Electric Vehicle History
Electric Auto Association (EAA)
use of electric
1904 Curved Dash
1915 Detroit Electric
Walt Disney’s 1901
EV in 1912
A little background
In the late 1890s electric vehicles (EVs) outsold gasoline cars ten to one1. EVs dominated the
roads and dealer showrooms. Some automobile companies, like Oldsmobile and Studebaker
actually started out as successful EV companies, only later transitioning to gasoline-powered
vehicles. In fact, the first car dealerships were exclusively for EVs.
Early production of EVs, like all cars, was accomplished by hand assembly. In 1910, volume
production of gasoline powered cars was achieved with the motorized assembly line. This
breakthrough manufacturing process killed off all but the most well-financed car builders.
Independents, unable to buy components in volume died off. The infrastructure for electricity
was almost non-existent outside of city boundaries – limiting EVs to city-only travel. Another
contributing factor to the decline of EVs was the addition of an electric motor (called the
starter) to gasoline powered cars – finally removing the need for the difficult and dangerous
crank to start the engine. Due to these factors, by the end of World War I, production of
electric cars stopped and EVs became niche vehicles – serving as taxis, trucks, delivery vans,
and freight handlers.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a rebirth of EVs prompted by concerns about
air pollution and the OPEC oil embargo. In the early 1990s, a few major automakers resumed
production of EVs – prompted by California’s landmark Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate.
Those EVs were produced in very low volumes – essentially hand-built like their early
predecessors. However, as the ZEV mandate was weakened over the years, the automakers
stopped making EVs – Toyota was the last major auto maker to stop EV production in 2003.