A Brief History of Electric Vehicles

A Brief History of Electric Vehicles

By Erika Masako Welch, 07 October 2023

The first recorded attempts at developing an electric vehicle can be traced back to 1828, when horses and buggies were still the main mode of transportation. 

The first hybrid electric vehicle was developed by Porsche in 1901. But cheap oil prices and affordable gas-powered vehicles like Ford’s famous Model T made electric vehicles a distant memory for much of the 1900s. Soaring gas prices in 1968 brought back some interest, and finally, the 1970s brought us the first commercially available EVs. But it wasn’t until the launch of the Toyota Prius, the first mass-produced hybrid, in 1997 that the world considered beginning the transition to electric vehicles. Then, Tesla Motors came on the scene in 2006 and incited a revolution.

A Brief History of the Electric Car

1828 — 1835: First Small-Scale Electric Cars

Two hundred years ago, horse and buggies are the primary mode of transportation, but innovators in Hungary, the Netherlands and the USA start creating the first small-scale electric cars.

1832: First Crude Electric Vehicle Is Developed

Around 1832, Robert Anderson develops the first crude electric vehicle, but it isn't until the 1870s or later that electric cars become practical. Pictured here is an electric vehicle built by an English inventor in 1884

1889-1891: First Electric Vehicle Debuts in U.S.

William Morrison, from Des Moines, Iowa, creates the first successful electric vehicle in the U.S. His car is little more than an electrified wagon, but it sparks an interest in electric vehicles.

1899: Electric Cars Gain Popularity

Compared to the gas- and steam-powered automobiles at the time, electric cars are quiet, easy to drive and didn't emit smelly pollutants -- quickly becoming popular with urban residents, especially women.

1900-1912: Electric Cars Reach Their Heyday

By the turn of the century, electric vehicles are all the rage in the U.S., accounting for around a third of all vehicles on the road. 

1901: Edison Takes on Electric Vehicle Batteries

Many innovators take note of the electric car’s high demand, exploring ways to improve the technology. For example, Thomas Edison thought electric vehicles were the superior mode of transportation and worked to build a better battery.

1901: World's First Hybrid Electric Car Is Invented

Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the sports car by the same name, creates the Lohner-Porsche Mixte -- the world's first hybrid electric car. The vehicle is powered by electricity stored in a battery and a gas engine.

1908-1912: Model T Deals a Blow to Electric Vehicles

The mass-produced Model T makes gas-powered cars widely available and a£ordable. In 1912, the electric starter is introduced, helping to increase gas-powered vehicle sales even more. Pictured here is Henry Ford with the first Model T and the 1 millionth.

1920-1935: Decline in Electric Vehicles

Better roads and discovery of cheap Texas crude oil help contribute to the decline in electric vehicles. By 1935, they have all but disappeared. Pictured here is one of the gasoline filling stations that popped up across the U.S., making gas readily available for rural Americans and leading to the rise in popularity of gas-powered vehicles.

1968-1973: Gas Prices Soar

Over the next 30 years or so, cheap, abundant gasoline and continued improvement in the internal combustion engine created little need for alternative fuel vehicles. But in the 1960s and 1970s, gas prices soar through the roof, creating interest in electric vehicles again.

1971: Over the Moon with Electric Vehicles

Around this same time, the first manned vehicle drives on the moon. NASA's Lunar rover runs on electricity, helping to raise the profile of electric vehicles.

1973: The Next Generation of Electric Vehicles

Many big and small automakers begin exploring options for alternative fuel vehicles. For example, General Motors develops a prototype for an urban electric car, which the company displayed at the First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development in 1973.

1974-1977: Leader in Electric Vehicle Sales

One successful electric car at this time is Sebring-Vanguard's CitiCar. The company produces more than 2,000 CitiCars -- a wedge-shaped compact car that had a range of 50-60 miles. Its popularity makes Sebring-Vanguard the sixth largest U.S. automaker by 1975.

1979-1989: Interest in Electric Cars Fades

Compared to gas-powered cars, electric vehicles at this time have drawbacks, including limited performance and range, causing interest in electric cars to fade again.

1990-1992: New Regulations Renew Electric Vehicle Interest

New federal and state regulations create a renewed interest in electric vehicles. The result: Automakers begin modifying popular vehicle models into electric vehicles, enabling them to achieve speeds and performance much closer to gasoline-powered vehicles.

1996: EV1 Gains a Cult Following

GM releases the EV1, an electric vehicle that was designed and developed from the ground up. The EV1 quickly gains a cult following

1997: First Mass-Produced Hybrid

Toyota introduces the first mass-produced hybrid, the Prius. In 2000, Toyota releases the Prius worldwide, and it becomes an instant success with celebrities, increasing its (and the electric vehicle's) profile.

1999: Building a Better Electric Car

Behind the scenes, scientists and engineers work to improve electric vehicles and their batteries.

2006: Silicon Valley Startup Takes on Electric Cars

Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley startup, announces it will produce a luxury electric sports car with a range of 200+ miles. Other automakers take note, accelerating work on their own electric vehicles.

2007: Smart Car develops and launches the all-electric Smart ForTwo ED

2010: First Commercially Available Plug-In Hybrid for Sale

GM releases the Chevy Volt, making it the first commercially available plug-in hybrid. The Volt uses battery technology developed by the Energy Department.

2010: Nissan Launches the LEAF

In December 2010, Nissan releases the LEAF, an all-electric, zero tailpipe emissions car.

2013 to today:

The battery is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle. Thankfully, with R&D investments made into batteries, the cost of EV batteries have significantly reduced in recent years. Since 2013, the cost per Lithium Ion Battery Pack has reduced to 1/5th the cost.


Electric Vehicles have become increasingly popular in the past five years, while more models become increasingly available to consumers, and countries launch net zero targets and commit to ensuring all new car sales will be electric by 2025, 2030, 2040 or latest 2050. In 2023: there are over 500 EV models available across the world to choose from.

To read more about the state of the electric vehicles revolution in 2023 – read the full report here

Related Report

The State of the Electric Vehicle Revolution 2023

Global electric vehicle (EV) stock has surpassed 30 million, and China is home to over half of all the EVs on the world’s roads. 1 in 7 new cars sold last year was electric, and by 2030, we will have 138 Million EVs.

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