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150+ years old newborn: Electric Car 


Electric cars are the heros of this ‘climate age’ that will save the planet from global warming by eliminating emissions. Although, thanks to Tesla, it is perceived as a high-tech new product today, electric cars actually have a history of more than 150 years.

Back to the future!

Horses have been the faithful servants of humanity for thousands of years. In the late 1800s, 300,000 horses on the streets of London and 150,000 in New York were used to transport people and goods. In the 19th century, horse-drawn vehicles started to become a problem, especially in big cities, with their numbers increasing seriously.

Aside from the horse manure and the smell, it has become increasingly difficult to clean them from the streets. Pollution was an obvious harm.

Of course, all this was bad for public health. The situation has become as deadly for the poor horses as it is for the humans. Overworked and poorly cared for, horses died in the streets and were left to rot.

Finally, when the horses could no longer bear the heavy load, advocates of a new technology emerged. The solution seemed obvious: Horses must be replaced with horseless carriages. This is how the first car appeared.

First electric car: 1881

The first electric car as we know it, transporting people on the roads, was invented in Paris in 1881. Gustave Trouve took a small electric motor developed by Siemens. He than used a rechargeable battery and added it to a tricycle. It was the world’s first electric car.

They spread rapidly afterward. Technologist and historian David Kirsch states: “Within 10 years, 38 percent of cars were electric, 20 percent gasoline, and the rest was steam technology.”

Electric cars were brilliant. They had none of the problems with steam or gasoline. They were quiet, easy to drive, and did not emit a foul-smelling pollutant like other cars of the time. Thus, they quickly became popular among city dwellers, especially women. They were perfect for short trips around the city. As more people had access to electricity in the 1910s, it became also easier to charge.

Henry Ford even bought his wife Clara an electric car instead of one of his own Model T.

Electric car and its charger. Those were mostly marketed to women for its convenience.
Getty: Corbis/Hall of Electrical History Foundation
The colourised version. Credit: The Paper Time Machine by Wolfgang Wild and Jordan Lloyd, Unbound (2017)

The same Henry Ford also tried to develop a low-cost electric car with his friend Thomas Edison. But Edison failed to develop an alternative to the heavy, bulky lead-acid batteries used to power the cars. In the end, the entire project was quietly abandoned.

Afterwards, Henry Ford almost completely killed the electric car by producing the first mass-produced gasoline-powered Model T. Introduced in 1908, the Model T made gasoline-powered cars widely available and affordable. In 1912, a gasoline car sold for $650, while an electric car sold for $1,750.

Other developments also contributed to the decline of electric cars. In the 1920s the USA had a good road system connecting cities and suitable for automobile travel. With the discovery of crude oil in Texas, gasoline became cheaper and filling stations began to open across the country. Eventually, they almost disappeared in 1935.

Since then, there have been 3 different eras of electric cars: with the oil crisis, the return of electric cars (1970-2003), the electric revolution (2003-2020) and climate change triggered (2021 and beyond).

The Return of Electric Cars!

By 1900, electric cars made up about a third of all vehicles on US roads, and then nearly disappeared as petrol-powered models took over. 120+ years later, technological developments and environmental concerns have caused them to come to the fore again.

The world’s first mass-produced hybrid car, the Toyota Prius, was launched in Japan in 1997. The other event that helped reshape electric cars was the announcement in 2006 that Tesla Motors, a small Silicon Valley startup, would begin building a luxury electric sports car that could go more than 200 miles on a single charge. Tesla today becomes the most valuable automotive company in the world with a value of approximately 1 trillion dollars.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts, by 2040, more than half of all new cars worldwide will run on batteries alone. Norway has announced that around 80 percent of new cars sold in September 2021 are all-electric. The Scandinavian country is expected to be the first country in the world to reach 100 percent electric vehicle sales by 2022.

Automobile giants are also taking important steps in this direction. Ford has announced that it will invest $22 billion in electric cars by 2025 and plans to be carbon neutral by 2050. Mercedes said that from 2025 all new vehicle platforms will be purely electric. Honda has announced that it will only sell electric and hybrid cars in Europe after 2022. Volkswagen, on the other hand, states that by 2030, 70% of its sales in Europe will be electric vehicles.

150+ years of loss for the world!

Humanity is -once again- trying to introduce electric cars into daily life. If the step taken 150+ years ago had been widespread and continued, the world would have already got rid of a quarter of the emissions it has been vaguely thinking about how to reduce it today.

While the challenges of removing trucks, ships and planes from fossil fuels still continue, the transition to electric is so vital globally to fight against global warming, climate change, pollution, etc.

However, the solutions people find to the problems they trigger, unfortunately, continue to create other problems. For example, the supply of lithium and cobalt needed to make batteries and the “rare earth” elements needed to make electric motors already raises environmental and geopolitical questions. About a quarter of cobalt production is done in the Democratic Republic of Congo using primitive methods. The conditions for the miners are unfortunately very cruel. Moreover, allegations of corruption and child labor in the industry are rampant.

For a sustainable healthy future, every issue needs to be deep-dived not only focusing on just one dimension, but instead on dozens of different dimensions. The main problems that were thought to be solved in the transition from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles, in fact, are appearing as much more complicated and difficult problems for humans 150+ years later .

Therefore, this time, in addition to the fast progress to be covered with the help of technology, the path to be taken with ‘common sense’ is also important for humanity. Otherwise, we will again be in a never ending loop of ’solutions creating other problems to be solved’.


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