The age of the electric vehicle is upon us

Last August included an exciting day with the arrival of my first electric car. From an early age I took an interest in cars and in particular their internal-combustion engines. I never expected to see a competing automotive propulsion technology in my lifetime.

At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009, Tesla Inc. stunned the world with a prototype of the car that would eventually become the Model S. The first electric car that looked like a car, not a glorified golf cart or something from a Sci-Fi movie set.

In one fell swoop, Tesla silenced all critics with a car that had the style, poise, and range to be anyone’s daily driver. Introduced to the public in June of 2012, by 2016 the P100D version of the Model S boasted a range of over 300 miles and enough horsepower to turn the standing start quarter mile at over 120 miles per hour, making it one of the most powerful mass-produced cars ever made.

The key technology that made the Model S possible is a lithium ion — or Li-ion — battery, a technology that’s been around for years powering laptop computers and cell phones and other devices that benefit from power dense batteries. The Model S became a reality because Tesla had the vision to see all the pieces of a modern electric vehicle put together with 1995 technology, and the audacity to take on the worldwide automotive industry.

Tesla showroom in Milton Keynes (Image: T. Larkum)

Tesla showroom in Milton Keynes (Image: T. Larkum)

Gas cars by default

The fact is the IC, the internal-combustion engine, was never the best propulsion device for a car, it was simply the only propulsion device that 19th century technology had to offer that provided the power and range to meet consumer demand.

The electric motor was always the best propulsion device, but the best electric energy storage at the time (lead-acid batteries) didn’t have anywhere near the energy density needed to compete with IC engines for range. Internal combustion won the day and went on to become the dominant — and then the only — propulsion device for cars for over 100 years.

Internal-combustion engine development progressed in every decade garnering significant research and development budgets. The 130-year effort to develop IC technology for vehicles showed the ingenuity and perseverance that determined people can put forward when challenged. Starting in the 19th century with noisy, smelly and inefficient engines that required constant maintenance, engineers plied their craft to make modern IC engines quiet, power dense, reasonably efficient and remarkably reliable.

Yet all that progress is easily eclipsed with a modern EV.

Future arrives EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, have significantly fewer moving parts, are as reliable as your refrigerator, and operate at a fraction of the cost of an IC-powered car. EVs don’t require multi-speed transmissions or a reversing gear. To go in reverse, the electric motor simply spins backwards.

Read more: The Day

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