Publication Detail

Prospects for Electric Vehicles


Journal Article

Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel (1996) Prospects for Electric Vehicles. TIDE (TERI Information Digest on Energy) (1991 - 2001) VI (2), 87 - 95

Electric vehicles competed head-to-head with gasoline cars around the turn of the century, but soon faded from the marketplace. They failed in the USA (and elsewhere) because electricity recharging infrastructure was too sparse (including at homes), batteries far inferior to what is now available, and the technology did not match well with the contemporary market. After batteries were made somewhat more reliable around 1907, including Thomas Edison's nickel-iron battery, EVs made a brief resurgence. But limited-range cars had little appeal to households owning only one vehicle, especially because vehicles at that time were used disproportionately for "touring." Many people appreciated the EVs' quietness, cleanliness, and ease of driving – especially women (including Henry Ford's wife) – but they were a shrinking minority.

Circumstances have changed. Many households in the USA have multiple vehicles (60% have 2 or more), environmental issues are more central, and batteries continue to be improved. California, with its strong commitment to clean air, is leading efforts to bring EVs back to the forefront. Los Angeles, the largest metropolitan area in California, has almost no chance of meeting health-based air quality standards, perhaps ever, and many other areas of the state have pollution problems almost as severe. For air quality regulators, electric vehicles represent an essential element in long term efforts to reduce pollution.