Are Electric Cars Being Suppressed?
Electric cars have been around since 1984, when the first practical electric automobile was unveiled by Thomas Parker, the man who also electrified the London Underground and overhead tramways.
By 1990, 38% of America’s automobiles were powered by electricity, compared to 22% running on oil fuel. In 1911, the New York Times celebrated the electric car as “ideal” because it was quieter, cleaner and more economical than internal combustion engines. This was decades before concerns about global warming and carbon emissions became mainstream.
Despite electric cars being around for as long as the automobile has existed, and despite our society being dependent on electricity for much longer, electric vehicles have not become the standard mode of transport and are only now emerging as a popular alternative to oil-powered vehicles.
Did electric cars fail to take hold because the technology was suspended?
In the early 20th century, public transport authorities were particularly keen on electricity as an efficient, affordable and clean fuel.
Tramways sprang up all over the United States and New York’s first taxicab company was the Electric Carriage & Wagon Company, which by 1899 had 100 electric cars running. Unfortunately, in 1907 a mysterious fire destroyed 300 of the company’s cabs, killing off the electric taxi.
The trams & cable cars survived in cities until the Second World War, when they were replaced by coaches and buses. In 1946 it was revealed that across 16 states these streetcars had actually been bought by National city Lines, a front company funded by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Philips Petroleum and Standard Oil of California, now known as the Chevron Corporation.
The United States Government convicted them of attempting to monopolize the public transit industry. However, critics like assistant attorney Bradford Snell and Edwin Quinby believed the companies were really trying to destroy electric streetcars to force America into automobile dependency. They cited the notorious events of 1940, when Pacific Electric System was bought and dismantled by the oil and motor companies, even though the streetcar company was worth $100 million.
Unfortunately, early electric vehicles didn’t require corporate conspiracies or arson to destroy them: historians argue that the limitations of technology caused them to die out from the 1920s onwards. Combustion engines were swiftly improved in this era, and more easily mass-produced than rechargeable batteries. This made them significantly cheaper than electric cars. As the government improved and expanded the vast highways of America the limited range of electric cars became undesirable, and poor sales slowly phased out the electric car.
Meanwhile, streetcars feel out of popular use as private car ownership increased and began to clog up their rail-reliant routes. However, more recent events have put the conspiratorial spotlight back onto the major motor companies and Big Oil.
In 1990 California passed the Zero=emissions vehicle mandate, which specified that car manufacturers would have to ensure at least 10% of their sales were of cars that produced zero emissions by 2003. By the 2000s, every state in the U.S. was considering issuing this mandate.
In response to this mandate, nearly 5,000 electric cars were made or, more commonly converted by General Motors, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Nissan and Chrysler. This was far below the initial requirement of 22,000 electric vehicles. However, the industry continued to pressure the Californian Air Resources Board over the mandate, even after the state modified the mandate to meet the companies’s complaints.
In 2001, General Motors sued the state of California over the mandate. This was despite the fact that the company had already recalled and scrapped all of its battery-powered cars 2 years earlier, on the basis that there was no consumer demand for the electric cars and despite outstanding reviews and thousands of requrests for the limited stock of vehicles.
The other car companies also recalled and crushed their electric cars, on the basic of lack of demand.
In 2006, the documentary “Who killed the electric cars?” interviewed the people who manufactured and leased the electric cars in California in the 90s. They revealed that the lack of consumer demand for the cars was due to a lack of advertising – the motor companies simply didn’t bother to properly advertise the zero-emission cars, nor did they try to sell them: they were leased to customers until 1999 and then recalled, despite customers offering to buy the vehicles.
Meanwhile, the manufacturers of the batteries that powered these cars were explicitly told not to announce the fact they had built a battery that could match the speed and range of a conventional combustion engine. This coincided with the industry’s announcement to pursue hydrogen cells as an alternative fuel source – replete with $1.3 billion of funding from the Bush administration.
Hydrogen cell engineers say they are far more inefficient, expensive, and currently more dangerous than electric batteries. Even though the price of hydrogen cars has fallen from around $100,000 to $60,000, there is still no existing infrastructure for hydrogen gas stations and no easy way to set them up. The average cost of installing even a basic network of hydrogen refueling points is around half a billion dollars per country. The most optimistic estimate for the implementation of hydrogen fuel cells on the road has them becoming available around the year 2030, which happens to be the sassme year currently predicted for oil production to start declining.
This has led to accusations that car companies actively undermined and suppressed electric vehicles under pressure from the oil industry. The motor industry has, of course, denied this.
In California, the state mandate for electric cars was ended in favour of hydrogen cells. Yet there is still hope for electric vehicles.
Although electric can cost up to $10,000. More than conventional cars, the cost continues to drop year by year, and the price of fuel for a conventional car is typically 5 times higher per mile than for battery powered cars.
Successful cars like the Toyota Prius have proven there is a market for hybrid vehicles which use oil fuel to kick – start an electric motor. In 2013, the International Energy Agency confirmed world governments had committed to having 20 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. In 2013, sales of electric cars skyrocketed by 228% in the U.S. alone.
Nevertheless, predictions are that only 1% of the vehicle stock on the planet will be powered by electricity in 2020. The world will be reliant on oil-powered cars for many years to come.
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