For every small step we take towards responsible living—buying eco-friendly light bulbs, and so on—there are gadgets that help us make giant leaps in our quest for sustainability. This week in our Green Tech series, we examine the complicated past and bright future of electric cars.
Electric vehicles have been ripping up roads as long as their gas-guzzling counterparts. In fact, in the early part of the 20th century, they were actually the more popular of the two; at that time 38 percent of vehicles were powered by electricity, 22 percent by gasoline, and the remaining 40 percent by magic. We kid! They were powered by steam. But as the country's highway system expanded and American drivers began to travel farther and farther by car, electric vehicles and their relatively limited batteries became increasingly impractical. In 1910 the Hartford Electric Light Company established a number of battery exchange outposts for a line of electric trucks, but the idea never really picked up steam, er, electricity,er, magic. While various companies have tried to revive the electric car over the years, none have had much commercial success. However, recent technological developments have made electric cars go farther and faster than ever before, with some reports claiming electric and "green" cars will make up one third of the global market by 2020.
Have You Heard the One About Female Drivers?
Everyone wants to know who killed the electric car. Turns out it was chicks. Go figure. At the turn of the century women were becoming increasingly more liberated, thanks in no small part to the expanded mobility that cars allowed. One small problem though: Their poofy, froufy lady-dresses made operating manual crank ignitions difficult. Up drives the noiseless, exhaust-free electric car with its simple automatic starter and suddenly the roads are teeming with female drivers. The 1909 Baker Electric even came equipped with tasseled seats, a flower vase and a special mirrored makeup compartment. However, this sort of gender-specific marketing proved detrimental to sales. Men didn't want to be associated with a "feminine" vehicle and most families weren't in the luxurious position of owning two cars. Before long Henry Ford introduced the electric starter on his gas-powered vehicles—effectively eliminating the troublesome girl-deterring crank, and wouldn't you know it, soon ladies were driving around in newer, faster fuel-slurping models. Women are so fickle.
Life Is an Electric Highway
Even with all of the electric car's ups and downs, the future seems bright, shiny and green. With mounting global concern about fuel emissions, professional and amateur innovators alike are tirelessly working to make electric cars a viable, practical option. In August of this year, a group of high school students built what they believe to be the world's most fuel efficient electric car. This beast got the equivalent of 300 miles per gallon fuel economy. Meanwhile, Washington state has announced plans to develop the nation's first electric highway. In coming years. they hope to install ten charging stations—which can power a typical battery to 80% full in under half an hour—along Interstate 5. Hopefully they will be able to plug into these Volvo door panels that also double as batteries. You know the saying, when one door closes, a new one opens. Here's to many a electric car door opening!