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Electric Cars Come Back to Life

On just the battery, Lohner-Porsche's 1899 electric hybrid car reportedly could travel 40 miles, an impressive figure even by today's standards.

Published: 25-Jan-2007

Automotive historians must be intrigued and amused at the current furor over electric vehicles, partly inspired by the Chevrolet Volt concept unveiled at the Detroit show.

A century ago, the electric car was all the rage and seen by many in the then embryonic auto industry as the most logical and best powertrain choice for the future. At the same time 'hybrid' vehicles of all conceivable configurations were being developed or proposed. One of the most famous examples was built around 1900 by none other than a young Ferdinand Porsche. His Lohner-Porsche electric car had its battery charged by a gasoline engine. On just the battery, Porsche's car reportedly could travel 40 miles, an impressive figure even by today's standards. The machine also used wheel hub electric motors, a technology employed today in state of the art hydrogen fuel cell concept vehicles such as General Motors' Chevrolet Sequel and the Honda FCX.

Another relatively successful proponent of the electric car, Colonel Albert Pope, railed against the internal combustion engine vehicle, saying "you can't get people to sit over an explosion." Pope had produced 500 electric cars by 1897 and forged ahead despite mounting evidence that gasoline fueled vehicles were a more promising avenue of development. In 1903, Pope's company advert read "electrics will appeal to any one interested in an absolutely noiseless, odorless, clean and stylish rig that is always ready and that, mile for mile, can be operated at less cost than any other type of motor car." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

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