Moon buggy, the most expensive EV in history

Flying cars are here: The future of EV transport

The history of electric vehicles goes back over 100 years. In this blog, we look at the history and future of EVs. If you want to read an overview of the ancient history of electric cars and some events leading to battery-fueled cars, skip down to 1831. Today, we bring you a reverse chronology of EV history. It begins in the future with flying cars. 

What is a flying car? It’s not easy to define. For example, is a helicopter a flying car? Is an unmanned drone a flying car?

EVTOL

Flying cars (or taxis or drones) can be classified as a subset of VTOL. They’re powered by electricity and called Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (EVTOL), 

VTOL is a subset of all aircraft but the difference is that VTOL craft don’t need a runway. 

For example, helicopters are VTOL and now there are EVTOL helicopters too. Electric helicopters!?!? The future of EVTOL is wide open, a big blue sky with a spectrum of players.

But flying cars (or personal helicopters) necessitate a new transportation framework with a globally integrated, low-altitude air traffic control.

UAM

Now let’s deploy another acronym, UAM, or urban air mobility. UAM is the system to transport people and cargo using flying cars, taxis, and buses. In the UAM, urban planners, public transportation advocates, and aviation and safety experts will design a regulated flight plan. They’ll account for commuters, cargo delivery, EMTs, first-responders, and more.

What would UAM solve? 

Maybe you’re thinking this is all far-fetched, like something out of a cartoon. 

Remember that EVTOLs can run cleaner than gas-fueled taxis. Cars, even self-driving cars, contribute to traffic congestion. Gas-powered cars contribute to carbon monoxide (and other forms of) pollution. And did you know tire rubber is one of the most pollutive threats to air- and waterways, and ultimately, the oceans? 

Concrete manufacturing is a huge contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. EVTOLs require less concrete for small heliports. They can run on-demand. Does this mean less-congested urban centers and cleaner public transit?

Interested in the big picture for UAM? Visit NASA’s advanced air mobility (AAM) page for more information.

Are EVTOLs the future of EVs? 

Our long long wait for flying cars is at an end. Tomorrow, you’ll commute like George or Jane Jetson, from your mod skyrise apartment to a new job at Spacely Sprockets.

How did we get here?

Some of the disruptive aspects of electric aviation are revealed in this talk by Willi Tacke. In 2019, he spoke at an electric aircraft symposium in Wisconsin.

This 2020 VFS webinar looks at strengthening the supply chain for EVTOL (with the American Composites Manufacturers Association).

How does UAM and EVTOL mass transit happen?

In a word, “AI.” Err, that’s two words, artificial intelligence. Construction and power companies utilize drones to perform inspections on hard-to-reach spots or vast stretches of power lines. Drone systems by Parallel Flight Technologies (PFT) are designed for disaster relief, critical healthcare delivery, firefighting, and industrial logistics.

PFT hosted a 2020 webinar about the intersection of AI and drones. UAM faces some unique challenges. Near the end, PFT founder Josh Resnick discusses UAM and “orbs,” the trending term for single-passenger, urban EVTOLs.

What else does EVTOL look like?

In 2018, Dezeen made this speculative documentary about drone technology. Many of the ideas still hold promise or are already in practice, including a section on drones for solar.

What’s holding EVTOL back?

  • Infrastructure isn’t in place. 
  • Pilot shortage: humans aren’t ready, AI and automated piloting isn’t either.
  • Standards and regulations are still being developed.

EVTOL today

Working backwards from the future to the present, let’s look at a few test flights for “up-and-coming” EVTOLs. Since lightweight, high-powered batteries came of age (read more about the battery boom of the last decade), EVTOL developers have increased their pace. 

Today, the Vertical Flight Society (VFS) catalogs over 400 EVTOL concepts from over 200 companies. To put this into perspective, in 2017, the directory listed only a dozen EVTOLs designs! They added more than 150 designs in 2020. 

There are several categories of flying cars in the VFS directory. 

  • Vectored Thrust is a type of eVTOL aircraft that uses any of its thrusters for lift and cruise.
  • “Lift and Cruise” aircraft use completely independent thrusters for cruise versus for lift but without any thrust vectoring.
  • Wingless Multicopters have no thrusters for cruise, only for lift.
  • Hover Bikes and personal flying devices are eVTOL aircraft differentiated by the pilot’s position on a saddle, standing, or similar. All are multicopter-type wingless configurations.
  • Electric Rotorcraft is a class of eVTOL aircraft that utilizes a rotor, such as an electric helicopter or electric autogyro.

Want to see a thumbnail of each flying car before you click? Transport Up (a competing aerial mobility news site) has an illustrated directory of its own called The Hangar

Evtol
Top: Wright Brothers airplane Model B. Bottom: The Rolls Royce EVTOL

Rolls Royce plans to roll out a hybrid EVTOL by 2023.



SkyDrive demonstrated its SD-03 EVTOL last year.

Imagine. What if you didn’t have to drive to the store? Maybe you’ll call on an unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

Bell’s UAS is an autonomous pod transport. The APT 70 Cargo Drone can carry up to 70 pounds. It has a range of 35 miles and a 115 mph top speed.

EV Eye Candy

Are you in the market for a more down-to-earth car? This database lets you compare EVs by price, range, make, or body style.

EV costs are fast approaching standard gas-powered car costs. If you’re shopping, try our sister company, VERV Auto, MOXIE’s used EV dealership. 

First, let’s look at a car that might not need to refuel. With this 3-wheeler, you can go 1,000 miles on a single charge.


It’s a solar car from Aptera, called a “never charge” auto. 180 solar cells are embedded in the body of this car to refuel while you’re driving or parked at work.

In fact, Aptera claims it’s possible to “fuel” once, use daily, and never plug in for a charge. If you need a charge, it’s compatible with standard 100 or 220 volt. Or charge it at Level 2 and DC Fast Charge stations. 

The company has over $100 million in pre-orders. Aptera plans to roll the first solar cars off the line in late 2021 or early 2022.

Another manufacturer, Fisker, has a car with a solar roof that’s set to challenge Tesla’s Model Y. The Fisker Ocean is an electric SUV that can go 300 miles on a charge. A production version of the Ocean electric will premiere at the Los Angeles Auto Show in May 2021. Take a sneak peek here:

In Dec. 2020, Freakonomics invited General Motors CEO Mary Barra on their podcast to discuss GM’s recently announced plan to electrify its entire fleet. GM plans to introduce 30 electric models by 2025.

Another automaker going hard in the EV game is VW, which will introduce the ID4 in early 2021. BMW, Toyota, Nissan, and Chrysler are also investing heavily in EV development.

Did you know electric vehicles (EVs) have been around as long as gas guzzlers? 

Today, we might say gas cars still hold the crown. But the leader of the pack wasn’t always a fossil-fuel driven car.

For example, in the late 1800s electric vehicles held the land speed record for about a decade. Then in 1902, a 60hp combustible-engine car rode 122 km/h (75.8 mph). EVs never quite caught up again, until today.

Nikolai Tesla, Ferdinand Porsche, Henry Ford

Three names continue to resonate through the long history of EVs.

During the infancy of EV, big names like Ford, Porsche, and Tesla made their first impact. EVs and internal combustible engine cars grew in parallel, sometimes leapfrogging with common advances.

Ferdinand Porsche developed the first electric-gas hybrid car in 1898!

Nikolai Tesla, the famed Serbian-American inventor and electrical engineer, is the namesake of the hottest company on the planet. When Tesla attended the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, he probably rode in an early EV. A fleet of Morrison 4WD EVs were used on the fairgrounds to chauffeur guests and dignitaries.

Henry Ford even considered pursuing a line of EV cars before the Model T. But Thomas Edison (another early electric influencer) advised him to put gasoline engines into the famous Model T. 

Can you believe it?

Starting in 1908, Henry Ford purchased a few early electric cars!

Is history repeating itself?

The 2021 Ford Mach-E Mustang just won a slew of awards:

  • Utility of the Year – NACTOY
  • Green Car of the Year – Green Car Journal
  • Edmunds Top Rated Luxury EV – Edmunds
  • Best Car, Best Electric Car, & Best Crossover to Buy – The Car Connection
    and
  • Best Car to Buy – Green Car Reports

Ford plans to roll out an all-electric F-150 truck for 2022.

A team driving a Porsche Taycan 4S broke the EV Cannonball Run Record in Dec. 2020. The Taycan beat the previous record held by a Tesla Model 3.

The Taycan went 51 minutes faster in the illegal, cross-country endurance race.

To its credit, the company named after the influential inventor has its own record of achievement. $Tesla, the company, currently has a larger valuation than GM, Ford, and Chrysler combined, near $1 trillion. There are literally dozens of EV news and reviews websites, YouTube channels, Tesla stans, and podcasts. MOXIE looked at a few last year.

What’s holding back the EV industry? 

One is battery supply and the punch of a power pack, i.e. how far can you go. Not every car is an Aptera, with solar built in. Although EVs don’t need spark plugs or oil changes, every car needs a battery. EVs need powerful battery packs.

Ex-Tesla co-founder JB Straubel started a new company focused on recovering lithium, nickel, copper, and cobalt from batteries. His company, Redwood Materials, launched a factory for battery recycling. Redwood sidesteps the resource-intensive (and dirty) extraction process of mining lithium and other precious metals for battery manufacture.

Most expensive EV

What’s the most expensive electric car ever? You’d have to go back to the early 1970s to drive the most expensive EV ever built. 

Moon buggy, the most expensive EV in history

You’d also have to go to the moon!

The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) was initially bid for design by Boeing at $19M, but ended up costing double that. Boeing built four for Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions.  NASA kept one for spare parts after the Apollo program ended. The first lunar test drive took place on the Apollo 15 mission on July 31, 1971. Together, the three Moon buggies only traveled 56 miles, about $678K per mile!

Now let’s look back at some of the precursors of the modern EV. 

In ancient EV times, cars loaded with lead-acid batteries ran simple electric motors. Usually, they had no windshield either!

"La Jamais Contente"
“La Jamais Contente” the first automobile to reach 100 km/h

Early EV history: 1831-1908

First, a micro-history of electricity and energy storage. A math professor in Albany, NY built the first electric motor in 1831. In 1854, a rechargeable battery pack was invented by Wilhelm Sinsteden. It used sulfuric acid and lead-oxide. By 1860, Gaston Raimond Planté improved it and produced the first commercially viable battery.

Thomas Edison’s lightbulb, patented in 1880, was an inspired invention. How is the lightbulb connected to the electric car? 

Incandescent lighting was the motivation for electrification and utility power. Today’s EV charging stations and grid-based electricity are based on this infrastructure.

In 1881, Charles Jeantaud built a battery electric vehicle in France. Made from a Tilbury style buggy, the early EV had a Gramme motor and a Fulmen battery. He tinkered for 12 years with help from Camille Alphonse Faure. They installed a British motor in 1887, and a Swiss motor with a tubular plate battery in 1893. From 1893 to 1906, Jeantaud cars were manufactured in Paris.

In 1890, William Morrison built the first four-wheel-drive electric road vehicle.

At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, several cars were on display, including an electric taxicab. But Morrison’s 4WD was the only car used to deliver important guests around the grounds. 

Did you know?

In August 1893, Nikolai Tesla, namesake of the famous car company, attended the Chicago World’s Fair. Tesla probably rode in a Morrison EV!

In 1895, the Electrobat II, designed by Henry Morris and Pedro Salom, entered the first car race in the US. Racing against the Morrison and others, the distance and cool weather put a gas-powered car by the Duryea Brothers in the winner’s circle. The Duryeas built the first successful gas-powered car in the US.

A year later, the Electrobat II and another electric car by Andrew Riker bested the Duryeas in a five-mile sprint.

In New York City, a version of the Electrobat was used in a short-lived cab fleet in 1897.

The 1899 Jeantaud model ran on a 36 horsepower (26.8 kilowatt) electric engine. The top speed was almost 50 mph. The Jeantaud eclipsed the record set by Belgian rival Camille Jenatzy in his GCA Dogcart. Jenatzy was the first to break 100 kilometers per hour (km/h). The son of a rubber trader, he was also the first to implement inflatable tires instead of solid rubber ones.

Dueling electric cars set records back and forth for a few years. Then a gas-powered 60hp car from the US went 122 km/h in 1902. It was the first internal-combustion engine to hold a land speed record.

Porsche Hybrid

During this time, Ferdinand Porsche began working on the first gas-electric hybrid vehicle. Over 300 Lohner-Porsche hybrids sold from 1898 to 1906.

In 1902, Walter Baker produced the two-seater Torpedo and the Torpedo Kid, a solo ride. Baker was less interested in speed than efficiency. The Torpedo had a 12hp engine but the Kid was just 1.5hp.

After the bank panic of 1907, the electric fleet in New York City lost financial backing. Gas cabs introduced in 1908 superseded electrics. By 1910, electric cabs were no longer running.

In 1908, before he sold his first Model T Ford, Henry Ford bought the first of several Detroit Electric cars for his family. 

The explosive combustibility of gasoline engines surpassed electric cars. Following WWI, the 1918-20 pandemic, and a postwar recession, EV production slowed. Most automakers stayed out of the electric vehicle game. Internal combustion cars kept growing in popularity and few electric advances were made for decades.

What do you think?

Are you looking at an EV? What will it take to make the switch to an electric car?

What do you think about flying cars and EVTOLs?

Join the discussion on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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