The History of EVs: A Charge Into the New Millennium

An Electric Comeback: 1990-2000

Since their inception, electric vehicles served as an answer to a crisis. Electric autos were popular in times of oil shortage, but as the hysteria faded, so did the interest in electric alternatives to gasoline. Unfortunately, the 1990’s wouldn’t usher in large scale adoption of electric automobiles, but it would give momentum to the cause brightening the future of EVS.

As the new millennium drew nearer, scientists and engineers supported by the Energy Department worked behind the scenes to advance EV technology. The Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990, the Energy Policy Act of 1992, and new transportation emissions regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board would spur an interest in electric vehicles as a low emission alternative (DOE, 2014).

By 1996, the nickel metal-hydride battery had been developed and was ready for use in production vehicles. The following year, Toyota (of Japan) unveiled the Prius, the world's first commercially mass-produced and marketed hybrid electric vehicle powered by the newly invented nickel metal-hydride battery (DOE,2014). By 2000, the Prius was released worldwide and soon became a success due to rising gasoline prices and growing concerns about carbon pollution. The Prius was the best-selling hybrid worldwide during the 1990's. Prius’ warm reception served as a win for EVs and later provided the synergy needed in bringing EVs to the mobility forefront.

During the 1990's, automakers modified existing models into full or hybrid electrics as a means of testing market demand. Technical achievements narrowed the gap between gas and electric powered vehicles as electric autos were now faster and able to achieve ranges up to 60 miles per charge. Noteworthy efforts were made by Toyota with their Rav-4 EV and Ford’s Ranger EV (EAA, 2017)

General Motors made great technological strides in design and development of the EV1-an electric car made available through a GM lease program. The EV1 quickly became popular with drivers due to its quiet performance, 80-mile range (per charge), and quick acceleration. However, due to high production costs, GM deemed the EV1 not commercially viable and discontinued the EV1 in 2001. By 2003, all EV1s were reclaimed and recycled ending the short lived legacy of the EV1. Similarly, other major automakers discontinued their EV programs by the early 2000's, again leaving the future of electric vehicles in question (DOE, 2014).

The 1990’s was an era of revival ending in disappointment for EV enthusiasts, but the seeds of inspiration had been planted and would yield a movement lead by business minded visionaries. Check back soon for part 5 of our History of EVs series covering the state of EV technology today and Bosch’s contributions toward electric vehicle technology.

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