It's Time for America to Run With an Idea Popular in 1905 -- The Electric Car

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Published February 14, 2011

| FoxNews.com

President Obama's latest budget supports putting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015. The plan, however, could just as well been hatched by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Believe it or not, electric and hybrid cars were available for sale in America as early as 1905. Since that time, little has changed in the performance and availability of electric and hybrid cars.

Electric-powered cars in the early 1900s outsold all other types of cars, including gasoline and steam engine vehicles. Consumers loved them because they lacked the vibration, smell and noise of gasoline-powered cars. Another advantages electric had over gasoline-powered vehicles was there were no gears to change while driving. These are the same arguments being made today for development, production and sale of electric and hybrid cars. 

Here is a brief history of electric and hybrid cars that may shock you: 

Woods Electric: In the early 1900s, Woods Electric, a Chicago-based motor vehicle company was founded. Woods offered two models, both operated by twin electric motors running off a 40-cell battery. 

In 1911, Woods Electric developed and manufactured a hybrid coupe that operated off a four-cylinder internal combustion engine as well as electric power. Below 15 mph the car was operated by electric power and, when above that speed, the conventional gasoline engine would kick in. 

Fritchle Electric: In the late 1800s, a young chemical engineer, Oliver P. Fritchle from Denver began experimenting with storage properties. By 1905 Fritchle Electric began manufacturing electric cars. In 1908, Fritchle gained national attention when he traveled from Lincoln, Neb., to New York City, averaging more than 100 miles on a single charge. In 1916, Fritchle, in competition with Woods Electric, offered a gas/electric hybrid vehicle. 

Today, with gasoline prices soaring, there is a call for alternative, clean and affordable electric and hybrid vehicles -- and so they are now being resurrected. 

America, through General Motors, is breathing life back into electric/gasoline hybrid with the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt. This is what Chevy brags about its “new” technology: 

“The Volt battery has gone through numerous environment-specific tests, including corrosion and hot- and cold-weather testing, and the results were so promising that the 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is backed by an 100,000-mile/8-year warranty."

Here are a few more notes on the battery: 

* Just plug it in to charge the battery, and most people can commute gas-free and tailpipe emissions-free for about $1.50 of electricity per day. 

* A small, quiet onboard gas generator creates electricity that powers your Volt as you drive for hundreds of miles on battery and gas power. 

* Lithium-ion cells outperform nickel metal hydride cells (found in today's hybrids) in terms of life cycle. 

* A liquid thermal cooling and heating system keeps the battery at a comfortable temperature as it's being charged and discharged. 

Here are a few more advantages: 

* Can be set to charge during off-peak hours for greater savings. 

* Your Volt will be fully charged in about 10 hours, depending on climate, with standard 120-volt line, or as little as 4 hours using a dedicated 240-volt line. 

Innovation everywhere, Volt offers the performance and forward thinking you've come to expect from Chevrolet. 

Take a look: 

* Instant, smooth and seamless torque right at the wheels. 

* Regenerative braking captures the energy from forward motion that would otherwise be lost when the car slows or stops and then converts it into electricity, helping to make the Volt even more efficient to drive. 

* When running on electricity, the Volt can reach a top speed of 100 mph in near silence. Free of the typical noise of the internal combustion engine, the Volt offers a quieter, more relaxing ride at any speed.” 

These are the same basic advantages that were touted by American car companies in the early 1900s. But, while electric and hybrid technologies never realized their full potential for efficiency and improvement, neither has the combustion engine. 

By 1896, an American inventor and automobile pioneer named Henry Ford built his first horseless carriage. In 1903, Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company. He saw that this new invention of moving people by engine had the potential to revolutionize America and the world. He knew that an affordable people mover that most Americans could afford and was able to be powered by cheap and abundant fuel would create a new and vast market almost overnight. Henry Ford’s application of the assembly line process of car building was as revolutionary as the invention of the internal combustion engine itself. By 1914, the assembly of a Model T was so effective that it took a mere 93 minutes to build a car. 

The irony is that if Henry Ford were alive today and went to any local Ford dealer, or any other car maker for that matter, and popped the hood of any gasoline powered car, he would be shocked, amazed -- and disappointed. He would be shocked and amazed at the computerized advancements to the gizmos and gadgets to the enhancement of the driving experience, and he would be disappointed that little has changed in the 170 years or so since the invention of the internal combustion engine he manufactured. 

What’s old is new again is not acceptable. The next great advancement in the operation of the automobile is long overdue. 

The country that can develop the next generation to clean and affordable people moving will not only change the world, but will prosper like no other. 

The greatness of America has always been our ingenuity and our ability to invent not just for ourselves, but for everyone else, as well. 

America must continue to lead, and today the need is to lead in the development and production of a clean and affordable energy and products. 

The goal of clean and affordable energy is not partisan, it is American. 

Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University.

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