Toyota’s Role in the History of the Electric Car

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The history of the electric car actually begins in the mid-1800s. In the 1830s, a variety of different inventors developed electric motors and model electric cars.

Before the widespread availability of gasoline, the electric car reigned in Europe and America. Despite holding speed records (65 mph in 1899), the top speed of most early EVs was about 20 mph. In the early 1900s, it was more popular than the gasoline powered car because it did not require gear changes, lacked the smell and noise of gasoline cars, and were easier to use.

In 1917, Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago released the first hybrid car, but because it was too slow, too difficult to service, and ultimately not worth its price tag, it failed and was discontinued.

The 1920’s, however, brought about substantial changes in the automobile industry that would ultimately wipe the EV out of the market. Better road infrastructure called for cars with better range, the discovery of petroleum in Texas, Oklahoma and California made gasoline more affordable, and gasoline cars surpassed the EV’s early speed records. Additionally, the invention of the muffler made gasoline cars quieter, and Henry Ford’s mass production assembly lines made gasoline cars more affordable for the mass public. By the 1930’s, the American electric vehicle had disappeared, and would not make a substantial return for several decades.

Toyota’s History with Electric Vehicles

In the 70’s and 80’s, the energy crisis sparked a renewed interest in the EV, culminating in the early 90’s, when the California Air Resources Board pushed for fuel-efficient, lower-emissions vehicles.

Many automakers responded to this push and developed electric vehicles, among them Toyota, with the RAV4 EV. The RAV4 EV ran from 1997 to 2003, had a top speed of 78 mph and a range of 80 to 120 miles.

However, poor marketing on the part of all car manufacturers made EV vehicles unsuccessful and led to the impression that no one was interested in buying an electric car. Subsequently, the cars were taken off the market. Toyota offered to sell its last 328 RAV4 EVs in response to owner protests of the repossession of their cars.

In the 90’s, interest in electric vehicles declined, and consumers became interested in SUVs instead. Meanwhile, Toyota released the Prius hybrid around the turn of the twenty-first century. After being out for several years, the Prius saw sales take off in the mid-2000s.

In the past few years, due to the global economic recession, more and more people are turning towards fuel-efficient vehicles to help save money. After over a century, the electric vehicle is finally making its comeback in America. Last year, Toyota and Tesla announced their plan to develop a second generation of the RAV4 EV for 2012.

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