Electric range wasn’t as impressive back then.
The power of electric engines was mostly the same as a subcompact car.
Other small companies did sell some EVs in the past, but these showcased prototypes/ concepts or production cars are all from well-known auto manufacturers.
The auto industry is switching to electric propulsion, it’s inevitable! Since the end of the first decade of the 21st century, electric cars have started to appear on a larger scale, but we should not forget that long before this upsurge in alternative energy, manufacturers were interested in electron-powered cars.
In fact, we have just listed no less than a dozen projects and/or functional prototypes that were developed by mainstream manufacturers. This proves that the electric dream existed long before the arrival of the first Tesla Roadster in 2008.
1972 BMW 1602 Elektro-Antrieb
The Bavarian automaker was one of the first – in this century – to invest heavily in electric power with the i3 city car and the exotic i8 plug-in hybrid, but already in the early 1970s, BMW was working on an electric option implemented in its popular car of the time, the 02 Series. The power of the only electric motor on board reached 43 horsepower and the range between recharges was about 30 km. This electric car concept entered the automotive arena during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
1966 Chevrolet Electrovair II concept
Based on the revised version of the Chevrolet Corvair of the time, this idea of the American giant was already the second version of the concept, the first having been unveiled two years earlier in 1964. The Corvair was the lightest car in the lineup, as well as having a completely different architecture than the other members of the Chevrolet family. The Corvair mimicked the Volkswagen Beetle with a rear-mounted engine. Engineers decided to replace the 6-cylinder flat engine with an electric motor with the batteries installed in the frunk. The Electrovair II still had a 115 horsepower engine with an estimated range of 80 km.
1967 Ford Comuta Concept
Clearly, the European continent was the territory targeted by this tiny city car. Ford’s Comuta design study was designed for daily “commuting” to and from work and nothing else! The possible distance on a single charge was about 64 km (while you had to make sure the top speed was kept under 40 km/h), while a pair of small electric motors made the power oscillate to a total of… 10 horses!
1996-1999 GM EV1
This is surely the most famous electric car that preceded the modern wave of EVs. The General Motors EV1 did reach the market, but only in a few municipalities in the southern United States and a few states of course, including California, Arizona, and Georgia. The two-seater cars were available exclusively with a lease, which allowed the manufacturer to repatriate the vast majority of these EV1 units when leases ended at the end of the last century. The power of the little electric car was very respectable with 137 horsepower and an estimated possible range of 127 km.
1997-1999 Honda EV Plus
During the same period as the GM EV1, Honda also tried its luck with the EV Plus, another city car with an elevated design. Thanks to its NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) batteries, the announced autonomy was 180 km in optimal conditions, but in California, where the car was available through a lease, this kind of distance was possible. The exorbitant price – for such a small car – didn’t help and the project was shelved, ironically, the same year as the arrival of the first hybrid of the brand. You remember the Honda Insight, right?
1991 Hyundai Sonata EV
Today, Hyundai is certainly one of the biggest players in this electric offensive, but just a few years ago, the term “electric vehicle” simply didn’t exist within the Korean giant’s brands, except for a few hybrid models here and there. However, in the early 90s, Hyundai had developed this study of a pure electric sedan based on the first generation Sonata. The possible range was 70 km and the top speed was 59 km/h. Like many experimental electric cars of its time, the Sonata EV was powered by lead-acid batteries.
1991 Mazda MX-5 EV
For a brand that has been reluctant to get involved in the electric movement of recent decades, Mazda was already involved in the technology race in another era. The MX-5 roadster had barely been unveiled when engineers were busy finding alternative powertrain solutions. In fact, there was even a hydrogen-powered option during the same period.
Ironically, the next generation of the iconic convertible will be a hybrid, while the one after that will be fully electric.
1990 Mercedes-Benz 190 Elektro-Antrieb Prototype
The ancestor of the modern C-Class, the Mercedes-Benz 190 Series, certainly paved the way for its successor, but it also broke new ground with the idea of pairing one of the best chassis of its time with an electric powertrain. In fact, the manufacturer developed a few prototypes to test different configurations. One of them used a pair of electric motors (one per wheel) mounted on the rear axle to keep the original architecture, which gave the sedan 44 horsepower.
1998-2002 Nissan Altra EV
The producer of the Nissan Leaf – and of the long-awaited Ariya utility vehicle – is part of the history of the electric car in the 21st century, thanks in part to the Leaf city car. But, we should not forget the Altra EV utility vehicle marketed between 1998 and 2002. According to Nissan, the Altra EV is the first production EV to be powered by lithium-ion batteries. The Altra EV was an electrified version of the R’nessa minivan sold in Japan. It had a range of about 193 km (in city driving only) and a top speed of 120 km/h.
1997-2003 Toyota RAV4 EV
If, in 2022, the Toyota RAV4 is THE most sold vehicle north of the US boarder (if we exclude full-size pickups of course), it hasn’t always been the case. In fact, as early as the first generation of the compact SUV, the brand’s engineers were already toying with the idea of producing a purely electric version of the little 4×4. The first RAV4 EV will be marketed on a small scale in California and elsewhere in the U.S., while the second version of the RAV4 EV (2012-2014), based on the third generation of the SUV, was also sold in small quantities when the electric boom was just beginning. In fact, this second generation of the vehicle even benefited from the expertise of Panasonic and Tesla Motors.
1978 Volkswagen Type 2 Elektro
The Wolfsburg-based manufacturer is seen as the other big player in this electrification of the automobile, a movement that is not new to Volkswagen. Indeed, as early as the 1970s, the carmaker began researching a powertrain of the future. The popular belief in West Germany was that the world’s oil reserves would run out during the 1990s, which is why an alternative had to be found. The range was about 70 km and could be recharged via a 220-volt household socket.
1976 Volvo Elbil Concept
The Swedish manufacturer is not a division with as many resources as others, but with Geely in the background, Volvo can now aim for an electric future, a future that started in the late 1970s, if this rather simplistically shaped Elbil concept is anything to go by. Seating four passengers (or two in a cargo version), the squarely designed Volvo was clearly intended for urban use. Its top speed was 70 km/h and it took 10 hours to recharge for two hours of driving.