History of The Electric Vehicle - 1990s To Present: Revival of Interest

1990s To Present: Revival of Interest

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After years outside the limelight, the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s brought about renewed interest in the perceived independence electric cars had from the fluctuations of the hydrocarbon energy market. At the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show, General Motors President Roger Smith unveiled the GM Impact electric concept car, along with the announcement that GM would build electric cars for sale to the public.

In the early 1990s, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the government of California's "clean air agency", began a push for more fuel-efficient, lower-emissions vehicles, with the ultimate goal being a move to zero-emissions vehicles such as electric vehicles. In response, automakers developed electric models, including the Chrysler TEVan, Ford Ranger EV pickup truck, GM EV1 and S10 EV pickup, Honda EV Plus hatchback, Nissan lithium-battery Altra EV miniwagon and Toyota RAV4 EV. The automakers were accused of pandering to the wishes of CARB in order to continue to be allowed to sell cars in the lucrative Californian market, while failing to adequately promote their electric vehicles in order to create the impression that the consumers were not interested in the cars, all the while joining oil industry lobbyists in vigorously protesting CARB's mandate. GM's program came under particular scrutiny; in an unusual move, consumers were not allowed to purchase EV1s, but were instead asked to sign closed-end leases, meaning that the cars had to be returned to GM at the end of the lease period, with no option to purchase, despite lessor interest in continuing to own the cars. Chrysler, Toyota, and a group of GM dealers sued CARB in Federal court, leading to the eventual neutering of CARB's ZEV Mandate.

After public protests by EV drivers' groups upset by the repossession of their cars, Toyota offered the last 328 RAV4-EVs for sale to the general public during six months, up until November 22, 2002. Almost all other production electric cars were withdrawn from the market and were in some cases seen to have been destroyed by their manufacturers. Toyota continues to support the several hundred Toyota RAV4-EV in the hands of the general public and in fleet usage. GM famously de-activated the few EV1s that were donated to engineering schools and museums.

Throughout the 1990s, interest in fuel-efficient or environmentally friendly cars declined among Americans, who instead favored sport utility vehicles, which were affordable to operate despite their poor fuel efficiency thanks to lower gasoline prices. American automakers chose to focus their product lines around the truck-based vehicles, which enjoyed larger profit margins than the smaller cars which were preferred in places like Europe or Japan. In 1999, the Honda Insight hybrid car became the first hybrid to be sold in North America since the little-known Woods hybrid of 1917.

Hybrid electric vehicles, which featured a combined gasoline and electric powertrain, were seen as a balance, offering an environmentally friendly image and improved fuel economy, without being hindered by the low range of electric vehicles, albeit at an increased price over comparable gasoline cars. Sales were poor, the lack of interest attributed to the car's small size and the lack of necessity for a fuel-efficient car at the time. The 2000s energy crisis brought renewed interest in hybrid and electric cars. In America, sales of the Toyota Prius (which had been on sale since 1999 in some markets) jumped, and a variety of automakers followed suit, releasing hybrid models of their own. Several began to produce new electric car prototypes, as consumers called for cars that would free them from the fluctuations of oil prices.

In response to a lack of large-automaker participation in the electric car industry, a number of small companies cropped up in their place, designing and marketing electric cars for the public. In 1994, the REVA Electric Car Company was established in Bangalore, India, as a joint venture between the Maini Group India and AEV of California. After seven years of research and development, it launched the REVAi an all-electric small micro car, known as the G-Wiz i in the United Kingdom, in 2001. The car is powered by lead–acid batteries, and in January 2009, a new model was launched, the REVA L-ion. It is similar to the REVAi but powered by high performancelithium-ion batteries, which reduce the car's curb weight. In many countries the REVAi does not meet the criteria to qualify as a highway-capable motor vehicle, and fits into other classes, such as neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) in the United States and heavy quadricycle in Europe. The REVA have sold more than 4,000 vehicles worldwide by March 2011 and is available in 26 countries.

Most electric vehicles in the world roads are low-speed, low-range neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs). Pike Research estimated there were almost 479,000 NEVs on the world roads in 2011. The top selling NEV is the Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) vehicles, which as of December 2010 had sold more than 45,000 units worldwide since 1998. As of July 2006, there were between 60,000 and 76,000 low-speed battery-powered vehicles in use in the United States, up from about 56,000 in 2004. The two largest NEV markets in 2011 were the United States, with 14,737 units sold, and France, with 2,231 units. Other micro electric cars sold in Europe was the Kewet, since 1991, and replaced by the Buddy, launched in 2008. Also the Th!nk City was launched in 2008 but production was halted due to financial difficulties. Production restarted in Finland in December 2009. The Th!nk was sold in several European countries and the U.S. In June 2011 Think Global filed for bankruptcy and production was halted. The new owner has scheduled to restart production in early 2012 with a refined Think City.
Worldwide sales reached 1,045 units by March 2011.

The global economic recession in the late 2000s led to increased calls for automakers to abandon fuel-inefficient SUVs, which were seen as a symbol of the excess that caused the recession, in favor of small cars, hybrid cars, and electric cars. California electric car maker Tesla Motors began development in 2004 on the Tesla Roadster, which was first delivered to customers in 2008. The Roadster was the first highway-capable all-electric vehicle in serial production available in the United States. Since 2008 Tesla has sold more than 2,100 Roadsters in 31 countries through December 2011. The Roadster was also the first production automobile to use lithium-ion battery cells and the first production all-electric car to travel more than 200 miles (320 km) per charge. Tesla expects to sell the Roadster until early 2012, when its supply of Lotus Elise gliders is expected to run out, as its contract with Lotus Cars for 2,500 gliders expired at the end of 2011. Tesla stopped taking orders for the Roadster in the U.S. market in August 2011, and the 2012 Tesla Roadster will be sold in limited numbers only in Europe, Asia and Australia. The next generation is expected to be introduced in 2014 Tesla Motors plans to introduced the Tesla Model S all-electric sedan no later than July 2012.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV was launched in Japan for fleet customers in July 2009, and for individual customers in April 2010, followed by sales to the public in Hong Kong in May 2010, and Australia in July 2010 via leasing. The i-MiEV was launched in Europe in December 2010, including a rebadged version sold in Europe as Peugeot iOn and Citroën C-Zero. The market launch in the Americas began in Costa Rica in February 2011, followed by Chile in May 2011. Fleet and retail customer deliveries in the U.S. and Canada began in December 2011. Since July 2009 Mitsubishi has sold more than 17,000 i-MiEVs worldwide through October 2011, including the units rebadged in France as iOn and C-Zero.

Senior leaders at several large automakers, including Nissan and General Motors, have stated that the Roadster was a catalyst which demonstrated that there is pent-up consumer demand for more efficient vehicles. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said in 2007 that the Tesla Roadster inspired him to push GM to develop the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid sedan prototype that aims to reverse years of dwindling market share and massive financial losses for America's largest automaker. In an August 2009 edition of The New Yorker, Lutz was quoted as saying, "All the geniuses here at General Motors kept saying lithium-ion technology is 10 years away, and Toyota agreed with us -- and boom, along comes Tesla. So I said, 'How come some tiny little California startup, run by guys who know nothing about the car business, can do this, and we can't?' That was the crowbar that helped break up the log jam."

The most immediate result of this was the announcement of the 2010 release of the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid car that represents the evolution of technologies pioneered by the GM EV1 of the 1990s. The Volt can travel for up to 40 miles (64 km) on battery power alone before activating its gasoline-powered engine to run a generator which re-charges its batteries. Deliveries of the Volt began in the United States in December 2010, and by late 2011 was released in Canada and Europe. Deliveries of its sibbling, the Opel Ampera, began in Europe February 2012.

The Nissan Leaf, introduced in Japan and the United States in December 2010, became the first modern all-electric, zero tailpipe emission five door family hatchback to be produced for the mass market from a major manufacturer. By December 2011, deliveries of the Leaf had taken place in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Since its market launch in December 2010, more than 22,000 Leafs have been sold worldwide through February 2012, making the Nissan Leaf the world's top-selling highway-capable electric car. The top selling markets are the United States, with 10,847 units sold through February 2012, and Japan with more than 8,000 Leafs sold by mid November 2011. According to Nissan, the Leaf's expected all-electric range is 160 kilometres (100 mi) on the EPA city driving cycle . However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency official range is 117 kilometres (73 mi) The Leaf has a range of 175 km (109 mi) on the New European Driving Cycle.

As of March 2012 other electric automobiles, city cars, and light trucks available in some markets for purchase or leasing-only include the Citroën C1 ev'ie, Transit Connect Electric, Mercedes-Benz Vito E-Cell, Tazzari Zero, Smart ED, Wheego Whip LiFe, Mia electric, BYD e6, Bolloré Bluecar, Ford Focus Electric, BMW ActiveE, and Coda. There are also several demonstration vehicles undergoing trial programs including the Renault Fluence Z.E., Volvo C30 Electric, Toyota RAV4 EV and Honda Fit EV.

Read more about this topic:  History Of The Electric Vehicle

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Electric Car - History - 1990s To Present: Revival of Interest
... of the 1970s and 80s brought about renewed interest in the perceived independence that electric cars had from the fluctuations of the hydrocarbon energy market ... In the early 1990s, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) began a push for more fuel-efficient, lower-emissions vehicles, with the ultimate goal being a move to zero-emissi ...

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