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  • This interactive timeline gives a brief overview of some of the developments within the electric vehicle industry.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato Published 15 February 2017, Updated 2 March 2022 Referencing Hub media

    Electric vehicles (EVs) were invented in the 1800s, but mass-produced petrol-powered cars like Henry Ford’s Model T, introduced in 1908, quickly became more widely available and affordable. The electric vehicles had all but disappeared by 1935 – until the realisation that fossil fuel is a finite resource. This, combined with growing concerns about the damaging effects of emissions from petrol-powered motors, has led to a resurgence in interest in electric vehicles.

    Note: To use this interactive timeline, move your cursor or finger over any of the labelled boxes and select to get further information. You can also scroll forwards and backwards or use the arrows in the top section.


    1821 – First electromagnet

    Michael Faraday creates the first electromagnet.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain

    1834 – First rotating electric motor

    German physicist Moritz von Jacobi creates the first rotating electric motor.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain

    1837 – First American patent placed on an electric motor

    Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith from Vermont, is awarded the first American patent on an electric motor.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain

    1859 – First rechargeable battery invented

    The first rechargeable battery, a lead-acid cell, is invented by Gaston Planté. This technology is still used today. Further developments become possible in the electric car industry.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain

    1880 – Working electric vehicles being designed and built

    Several people are designing and building electric cars using electric rotating motors. English electrical engineer Thomas Parker, a pioneer of manufacturing equipment that powers electric tramways, uses this technology to build one of the first electric cars.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain

    1894 – Electrobat ll – first commercially available electric vehicle

    The Electrobat ll is the first commercially available electric vehicle, designed and built by mechanical engineer Henry Morris and chemist Pedro Salom.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain

    1898 – Egger-Lohner electric car developed

    Ferdinand Porsche develops the Egger-Lohner electric car. It is nicknamed the P1.

    Acknowledgement: Arnaud 25, licensed under Creative Commons 4.0

    1908 – Petrol-powered Model T developed

    Henry Ford develops the Model T. Mass production of this cheaper, petrol-powered vehicle results in the demise of the electric vehicle.

    Acknowledgement: Pierre Poschadel, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

    1914 – Charging a Baker electric car

    Thomas Edison's first car was made by the Baker Motor Vehicle Company. He designed the long-lasting batteries used in some of Baker's cars and industrial trucks. Baker made luxury cars and their EV was part of the U.S. White House's first fleet of cars.

    Acknowledgement: Girl charging a Baker electric automobile. Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library

    1971 – NASA helps raise the profile of the electric vehicle

    NASA helps raise the profile of the electric vehicle when its electric Lunar Rover becomes the first manned vehicle to drive on the Moon in 1971.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain

    1996 – General Motors develop first mass-produced all-electric car

    GM used a lease-only agreement to release the EV1 in the USA. The customer feedback about the EV1 was positive and production continued until 1999, but in 2002, GM believing that electric cars were unprofitable, recalled all EV1 vehicles. The majority of them were crushed, despite the protest of their customers.

    Acknowledgement: Rick Rowen, RightBrainPhotography, licenced under Creative Commons 2.0

    1997 – First mass-produced modern hybrid electric vehicle produced

    The Toyota Prius is the world’s first mass-produced modern hybrid electric vehicle. Audi designs the Duo lll.

    Acknowledgement: Mytho88, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

    1998 – Nissan Altra electric vehicle released

    Nissan releases the Altra EV – only 200 are produced.

    Acknowledgement: Tennen Gas, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

    2008 – Tesla Roadster

    Tesla Motors produce the Tesla Roadster, an all-electric vehicle.

    Acknowledgement: Plug In America, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

    2009 – Ford produces hybrid vehicle

    The Ford Fusion hybrid vehicle is released in the US.

    Acknowledgement: Public domain

    2010 – Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla release all-electric vehicles

    Nissan releases the Nissan Leaf all-electric car with a synchronous electric motor used on the front axle. Mercedes-Benz collaborates with Tesla Motor Company to produce the A-Class E-Cell vehicle.

    Acknowledgement: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

    2011 – Chevrolet produces the Chevy Volt

    Chevrolet produces the Chevy Volt hybrid for the US market.

    Acknowledgement: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

    2012 – Tesla releases new models

    With the end of production of the Tesla Roadstar, the Tesla Model S is released.

    Acknowledgement: Tim Draper/Steve Jurvetson, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

    2013 – Panamera S E-Hybrid released

    Porsche released the Panamera S E-Hybrid released.

    Acknowledgement: Motor Blog, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

    2014 – Multiple releases of electric and hybrid cars worldwide

    Around the world, there are multiple releases of electric and hybrid cars from BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Kia.

    Acknowledgement: Oregon Department of Transportation, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

    2015 – Increasing technology and demand see more electric vehicles produced

    The Tesla Model X is released, and more all-electric and hybrid models are released by Hyundai, Audi, Chevrolet, Volvo and Mercedes.

    Acknowledgement: Steve Jurvetson, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

    2016 – Technology is increasing at an exponential rate in this field

    An increase in consumer demand for more clean, green motoring and the competition for a share in an increasing electric vehicle (EV) market sees the planned release of many more EV and hybrid vehicles by most of the world’s car production companies.

    Acknowledgement: Yarruta, licensed through 123RF Ltd

    2018 – Electric bus trial

    Auckland Transport adds two electric buses to its fleet. In New Zealand, an electric bus has a carbon footprint that is only 10% that of a diesel bus. Other councils have also started adding electric buses to their bus fleet.

    Acknowledgement: Auckland Transport

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