In the flurry of recent news about electric vehicles, a key point about the place of EVs in American history is typically overlooked – in 1900, 38 percent of cars in the U.S. were electric, while only 22 percent ran on gasoline. A 1903 ad for the Studebaker Electric Automobile boasted: “Electric power for automobiles is the simplest, easiest to control, and most practical for general family use.”
Electricity’s near dominance as a propulsion system didn’t last past the early years of the 20th century, but, more than a century later, EVs are poised to regain their place in the mainstream market. The keys to this repositioning lie in the advancing technology: the recently-released Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are examples of mass-market, consumer-ready vehicles that just happen to run on electricity, while the increasing availability of home and public chargers coincides with new breakthroughs in battery technology that will make charging quicker and easier.
There are still sizeable obstacles to an EV-dominated marketplace. Putting in place the infrastructure necessary to support President Obama’s goal of 1 million EVs on American roads by 2015 will require significant effort from both the public and private sectors. And as with any new technology, there are trials of public opinion to overcome. Price tags for the latest EVs remain high, and many consumers have yet to overcome an initial reluctance to embrace these new electrics (specifically, “range anxiety” has emerged as the crucial doubt standing between car-buyers and EVs).
But consumers have overcome similar challenges in the past – think of the massive and rapid cultural changes brought on by the widespread adoption of smartphones. Once a new technology reaches a tipping point in our society, Americans will rush to embrace it. Economic forces will also help drive the change, though consumers won’t be happy about this part. Gas prices can and will hit $5 a gallon, and the economic consequences of relying on fossil fuels are at last trickling down to the pump. EVs provide a clear and incontrovertible alternative to buying thousands of gallons of gas over a car’s lifetime – a factor that will do more to incentivize their adoption than any marketing strategy or environmental appeal.
Cars have long held a unique place in our national culture – but Americans have also shown a powerful ability to adapt to economic changes. In the coming years, as sticker prices drop and charging technology continues to advance, EVs will emerge as a money-saving alternative to gas-powered vehicles. And eventually, we may get back to where we were in 1900. — Txchnologist
Cool.. I have the same information in my book Build Your Own Electric Vehicle. It’s always good to remind ourselves of the facts..In fact, I used $4.50 as the average price. So we are not far off.