William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, is gen- erally credited with developing the ;rst all- electric car—an 1890 invention that could
travel at 14 miles per hour and carry six passengers.
Others soon followed. In fact, by 1897, visitors to New
York City would have encoun-tered a ;eet of electric
The early electric cars were dramatically quieter
than their gasoline-powered competitors—an attribute
that made them particularly attractive to well-heeled,
urban drivers. The electrics also didn’t have the odor,
cumbersome gear changes and awkward hand-crank
starting of early gasoline-powered vehicles.
At the turn of the 20th century, an impressive
33,842 electric cars were registered in the United
States— 38 percent of all American vehicles. Basic
models cost less than $1,000 (around $26,000 in today’s
dollars). One municipal utility, the Hartford Electric
Light Company, even launched an exchangeable
battery service in 1910 to combat the lack of any public
Despite this promising start, EV sales began
declining in 1913, as more powerful, less expensive and
longer-range gasoline-powered vehicles gained
Before long—and for the next 80 years—gasoline
was essentially the only game in town. That changed
in 1996, with General Motors’ introduction of its EV1.
Built in response to California’s zero-emissions vehicle
mandate, the well-engineered and easy-to-drive EV1
convinced many that electric cars would soon replace
gasoline-powered vehicles on the nation’s roadways. But
it was not to be. After six years, more than $1 billion of
investment and with only 800 vehicles on the road, GM
killed the EV1—a decision made all the easier when
California softened its “zero-emissions” policy to “super-
low emissions,” a less burdensome standard that could be
met by less technologically revolutionary vehicles.
IN 2001, THE BATTLE WAS REAWAKENED WHEN TOYOTA INTRODUCED ITS FIRST;GENERATION PRIUS HYBRID INTO THE U.S. MARKET. IN THE YEARS INCE, HYBRIDS;WHICH FEATURE BOTH ELECTRIC AND INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES;HAVE BUILT A SMALL BUT LOYAL FOLLOWING.
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