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The History of Electric Vehicles: A Timeline

The History of Electric Vehicles: A Timeline

Electric vehicles have been growing in popularity in recent years, with zero emissions and cheaper runner costs appealing to consumers and environmentalists alike. But did you know that the history of electric cars actually goes a long way back?

While regarded by many as a relatively new invention, the first electric vehicles were actually produced and used as early as the 19th century. In fact, at the start of the 20th century, electric cars accounted for around a third of vehicles on the road in the America!

The history of electric cars, and how they fell in and out of fashion, is fascinating. Explore our timeline below to track the progress and popularity of the vehicles that many of us love today, and discover how the inventors of previous centuries helped to pave the way for our own incredibly popular MG ZS Electric.

Electric Car Timeline


Before petrol cars were even in the mainstream, inventors in Europe and the United States were already turning their minds to motors powered by electricity. Hungarian innovator Anyos Jedlik was one of the first to do so, creating a model carriage that was powered by an electric motor.


A few years later, Scottish inventor Robert Anderson designed an early version of an electric carriage, which was powered by a non-chargeable battery.


The impracticalities of a non-chargeable battery were addressed later in the 19th century, when Gaston Plane invented a re-chargeable battery in France. Although this was around 160 years ago, it is this same principle that is used in the manufacturing process today, making it a key part of the history of electric vehicles.


A couple of decades later, things progressed even further. In 1885, Wolverhampton-based inventor Thomas Parker designed and created a vehicle that was incredibly practical. In fact, he reportedly drove to it to work regularly, and for many years. Parker’s early electric car had potential to go mainstream - however, a moment of misfortune meant that his second prototype sank while on a ship to Paris.

On the other side of the pond, William Morrison was busy creating the first electric-powered car in America.


Morrison signed a deal with the American Battery Company to manufacture his invention and begin selling it to the masses. The so-called Morrison Electric could achieve speeds of between 6-12 miles per hour, and the battery took around 10 hours to charge. While this may not be impressive by today’s standards, it was a key model in the history of electric vehicles.


Throughout the rest of this decade, electric cars really began to grow in popularity. They began to be used as taxis in New York in 1897, thanks to the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia. This was followed in 1898 by Porsche unveiling its first electric car, known as the P1. This early electric vehicle could reach a top speed of 22 miles per hour, and was powered by a 3bhp motor.


By the start of the 20th century, electric cars were extremely popular – particularly in the United States, where 28% of the 4000+ cars produced in 1900 were electric. American inventor Thomas Edison turned his hand to creating batteries for early electric cars in 1901, which was also the year that Porsche unveiled the first hybrid, the Lohner-Porsche Mixte.


It seems as if business was booming for the industry in the 20th century - so what changed? In the second decade, Henry Ford began producing petrol-powered cars at a mass level, making it significantly cheaper to buy these models than electric or hybrid versions.

1920s and 1930s

In addition to Ford’s mass market techniques, the discovery of affordable crude oil throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s made running petrol cars a more affordable options for the contemporary consumer.

The gradual increase in petrol vehicles across the US and Europe meant that by the middle of the ‘30s, electric cars had all been disappeared from the roads.


In the latter part of the 20th century, interest in electric vehicles began to pick up again – and many people accredit this to NASA’s Lunar rover, which was used by the crews of Apollo 15, 16, and 17 to move along the surface of the moon.


A couple of years later, General Motors developed a prototype for a more modern, urban electric vehicle, which helped to raise the profile of these cars again.


The following year, the CitiCar was launched by manufacturer Sebring-Vanguard. Over 2000 models were produced, and the automobile maker became the sixth largest in America from the sales.

However, compared to petrol cars, these early electric vehicles lacked power and speed. This meant that they failed to pick up mass-market appeal, and the automobile markets of the ‘70s and ‘80s remained dominated by petrol and diesel.


The ‘90s was a key turning point in the modern history of electric cars. In 1996, General Motors launched another vehicle powered by electricity, the EV1. Although discontinued by the manufacturer due to concerns over profitability, the EV1 was incredibly popular with customers and car fans.

Similarly, 1997 saw the release of the Toyota Prius, the first hybrid car to be mass-produced. This was also well-received, and over the years has boasted a number of environmentally-conscious celebrity owners including Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Aniston.


The luxury appeal of hybrid and electric cars was explored further by Tesla, who at this point were a relatively small start-up company. They announced their intention to create a fully electric vehicle with a range of over 200 miles, which came in 2008 in the form of the Roadster.


Following the release of the Roadster, it became clear that there was increasing public demand for eco-friendly cars. Both public and government attention began to focus more than ever on the environment and reducing carbon emissions, with hybrid and electric cars being regarded as having an important role to play.

A number of popular manufacturers released electric vehicles towards the end of the decade, including our own offering – the MG ZS EV! With government grants making it easier for people to go electric, we are now at a very important stage in the timeline of electric cars.

Interested to learn more? Visit our blog, Behind the Wheel, for more news and information on electric vehicles.

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