New York City in 1913.
Early 1800s Steam train travel becomes popular.
1850s Americans begin installing streetcar tracks. Street cars are steam-powered.
1859 Gaston Plante invents the lead-acid battery, though not specifically for transportation applications.
1880 Camille Faure improves Plante’s battery by developing the grid-plate battery in 1880, leading to use with motor power.
1880 Several inventors and companies begin to produce basic automobiles powered by steam, gasoline, electricity, compressed air, hydraulics, levers, and anything else on hand both in the United States and Europe, though Europe is more advanced initially.
1881 First experiments using grid-plate batteries to power a “converted horse streetcar,” conducted by Nicole-Jules Raffard.
1881 Charles Jeantaud begins working with Camille Faure to build an electric propulsion system, which they test with several motors over the next decade.
1885 First practical automobile, a gasoline-powered machine, is in production in Europe: the one-cylinder, three-wheeler Benz.
1890 There are 64 battery-powered streetcars in Europe, a small proportion of the total fleet.
1891 William Morrison builds the first electric automobile in the United States.
1897 The Electric Vehicle Company begins producing Electrobat electric taxicabs in New York, the first commercially-produced electric vehicles
1890 The Lohner-Porsche hybrid electric car is presented at the Paris Exposition. This hybrid electric used both gasoline and a battery, not regenerative braking.
1900 In the United States, 4,192 cars are produced this year: 1,681 steam cars, 1,575 electric, and only 936 gasoline cars, according to the U.S. Census. Statistics may be unrepresentative because of the number of electric taxis sold.
1900-1920 Many makes and models of electric, gasoline, and hybrid electric vehicles become commercially available in the United States.
1904 More than a third of all vehicles in New York, Boston, and Chicago are electric.
1908 Henry Ford rolls out the Model T, a gas-powered car that was mass produced, initially offering the car at $850 and serially reducing the price until it reached $265 by 1923.
1912 Charles Kettering invents first practical electric starter, eliminating an advantage that electric cars held over gasoline cars.
1929 Electric car fails to compete and fades out of popularity; they’re charged higher fees for their higher weight (due to batteries), they are limited to shorter distances with few charging stations, are not as powerful. At the same time the electric starter and cheap gasoline made gas cars more desirable.
1933-1945 A second, small wave of interest in electric cars begins in England and Europe, spurred by gas rationing and World War II. German, French, and Dutch automakers produced a handful of electric vehicles. Small number of European automakers produce electric cars for transport during gasoline rationing
1949-1951 Tama Electric Motorcar Company of Tokyo sells a small electric car during Japanese gasoline shortage. However, when gas becomes available again, the electric car is discontinued.
1951-1953 The Symetric, a hybrid electric car, is made in France in the mid-1950s using plastic in the body.
1960s Experiments in electric car include a small fiberglass three-wheeler and a hybrid electric car with a nickel-cadmium battery, as well as the more popular Enfield 8000 from England. Even so, only 106 Enfields were built. Ford builds an electric car, the Comuta.
1966 First U.S. bills recommending electric vehicles.
1970 Passing of California’s Clean Air Act signifies a new era where the state takes control of its own air quality standards
1970s Throughout the 70s several more electric vehicles that are designed, though not widely sold, including the AMC Electrosport, the Sebring Vanguard Citicar and the Elcar 2000. Nissan makes the EV4P with lead-acid and zinc-air batteries, while Marathon Electric Car Company of Canada makes hundreds of C-360 vans, with six wheels and a foam-core aluminum body.
1972 Victor Wouk constructs a hybrid from 1972 Buick Skylark for Federal Clean Car Incentive Program, which is subsequently killed four years later.
1990 California passes the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate in California, ordering that 2% of all cars sold in the state be zero emissions by ’98. The requirement extended to 5% by 2001, and 10% by 2003.
1990 General Motors introduces electric prototype car, the unfortunately-named Impact.
1990 There are 41 Stage I smog alerts in California or Los Angeles
1990 Ford produces the Ecostar electric utility van with regenerative braking.
1993 Toyota begins developing the Prius hybrid car, which can’t be plugged in but uses a battery to capitalize on regenerative braking.
1996 Electric cars hit California roads at the same time that the Sport Utility Vehicle begins gaining popularity
1996 The EV1 electric car from General Motors becomes available, but only by lease, not for purchase. It uses plastic body panels supported with aluminum, low drag, and is offered for lease only.
1996 By this time, the nickel metal-hydride battery has been developed to be large enough for a car, and this technology is used in many hybrid cars sold today.
1997 Toyota unveils the Prius hybrid car and begins sales in Japan.
1999 Honda Insight hybrid car arrives in United States.
1999 Toyota Prius arrives in California.
2001 General Motors sues the California Air Resources Board for the electric car sales quota. Other automakers join the suit against California regulators.
2000 California’s AB 2076 requires state agencies to set goals to reduce petroleum consumption.
2002 CA passes Assembly Bill 1493, regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
2003 The new model Prius released and becomes fashion statement.
2003 Various pressures kill the California electric car mandate, and automakers begin pulling their electric vehicles off the road, in some cases crushing or shredding the cars.
2004 By this time, there is only one General Motors EV1 left on the roads.
2005 California’s AB 1007 establishes statewide alternative fuels plan, reduce petroleum consumption by 15% by 2020.
2006 California passes Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32, which sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved by 2020.
2006 By this time almost all the electric vehicles on the road in California are gone.
2009 According to SB 17, the California Public Utilities Commission must develop smart grid deployment plan to integrate PEV technology, or plug-in electric technology.
2010 Nissan delivers the first U.S. customer the Leaf, an electric car with 100 mile range, a lithium-ion battery, and regenerative braking.
2011 The Tesla Roadster electric sports car is offered. It has a range of 245 miles but costs over $100,000.
2011 By this time, hybrids vehicles are available from Honda, GM, BMW, Ford, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Lincoln, Lexus, GMC, Hyundai, Kia, Cadillac, Porsche, Volkswagon and Ford. Electric-only cars are available from Nissan and Tesla, as well as many neighborhood electric brands.
2011 California Energy Commission gives out millions of dollars to studying plug-in electric vehicles and energy storage.
2015 Date by which all major auto-makers have announced to produce plug-in electric vehicles, which allow “hybrid” cars with regenerative braking to be charged by plugging them in.
Click here to return to simpler timeline.
Anderson, Curtis D. and Anderson, Judy. Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2005.
Mom, Gijs. The Electric Vehicle. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Taylor, Alex. “Toyota: the Birth of the Prius.” Fortune Magazine, February 21, 2006.
“Take Charge: Establishing California’s Leadership in the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Marketplace.” California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative
Pollack, Andrew. “General Motors Sues California Over Quota for Electric Car Sales.” The New York Times, February 24, 2001.
“Investment Plan for the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program,” California Energy Commission, April 2009.
DRIVE California’s Alternative & Renewable Fuel & Vehicle Technology Program.
Who Killed the Electric Car, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, November 14, 2006.
U.S. Energy Information Administration