It may surprise some that the use of electric energy to propel cars is both current and old. Auto historians have documented how electric cars—prototype and experimental—have been in existence as early as the 1830s, and street-legal electric cars were being used by the public, sold by an Englishman named Thomas Parker in 1884 and 1885.
According to Michael Boxwell, author of “The Electric Car Guide: Nissan Leaf,” by the end of the 19th century, electric cars were on sale from a number of manufacturers across the United States and Europe.
Many cities had publicly-accessible charging points, and electric cars were popular as taxicabs and doctors’ cars.
Electric cars had a reputation for reliability, quietness and ease of use.
“Yet, they were also heavy and expensive to produce. As petroleum became more easily available and internal combustion engines became more reliable and more powerful, the vastly cheaper internal combustion engine car achieved dominance. The electro car faded from the picture, and, by the end of the First World War, electro cars had almost completely disappeared,” Boxwell wrote.
Nissan brings EV back
However, in post-World War 2 Japan, when oil was scarce but electric power plentiful, the stirrings of an electric vehicle resurgence began when the 1947 Tama EV was released by Tokyo Electro Automobile Co, the predecessor company of Prince Motors, which eventually merged with Nissan in 1966.
According to the global headquarters of Nissan Motor Corp. in Kanagawa Prefecture in Yokohama, Takashima, Japan, there was a period immediately after the war when the government promoted the manufacture of EVs. As a result, the Tama, and subsequently, the Prairie, was introduced.
In performance tests conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Tama bettered its catalog specifications with a cruising range of over 96 km and a top speed of 35.2 kph. It was used as a taxi and in similar roles until 1950.
The Nissan “electric tree” that started to be nurtured in the 1940s began to grow and sprout branches.
In 1992, Nissan and Sony Corp. agreed on a joint research and development project of the lithium-ion (li-ion) battery.
In 1997, the Prairie Joy EV became the first commercially available EV powered by a li-ion battery.
In the same year, at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Hypermini, a compact 2-seater city commuter EV, was unveiled. The Hypermini was released commercially in February 2000.
Soon after, another li-ion-powered EV, the R’Nessa EV, or the Altra EV as it was named in the United States, was released.
The tech-packed R’Nessa EV eventually led to the development of the 2010 Nissan Leaf.
In 2008, the Cube rolled out, and was intended as an experimental EV and a unique driving experience for automotive media and journalists. The Tiida EV was a platform test for the 2010 Nissan Leaf ZE0.
By the time the Nissan Leaf spread out across the globe to become the planet’s best-selling EV, it was but the mere crowning “treetop” propped up by decades of dedicated research and development.
And it all started when fossil fuels went scarce, and the carmaker refused to flick the “off” switch on EVs.
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