cars date back to the early 1800's? Although they have seen many iterations and revivals over history, they surged to worldwide popularity after the 1997 release in Japan of the Toyota Prius. The Prius flung open the floodgates for other manufacturers to begin releasing other versions and models of cars, and changed the face of the auto industry forever. Since their inception, rising gasoline prices and concerns about the impact of pollution on our environment have helped make hybrid and electric cars more popular. Today, these same concerns weigh on many drivers throughout the world. But with the ease and popularity of electric cars only growing, we are left to wonder: What is the real impact of electric cars, and is it positive?
History of Electric Cars
The very first electric car was invented in 1890, although the concept had been tossed around by a few other inventors. The first successful model was created by William Morrison, who achieved a six-person vehicle that went approximately 14 miles per hour. Over the next few years, there were areas of the country that had several electric cars, including New York City which boasted a 60-car squad of taxis. By the year 1900, electric vehicles reached a higher level of popularity, and made up a third of the cars on the road (Source). Gasoline cars were also becoming more prevalent, but they had issues such as noise, gasoline odors, and the effort required to manually change gears. So, many consumers were enthralled by the quieter and simpler electric car. In 1898, Fernando Porsche created the very first model of a hybrid car, which married the ease of gasoline and electric powered motors. Thomas Edison even was brainstorming how to improve the electric vehicle when something else appeared that changed the face of the auto industry yet again: The Model-T.
Henry Ford's affordable and mass-produced option made gas-powered cars available to the general public, and Americans flocked to the affordable vehicles. In 1912, the Model-T cost $650, while the electric counterpart (the roadster) sold for more than double ($1,750). By the year 1920, the gas vehicle had become attainable and attractive, and the discovery of crude oil in Texas led to lower gas prices. This all led to the demise of electric cars for the era, and the industry nearly vanished by 1935. During the next 30 years, advancements in electric technology did not pick back up until the late 1960's and early 70's, when gas shortages and high oil prices made consumers wonder if there was a better way. General Motors and the American Motor Company both came up with some models, but there were drawbacks, such as the length of time between charges and the accessibility (Source). By the time the Clean Air Act Amendment and the Energy Policy Act passed in the 90's, consumers were no longer as worried about fuel, but were becoming attuned to the environmental impact of traditional cars.
When the Prius was released in Japan in 2007, it gained worldwide attention from regular consumers and celebrities alike. It opened the doors for companies to begin exploring the possibilities of electric vehicles once again. Shortly after the Prius was released, up-and-coming company Tesla received a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy's Loan Programs. Tesla went on to become the largest auto industry employer in the state of California, and spurred other companies to release cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt in 2010. While so many advancements were happening, the biggest obstacle was still the lack of places to charge an electric car, which led to the Energy Department investing an impressive $115 million to install 18,000 residential, commercial and private charging stations. With this last hurdle overcome, the modern day electric or hybrid car continues to gain popularity. Today, there are over twenty electric models and thirty-six hybrid models that consumers can purchase, and over 234,000 electric vehicles are on the road in the US. This background is important as we consider why electric vehicles matter more now than ever, and why the history and economy has brought us to this point.
How are electric cars better for the environment?
Overall, electric and hybrid cars are contributing towards better air quality in our towns and cities. To put this in context, studies show that just one electric car reduces 1.5 million grams of CO2 over the course of a year. That is the equivalent of four airline flights from London to Barcelona. Here are some more specific ways that electric vehicles are making our world better:
They reduce the noise pollution: Electric vehicles are much quieter than their traditional counterparts (similar to the reason they were beloved in the 1800's), even though all modern cars are less loud these days. Because they don't have the mechanical gears, fans, or valves, the idling sound of an electric car is similar to soft humming. The World Health Organization recommends that noise levels at night remain below 40 decibels, but internal combustion vehicles already emit over 50 decibels when they are going just 10 miles per hour. Research shows that electric vehicles are much quieter, even at twice the speed.
Noise pollution is something that also greatly affects the wildlife populations in certain regions. For example, the Journal of Applied Ecology found that loud traffic-related noise suppresses the immune system of frogs. It also decreases the ability for birds to communicate with one another. Lastly, this noise can interrupt the ability for terrestrial wildlife to forage for food and care for their young.
They produce zero tailpipe emissions: It's no secret that as we drive conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles, they create harmful carbon emissions. These are often called "tailpipe emissions" and can include substances like Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide, Hydrocarbons, Sulfur Dioxide, Ozone, and Particulate Matter. Some of the impacts of these types of substances are:
-Nitrogen Oxides can create formation of ground level smog which impacts visibility.
-Sulfur Dioxide can create acid rain, and can aggravate people with existing heart and lung conditions.
-Carbon Dioxide is responsible for over 60% of the enhanced greenhouse effect, which causes climate change (Source)
In contrast, electric vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions, and the batteries found in EV's are emission-free. The batteries used in fully electric cars can be depleted and charged repeatedly without adding to air pollution.
They offer consumers high performance and lower maintenance costs:
In 2021, The New York Times explored consumers' relationships with the prices of electric cars. They found that many balked at the upfront costs of purchasing one, but found that over time, the costs were much lower than owning a non-electric vehicle. Their team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculated the emissions from conventional cars, and found they were more climate friendly, as well as cheaper over the lifetime of the car. Consumers experienced lower maintenance costs because the cars have fewer moving parts compared with gas-powered engines, and they don't require things like oil changes. EV's also use something called regenerative braking (which converts kinetic energy), which reduces wear and tear when compared to traditional brakes. The World Economic Forum also indicates that drivers experience high levels of satisfaction with the performance of their electric vehicles.
What is the future of the electric car?
There are many exciting new advances on the horizon for the electric vehicle industries. The Pew Research Center estimates that there will be approximately 145 million electric vehicles on the roads by the year 2030. This is a positive step in reducing carbon emissions on roads and in cities, since traditional cars contribute 45% of the current emission levels in the United States. The changes in the world have been incredibly positive since electric cars have made their mark.
As a leader on the forefront of electric motor technology, Adventech is always exploring ways to reduce our collective impact on the environment, and believe that electric cars are a big piece of solving climate change. Stay tuned to our blog and website for the latest news about advancements in motors and environmental change.