The electric vehicle and the conventional automobile have a shared past: indeed, gas-fuelled and electrically-propelled cars were created during the same period, at the end of the last century. Today, the EV is once again in the public eye - this time, as a viable means of preserving the quality of our urban environments. Today, manufacturers are working on the next generation of vehicles, which will be designed specifically for electric power.
Just before the end of the century
Belgian engineer Camille Jénatzy introduced one of the very first electric vehicles, the surprisingly-designed "Jamais Contente", in 1899. This pioneer vehicle travelled the start-stop kilometer in 47.4 seconds and the launched kilometer in 34. It was the first time an automobile went faster than 100 km/h!
1939-1945: War and Shortages ...
Gas-fuelled cars predominated during the first half of the 20th century. The oil shortages of the 1940s, however, led to the renewed interest in the electric vehicle. Car manufacturers quickly developed models such as this convertible Peugeot, baptized VLV (Véhicule Léger de Ville), for light urban use.
The 205, emblem of the "energy conservation" years
With the support of major energy conservation programs, Saft and Peugeot entered into an EV partnership in 1980. After first testing the nickel-cadmium batteries to equip the first electric 205 - a development which is still driving today's market for electric cars.
The beginnings of an industrial production
Over the last 15 years of the 20th century, limiting air pollution has become as important as the need to preserve fossil fuels. Consequently, car manufacturers are pursuing their efforts beyond the electric 205, and accelerating their EV industrialization programs. Saft developed partnerships with both French manufacturers - PSA Peugeot Citroën and Renault - as well as with the French government.
Objectives for the first decades of the new millenium
Today, manufacturers clearly indicate that the future of mobility lies in EVs. Nissan and GM have established themselves as pioneers in the field of mass EV productions with their first models (Leaf and Volt, respectively) hitting the markets in the last quarter of 2010 and instantly spurring notable interest among costumers. It is also worth mentioning that almost all of the other major automobile manufacturers have developed their own concept cars which show what their electric vision is like. These vehicles integrate electric power from the very start of vehicle conception through design to materials chosen. Parallely, continuous research on sophisticated electronic management systems and new generations of batteries allow an increased range.
However, it is a fact that the largest potential for pure electric vehicles lies in niche markets such as city delivery vans, busses or fleet vehicles designed for a specific task (e.g. airports, warehouses, postal services).
Hybrid vehicles appear to be the medium term solution and the logical way to reduce the energy consumption of today's conventional cars.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicles will make the bridge between pure electric cars and hybrid “traditional” vehicles. Able to be charged overnight from the electric grid, they have no range limitation. As long as their battery is charged, Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicle operate like a full electric car, silent, without release of harmful pollutants, including greenhouse gases. As soon as their battery is depleted, after 50 to 80 Kms, they become comparable to regular hybrid vehicles.
Finally, in the long term, fuel cell vehicles are expected to be the future, offering greatest benefits over future internal combustion engines while offering the same performance. The price and infrastructure problems remain big challenges.