Judging by the scramble of car companies looking for ever better electric-solutions for transportation of the future, it’s safe to say that the market got it completely wrong sometime in the early 20th century.
A quick glance at the history books will show that companies offering electric cars were not in short supply but somehow, the dirty and smelly internal combustion engine won the race.
Obviously, I am all for the speed and fun that we’ve had with the internal combustion engine but imagine what the world would look like if the market had chosen electric over gasoline.
Some might suggest that the electric car died out because it was short on range and the batteries took three months to fully charge.
Yes, it took three months, in today’s time, to recharge.
So, you’re going to insist that I explain how it works out to three months?
Okay, fine, I will. It’s all the same to me because this explanation is going to take at least a few column inches and will require only something that sounds like pseudo research.
In the old days, after dinosaurs were extinct but before high-speed Internet was wrestled away from the military, we were willing to wait up to five minutes for a video to download so we could watch it without buffering. Remember those days when we had time to wait?
I remember opening several simultaneous tabs on the browser so that Part 2 and Part 3 would download while I watched Part 1 of the programme that was (probably illegally) uploaded onto YouTube.
The early days of YouTube was full of silly rules like videos had to be shorter than five minutes and 15 seconds and you had to wear red socks when uploading. If I wanted to watch an episode of Cheers, it meant downloading 4.5 different videos.
Nowadays, we flip the screen if a video takes longer than five seconds to start playing and God forbid that it should buffer.
Given that five seconds today is equivalent to five minutes 20 years ago, if we scale backwards to 1920, it was worth seven days and eleven hours, give or take a few bushels. So, obviously, an eight-hour charging time in 1927 is equivalent to three months in 2017. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.
Which may seem excessive but that is nothing compared to the general lack of petrol or benzene or gasoline at the time. Remember how Bertha Benz had to stop by several apothecaries in search of rubbing alcohol or something similar to feed her three-wheeler?
Petrol, as we know it, is at least three decades away but batteries were everywhere at the end of the 19th century.
Unlike the slim, but sometimes explosive, lithium ion batteries of today, the early versions wouldn’t really fit in our pockets, weighed as much as three tapirs and can drive a car a few asthmatic kilometres.
Rechargable batteries were already in use but the situation wasn’t ideal because it would take less time to charge an accountant for tax evasion than bring a car battery back to full power. At least they didn’t explode, and you could safely carry them on planes.
By the time Karl Benz made his three-wheeler work, New York was already infested with electric taxis and electric trains were already running for a few decades. Buses and tramcars were all fed electrons from overhead catenaries.
Imagine if Henry Ford hadn’t been so successful with the Model T and the market voted for clean, quiet cars. Imagine Nikola Tesla successfully convincing the market that wireless transmission of electricity is the best way forward.
We might have a higher incidence of cancer thanks to the radiation from roads feeding our electric cars but at least the air would be clean.
After 130 years of electric motoring, politicians of today would probably be chanting for petrol power so that we can prevent cancer and celebrities would drive gasoline burners instead of hybrids.
So, this is one clear example where the market was not smart enough to know that electric cars was the future and fought hard to keep the smell of burning kerosene in the air. Kerosene was the first commercial light fuel extracted from oil refineries of yore, powering lamps at home and on the streets.
Not all innovations were welcomed by the market but, luckily for us, many were, and today, we can get totally plastered on Saturday night and be able to ride home in a self-driving Tesla that the CIA can hack and remotely commandeer. At least, that’s what WikiLeaks claims.
The irony is that it was electric motors that killed electric cars. The most annoying thing about early gasoline cars was that they required a hand crank to start.
In the best-case scenario, the driver would have developed moist armpits before he could start on a journey, and in the worst case scenario, the engine could kick the crank in the opposite direction and snap your wrist.
When the electric starter motor was developed, sales of petrol-powered cars really took off and this was helped by the fact that gasoline was also widely available by then. Gasoline was used as industrial rubbing compound and that was why they were widely available.
When chemists discovered, in the 1920s, that certain additives could reduce knocking, engineers developed faster, more powerful and more fuel-efficient engines, and the same decade saw electric cars go the way of golf carts.
Would you like a season of video programming on classic cars?
We are working on a season of classic car video series and for this first series, we are searching for classic icons that represented the best innovation during their time. If you think that you have such a car, we want to feature it in our video.
All you have to do is contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a few photographs of your vehicle and why you think it is an innovative classic. We will get back to you if your car is selected to take part in our videos.