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  • Jan 31, 2023

  • 6 min read


A view of electric cars through time

Electric cars are taking the world by storm, and these high tech, high spec inventions make the present day feel like we’re living in the future.

But you might be shocked to know that these futuristic vehicles are actually not so new.

With the number of electric car owners in the UK growing rapidly. With an estimated, 548,000 zero-emission battery electric vehicles on our roads at the time of writing, it seems like everyone has switched, or is considering switching to electric in recent years.

The electric car market has been slowly burning over the years - with interest growing as the technology has developed over the decades to make sure  there are more benefits to driving electric than fuel cars.

Let’s take a look at the history of electric cars, starting with the world’s first ever electric car…

What was the first electric car?

As curious minds experimented with batteries and electric motors in the early 19th century, the ‘electric carriage’ was born.

While this is a far cry from the Teslas we know and love today, these electric carriages had seating, a steering wheel and a disk brake.

These electric carriages were first created in 1828, with various inventors in the UK, Hungary, the US and the Netherlands - independent of one another - making their own versions between 1828 and 1839.

A little later, in 1837, Robert Davidson of Aberdeen built the first electric locomotive. This was upgraded a few years later so it could travel 1.5 miles at 4mph towing six tons.

Rechargeable batteries finally came around in 1859, which continued the excitement around electric-powered vehicles.

These electric motors were used widely in the early twentieth century on trams, trains and intercity vehicles used by the upper class.

When was the first electric car made?

Going beyond the electric carriages, it was Ferdinand Porsche - yep, the founder of Porsche AG - who created the world’s first functional hybrid car in 1900. The Semper Vivus.

There are a few famous names you may recognise in the early stages of electric car design.

The second is Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, who introduced the Model T car to the world in 1908. Other car companies had begun bringing out their own designs, but this was one of the first mass-produced cars with the aim of being affordable and cheaper than the others. It was priced at $850 when it first came into the market - the equivalent of around $27,421.46 today. It was then reduced to just under $300 by 1923 when it became mass-produced.

The Model T certainly changed the game in the transport industry, but it was still based on a crank system.

In 1912, Charles Kettering invented the electric starter motor which eventually made cranking a thing of the past.

What is considered the first modern electric car?

With the easy access to and the lower costs of oil in the early 1900s, the internal combustion engine had the upper hand on electric vehicles. This led to most car manufacturers stopping the production of electric vehicles in the 1910s.

Fast forward to the 1960s and 70s when issues around global warming began to arise, as did concerns over how reliant we were becoming on fossil fields.

In 1997, the Toyota Prius burst onto the scene as the first mass-market vehicle to promote electric driving.

What was the first mass produced electric car?

The Toyota Prius was the world’s first mass-market practical and low-emission family car.

After overcoming the previous technical and engineering issues that companies saw in the 1800s with electric cars, the Prius used the revolutionary Toyota Hybrid System; a combined petrol engine and electric motor.

The first-ever lithium-ion battery-powered electric car was the Tesla Roadster which launched in 2008. This was huge for the development of clean and zero-emissions vehicles.

The Tesla Roadster was set in the luxury market, with the profits going towards work on the Tesla Model S. This launched in 2012, with the profits of this going towards the Tesla Model 3 - the affordable and mass market version.

The Model 3 shows off lithium-ion battery technology with an incredible performance, at a low cost.

Since then, many car manufacturers have entered into the rapidly growing industry.

How long until all cars are electric?

Because the transport industry is the single biggest contributor to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, there’s a real push for electric cars to become mainstream.

By 2030, the government will stop the sale of all new diesel and petrol cars and vans.

And by 2035, all new cars and vans must be fully zero emission at the tailpipe.

While this doesn’t mean everyone has to suddenly get rid of their petrol or diesel car in exchange for the more environmentally-friendly option, the amount of electric cars on the roads is set to increase.

Experts predict 2025 will signal a real shift towards electric cars, with an even split of fossil fuel-powered and electric-powered cars on the road by 2040.

Get ready for lower running costs, eco-powered driving and more bang for your buck!

Unsure if you should buy an electric car now or wait? Battery technology has already improved significantly over the last few decades, but continuing developments in electric vehicle infrastructure are making this e an exciting time for the EV market. There has never been a better time to switch to electric!

To be ahead of the game and choose from the latest EVs on the market, check out our personal contract hire.