It’s only March, but 2011 is shaping up to be the year that the electric car comes into its own.
Electric cars have been around since the late 1800s. Around the turn of the century, they were actually preferred over their gasoline-powered counterparts because they were quieter and cleaner. Advances in the internal combustion engine, however, soon tipped the scales in favor of gasoline; the batteries of electric cars just couldn’t provide the same range and power. By the 1920s, there were few electric cars left on the roads.
Since the 1990s, electric cars have been making a comeback, with models like GM’s EV1, the Toyota RAV4 EV, and the Chrysler TEVan being introduced in response to California’s push towards lower emission vehicles. Most famously, the Tesla Roadster was introduced in the US in 2006. But so far, consumers interested in electric cars have only had a limited range of choices. Hybrid vehicles, like Toyota’s Prius, have fared a bit better, offering a wider range of cars.
2011, however, is seeing a major change in the number and types of electric vehicles manufacturers are offering. At the Detroit Auto Show in January, Tesla unveiled its most detailed look yet at the Model S, an electric sedan aimed at the family market. Toyota and Lexus announced an additional 10 new hybrid models under development, including a Prius wagon, and they showcased the electric iQ EV prototype at the Geneva Auto Show. Meanwhile the Nissan Leaf began delivery of its mid-size hatchback last December and is expected to increase availability throughout 2011. The Chevy Volt (technically a plug-in hybrid) also began delivery in mid-December and is expected to increase availability by late summer. Not to be outdone, Rolls Royce has introduced the 102EX Phantom EE at the Geneva Auto Show, an experimental electric sedan aimed at the luxury market.
In fact, everyone seems to be jumping on the electric wagon: Ford, BMW, Mercedes, BMW’s Mini Cooper division, Mitsubishi, Renault, Daimler’s Smart Car, and Subaru all have upcoming vehicles. In addition, ECOtality “Blink” DC Fast Charging stations will be available at 45 BP (and its subsidiary Arco) locations.
Despite these gains, battery power and life continue to be the Achilles’ heel of electric vehicles. Research is underway not only on improved batteries, but on alternative storage methods as well. We can expect to see much greater adoption of electric vehicles once they can offer a wider range and faster charging.