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Old 10th August 2021, 12:47   #1
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Default The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport

In particular, the accumulation of horse manure on the streets, and the associated stench, were impossible to miss. By the 1890s, about 300,000 horses were working on the streets of London, and more than 150,000 in New York City. Each of these horses produced an average of 10kg of manure a day, plus about a litre of urine. Collecting and removing thousands of tonnes of waste from stables and streets proved increasingly difficult.

But in doing away with one set of environmental problems from horse manure, cars introduced a whole set of new ones. The pollutants they emit are harder to see than horse manure, but are no less problematic. These include particulate matter, such as the soot in vehicle exhaust, which can penetrate deep into the lungs; volatile organic compounds that irritate the respiratory system and have been linked to several kinds of cancer; nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide; and greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, that contribute to climate change.
In 1897, the bestselling car in the US was an electric vehicle: the Pope Manufacturing Company’s Columbia Motor Carriage. Electric models were outselling steam- and petrol-powered ones. By 1900, sales of steam vehicles had taken a narrow lead: that year, 1,681 steam vehicles, 1,575 electric vehicles and 936 petrol-powered vehicles were sold. Only with the launch of the Olds Motor Works’ Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1903 did petrol-powered vehicles take the lead for the first time.

Perhaps the most remarkable example, to modern eyes, of how things might have worked out differently for electric vehicles is the story of the Electrobat, an electric taxicab that briefly flourished in the late 1890s. The Electrobat had been created in Philadelphia in 1894 by Pedro Salom and Henry Morris, two scientist-inventors who were enthusiastic proponents of electric vehicles.

In 1897 Morris and Salom launched a taxi service in Manhattan with a dozen vehicles, serving 1,000 passengers in their first month of operation. But the cabs had limited range and their batteries took hours to recharge. So Morris and Salom merged with another firm, the Electric Battery Company. Its engineers had devised a clever battery-swapping system, based at a depot at 1684 Broadway, that could replace an empty battery with a fully charged one in seconds, allowing the Electrobats to operate all day.

Whitney and his friends teamed up with Pope, maker of the bestselling Columbia electric vehicle. They formed a new venture called the Electric Vehicle Company, and embarked on an ambitious expansion plan. In 1899 it was briefly the largest automobile manufacturer in the US.
The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport-electric-car-1.jpeg

In the years that followed, as more people bought private cars, electric vehicles took on a new connotation: they were women’s cars. This association arose because they were suitable for short, local trips, did not require hand cranking to start or gear shifting to operate, and were extremely reliable by virtue of their simple design.

Henry Ford bought his wife, Clara, a Detroit Electric rather than one of his own Model Ts.

By focusing on women, who were a small minority of drivers – accounting for 15% of drivers in Los Angeles in 1914, for example, makers of electric cars were tacitly conceding their inability to compete with petrol-powered cars in the wider market.

That year, Henry Ford confirmed rumours that he was developing a low-cost electric car in conjunction with Thomas Edison. But the car was repeatedly delayed, as Edison tried and failed to develop an alternative to the heavy, bulky lead-acid batteries used to power electric cars. Eventually, the entire project was quietly abandoned.
Buyers of private cars, then as now, did not want to feel limited by the range of an electric vehicle’s battery, and the uncertainty of being able to recharge it. Sales of electric cars peaked in the early 1910s. As internal combustion engines became more reliable, they left electric vehicles in the dust.

In December that year the Middle Eastern members of Opec (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) cut off oil exports to the US in protest at its support for Israel in the Yom Kippur war. The price of oil surged, and the sudden reduction in supply resulted in higher petrol prices, the introduction of rationing, and long queues at gas stations. For the first time, American drivers realised they could not take the supply of petrol for granted. The oil shock led the government to introduce a national speed limit of 55mph, and fuel-economy standards that required US manufacturers to achieve an average fuel economy, across their entire product lines, of 18 miles per gallon by 1978, and 27.5 by 1985.

Attempts to revive electric cars as commercial products failed to get off the ground – until the emergence in the 90s of the rechargeable lithium ion battery. By 2003, Alan Cocconi and Tom Gage, two electric-car enthusiasts, had built an electric roadster called the tzero, powered by 6,800 camcorder batteries, capable of 0-60mph in less than four seconds and with a range of 250 miles. Tesla was founded to commercialise that technology.
The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport-electric-car-2.jpeg

And just as the rise of the automobile led to worries about the sustainability and geopolitical consequences of relying on oil, the electric car raises similar concerns. The supply of lithium and cobalt needed to make batteries, and of the “rare earth” elements need to make electric motors, are already raising environmental and geopolitical questions.

Lithium is quite abundant, but cobalt is not, and the main source of it is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Once mined, cobalt is mostly refined in China, which also has the lion’s share of global lithium ion battery production capacity, and dominates production of rare-earth elements, too.

Geopolitical tensions have already led to disputes between China and western countries over the supply of computer chips and related manufacturing tools. So it is not hard to imagine similar disagreements breaking out over the minerals and parts needed to build electric vehicles.
The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport-electric-car-3.jpeg

Moreover, history suggests it would be naive to assume that switching from one form of propulsion to another would mean things would otherwise continue as they were; that is not what happened when cars replaced horse-drawn vehicles. Some people say it’s time to rethink not just the propulsion technology that powers cars, but the whole idea of car ownership.

Collectively, ride-hailing, micromobility and on-demand car rental offer new approaches to transport that provide the convenience of a private car without the need to own one, for a growing fraction of journeys.

Its ability to connect up these different forms of transport, to form an “internet of motion”, means that the smartphone, rather than any particular means of transport, is the true heir to the car.

But transport systems will produce another form of potentially problematic output: data. In particular, they will produce reams of data about who went where, and when, and how, and with whom. They already do.
Source: The Guardian
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Old 10th August 2021, 20:17   #2
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Default Re: The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport

Very interesting information. Thanks for sharing. Mankind is always in pursuit of improving their lives. Similarly, the current EV trend may slow down once a better technology becomes available.
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