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  • If you were buying a car in 1899, you would've had three major options to choose from.

  • You could buy a steam-powered car.

  • Typically relying on gas-powered boilers, these could drive as far as you wanted

  • provided you also wanted to lug around extra water to refuel, and didn't mind waiting 30 minutes for your engine to heat up.

  • Alternatively, you could buy a car powered by gasoline.

  • However, the internal combustion engines in these models required dangerous hand-cranking to start, and emitted loud noises and foul-smelling exhaust while driving.

  • So your best bet was probably option number three: a battery-powered electric vehicle.

  • These cars were quick to start, clean and quiet to run, and if you lived somewhere with access to electricity, easy to refuel overnight.

  • If this seems like an easy choice, you're not alone.

  • By the end of the 19th century, nearly 40% of American cars were electric.

  • In cities with early electric systems, battery-powered cars were a popular and reliable alternative to their occasionally explosive competitors.

  • But electric vehicles had one major problembatteries.

  • Early car batteries were expensive and inefficient.

  • Many inventors, including Thomas Edison, tried to build batteries that stored more electricity.

  • Others even built exchange stations in urban areas to swap out dead batteries for charged ones.

  • But these measures weren't enough to allow electric vehicles to make long trips.

  • And at over twice the price of a gas-powered car, many couldn't afford these luxury items.

  • At the same time, oil discoveries lowered the price of gasoline, and new advances made internal combustion engines more appealing.

  • Electric starters removed the need for hand-cranking, mufflers made engines quieter, and rubber engine mounts reduced vibration.

  • In 1908, Ford released the Model T: a cheap, high-quality gas-powered car that captured the public imagination.

  • By 1915, the percentage of electric cars on the road had plummeted.

  • For the next 55 years, internal combustion engines ruled the roads.

  • Aside from some special-purpose vehicles, electric cars were nowhere to be found.

  • However, in the 1970s, the tide began to turn.

  • US concerns about oil availability renewed interest in alternative energy sources.

  • And studies in the 1980s linking car emissions with smog in cities like Los Angeles, encouraged governments and environmental organizations to reconsider electric vehicles.

  • At this point, car companies had spent decades investing in internal combustion engines without devoting any resources to solving the century-old battery problem.

  • But other companies were developing increasingly efficient batteries to power a new wave of portable electronics.

  • By the 1990s, energy dense nickel metal hydride batteries were on the market, soon followed by lithium-ion batteries.

  • Alongside regulatory mandates by California to reduce smog, these innovations sparked a small wave of new electric vehicles, including hybrid cars.

  • Hybrids aren't true electric vehicles; their nickel metal hydride batteries are only used to optimize the efficiency of gas-burning engines.

  • But in 2008, Tesla Motors went further, grabbing the attention of consumers, automakers, and regulators with its lithium-ion-powered Roadster.

  • This purely electric vehicle could travel more than 320 kilometers on a single charge, almost doubling the previous record.

  • Since then, electric vehicles have vastly improved in cost, performance, efficiency, and availability.

  • They can accelerate much faster than gas-powered sports cars, and while some models still have a high upfront cost, they reliably save their drivers money in the long run.

  • As governments around the world focus on slowing climate change, electric vehicles are now expected to replace gas-powered ones altogether.

  • In Norway, 75% of car sales in 2020 were plug-in electric vehicles.

  • And policies such as California's Zero Emission Vehicle mandate and Europe's aggressive CO2 emission standards have dramatically slowed investments in gas-powered vehicles worldwide.

  • Soon, electric cars will reclaim their place on the road, putting gasoline in our rearview.

  • So how can you get involved? Team up with us! We are launching a major campaign and support of the transition to electric vehicles. Learn more and get involved at

If you were buying a car in 1899, you would've had three major options to choose from.

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B2 US TED-Ed electric powered gas internal combustion combustion

The surprisingly long history of electric cars - Daniel Sperling and Gil Tal

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    shuting1215 posted on 2022/01/25
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