The “First Generation” of Electrics

Electric cars were pretty much unheard of outside the rare experimental car or the concept car. No one had any use for the damn things. The economy back in the mid 2000s was pretty nice and gas was cheap. I vaguely remember fuel prices being in the $1-2 range and that really stopped people from talking about alternative fuel; there simply wasn’t any economical reason for the consumer to want to switch fuels. The same was true for the automakers who made most of their profits from large SUVs and trucks. There wasn’t any reason to invest in electric cars. Electric car technology back then was still in its infancy whereas the internal gasoline combustion engine had been improved upon for decades. The big automakers knew how to make a gas engine, had little experience with electrics, and combined with consumers paying little money for gasoline there was no incentive to switch.

Then the 2008/2009 Great Recession happened. Take a look at this chart from gasbuddy.com.

Gas Prices 2008-2018

As you can see gas prices skyrocketed in 2008 to a high over $4.00 per gallon before collapsing back down to pre-2008 prices. They then went back up to the upper $3.00 per gallon range between 2010 and 2014. Combined with the recession this shocked both consumers and automakers. The automakers were caught off guard by the sudden falling demand for larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, and many of them went out of business, merged with other companies, or were bailed out by the government. Saturn and Pontiac brands were discontinued around 2010 and Dodge/Chrysler were bought out by Fiat. That is only a tiny snapshot of the chaos that the recession caused in the auto industry.

One thing took place during this era though and that was renewed interest in the electric vehicle. Large, gas-guzzling vehicles suddenly became unpopular and small vehicles experienced a surge in demand. I vaguely remember stories of how the mighty Geo Metro experienced a surge in demand because of its legendary fuel economy. Electric vehicles also experienced some renewed interest and couple with a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for purchasing a new electric vehicle automakers seemed to think about electric vehicles in a new way. There was incentive for people to purchase them (although still small) and mandates by the government to produce the cars.

Popular electric vehicles started to appear in the early 2010s with the Nissan Leaf being sold in 2010. The Leaf is popularly known to be the most popular electric car to date with 300,000 being sold as of January 2018. The Chevy Volt, an electric car with a supplemental gasoline engine to extend range, was offered starting with a 2011 model. The Chevy Volt is also a fairly popular car. The Tesla Model S, a luxury electric car, was introduced in 2012 and the Ford Focus Electric (the car I ended up with) is a lesser well-known electric car was offered beginning in 2011. There are many more models but I stuck more to the popular models in United States. As you can see these “first generation” electric cars all came about around and after 2010, most likely somewhat due to the economic conditions of the Great Recession although certain other factors were at play.

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