In this age of green policies and quests to save the environment the subject of electric cars is something which has become more and more central to more and more governments around the world. While many people may believe that electric cars are a fairly new addition to the worldwide transport sector you may be surprised to learn that the electric car is one of the oldest vehicle designs in the world and has a history which goes back to the 1830s.
However, there are many issues to cover with regards to the electric car market, why it has not taken off as yet, what is holding it back and what the future holds.
A brief history of the electric car market
Scottish businessman Robert Anderson has the mantle of inventing the first electric car and while the exact date of his invention is unclear it appears that happened between 1832 and 1839. While this was one of the more crude electric carriage vehicles it set about chain of events which has seen the electric car take centre stage in the 21st century.
While Anderson was the first to officially invent an electric car there were also other designs released to the market in the 1830s with Prof Sibrandus Stratingh of Holland another inventor who made his mark at a very early stage. However, it was not until American designer Thomas Davenport and Scotsman Robert Davidson stepped into the breach in 1842 that the sector really began to take shape. These inventors were the first to use non-rechargeable electric cells or batteries as we know them today.
We will cover the history of the electric car in more detail in later articles, but this is basically how the electric car market began unfolding and created a base for what will be potentially the largest transport sector in the world in years to come.
The oil market
There are many factors which came together to increase the use of petrol powered cars which included the discovery of significant oil fields around the world, which saw the price of oil fall and become more affordable to the masses. With oil apparently in plentiful supply in the 1900s we saw the development of worldwide car companies such as Ford, and the like, who channelled all of their investment funding into the petrol and gasoline car market.
There is a general feeling that governments around the world, keen to stamp their authority on the worldwide transportation sector, were very positive on oil and fairly negative on the use of electric cars in their local markets. The use of oil-based fuel created a significant income stream for governments around the world, through taxation and oil sales, and also created a vehicle industry which would go on to employ millions of people around the world.
As the supply of oil came under more and more scrutiny, with fewer and fewer oilfields discovered on regular basis, many governments around the world turned to immature technologies which they could use as a new tax income stream for the future. Many people would be surprised to know how advanced the electric car market is today although there is still limited visibility in many markets around the world and still a significant bias towards oil-based fuel vehicles.
As it became more and more apparent that harm to the environment, green issues and greater fuel efficiency were factors dominating the minds of many voters around the world it did not take governments too long to realise the potential for votes. As a consequence, each and every political party around the world now has "green issues" which they use to attract the attention of voters and ultimately increase their potential support base.
However, many people believe that the various summits which have received worldwide attention appear to pay lip service to the issue of electric cars with very little follow-through. Indeed the UK government recently introduced a car scrappage system which had been targeted at more efficient fuel systems such as electric cars, but it now appears as though no cars are currently in production which fit the criteria and as such the vast majority of scrapped cars are being replaced by more efficient oil-based fuel vehicles. Was this a missed chance?
The problem of distance
When the electric car market began to evolve in the 1800s there were literally no national transport networks in the vast majority of countries around the world therefore short distance travel was all that was on offer. This allowed the use of fairly basic electric cars such as those invented in the 1830s but as transport networks began to grow it became wholly apparent that oil fuel based vehicles held a significant advantage over electric cars.
While there have been significant improvements in electric car technology over the last few years, many people are still concerned about the distances these cars can travel before they need to be "recharged". However, there is a train of thought suggesting that governments around the world are still holding back on promotion of the electric car industry in order to squeeze the last drops of revenue from the declining worldwide oil market.
As the slow shift from oil fuel based vehicles towards electric vehicles continues to evolve we have seen the introduction of a number of hybrid vehicles which have both an electric power source as well as a traditional combustion engine. This allows the use of oil-based fuel and electric power from one vehicle with the driver able to switch between the two at appropriate points in their journey.
Even though the hybrid system is very much a "halfway house" between electric cars and oil fuel-based cars there has been some difficulty in encouraging consumer acceptance. When this stigma is removed once and for all this will be a significant weight off the back of the electric car industry and potentially open up the sector to more development, more investment and ultimately more demand from consumers.
There have been a number of false dawns regarding the electric car market over the decades and centuries although there appears to be a significant shift towards this particular area of late. Governments around the world are seeing their oil-based income "dry up" and are looking towards new, more fuel-efficient transportation vehicles.
It will be interesting to see how governments around the world balance their need for income, to fund government activities, against the well-being of environment. Many people believe this is the argument that has held back the development of electric cars for many years with a number still sceptical that government policies have changed for the better for consumers.