The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (2023)

WhenGerman automaker Porsche was preparing to release its first electric vehicle (EV)in 2019, executives metwitha roomful of historianstotest a slogan idea: "The world's first electric Porsche."

From the end of the longtable, there came a chuckling noise.

Heads turned to stare.

"That won't work," said Guido Eickholz,the director of the archive of the German auto-parts manufacturer, Reutter.

"It's not the first electric Porsche. There's been one done years ago and it's sitting in a factory in Melbourne."

How this carcame to be the world's first electric Porsche —andendup in Melbourne —is a story about tinkering, racing, restoration, obsession, and the mostly forgotten history of early EVs.

Long before today's sleek designs there were dozens of prototypes, some familiar-looking, others truly bizarre.

It's also a story about what could have been: aglimpse of analternate history in which something like today's EVs arrived years earlier.

From top-seller to sideshow curiosity

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (1)

At the turn of the 20th century, when the Eiffel Tower was a modern eyesore, an exciting new technology appeared: EVs.

"Electric carriages"had similar selling points to today's EVs: quiet, cheap to run, and suited to nipping about the city.

"Electric vehicles were popular at the end of the 19th century," said Tim Minchin, a professor of history at La Trobe University.

"They were outselling internal combustion engines."

But the internal combustion engine improved, petrol flowed, and the 20th century vanished in a cloud of exhaust smoke.

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (2)

Fast-forward to 1953, when ablue Porsche 356 rolled off the production line in Stuttgart, Germany.

At the time, number50058was no different to the other petrol-engine 356s.

A sportier version of the Volkswagen Beetle, the 356 wasa great success. Number50058 was shipped off to America.

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There, in the late '50s,the Porsche was converted to electric-drive.

Our knowledge of why and how his happened, and who did it, would have been lostbut for the detective work of aPorsche 356 aficionado.

Now based in Canberra, Andreas Luzzi first heard of the car in 1980s California.

Back then, it was known only by rumour as the "electric Porsche".

Tracking down the car's owner

Andreas set about confirming the rumour.

Having grown up in Switzerland in the 1970s, steeped in ideas of sustainability and conservation, Andreaswas fascinated by the idea of an electric Porsche.

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (3)

Slowly, he pieced together more clues.

"Through the [vintage Porsche] circles it was known that General Electric had developed a complete electric drive train for one of these early vehicles."

Next, he learntthe name of the General Electric employee that had supervised the conversion: Hal Olson.

By this point, 20 years had passed since Andreas first heard of the car. It was now the early noughties.

Andreas trackedHal down. He was nearing 80 and retired, but happy to talk.

He no longer had the car, but he knew where to find it.

The 'Quiet Porsche' project

Over a series of long-distance phone calls and emails with Andreas,Hal told the story of converting the car.

In the late 1950s, as the manager of a special design facility at GE, Halwas tasked with developing electric drives for postal delivery vans to be used around the country.

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (4)

At the time,electric cars were back invogue. The Henney Kilowatt, capable of travelling an hour on a single charge, was released in 1959. Quiet-running battery-powered trucks were being usedfor early-morning milk deliveries. And Japan had an electric taxi service.

"The conversion wasn't a hobby—it was a General Electric contract," Andreas said.

"Halwas chargedto find a way to develop electricdrives for the postal delivery vans that the US postal system wanted to implement in those years."

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Heneeded a simple, lightweight, aerodynamic car, and the Porsche 356 fitthe bill.

So he bought onesecond-hand, number 50058, and nicknamed the project QP—short for "Quiet Porsche".

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (5)

He stripped out theengine and fuel system and installed a small DC motor along with lead-acid batteries in the front and back.

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (6)

The car had a top speed of about 90 kilometres per hour, Hal told Andreas.

Running costs werelow: a mile of travel consumed less than one cent's worth of electricity.

But then, disappointment: the postal service withdrew from the project.

"Theygave him a no-go and decided against doing electric drives," Andreas said.

"Halwas a bit frustrated, he told me, but also inspired."

For the next 15 years, until 1975, Hal drove the electric Porschehimself.

"It would be out every day, every weather in Pennsylvania."

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (7)

The average EVs of the '70s and '80s

After Hal stopped driving the car, it sat in storage. Meanwhile,the fortunes of EVswaxed and waned.

In 1973, an embargoby oil-producing countries triggered an energy crisis.The oil price spiked, and inflation soared. Long queues of vehicles formed atservice stations that had run dry. Petrol was rationed.

As petrol prices rose, so did interest in EVs.

US lawmakers passed legislation to develop electric and hybrid vehicles, whilecar makers hurriedly rolled out EV options. Some were conversions of petrol-enginemodels. Others were glorified golf carts. The 1974 CitiCarhad a top speed of 40kph and a range of 65 kilometres. The 1977 Chevrolet Electrovette could go 80km when cruising at 50kph.

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (8)


But, as these figures suggest,EVs were still being held back by under-powered batteries.

This was evidentin 1996, when theUS car-maker GM rolled out the product of years of work:the first purpose-built EV of the modern era.

For reasons that are still hotly debated, the EV—called the Impact (or EV-1)—wasn't the success that had been anticipated.

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (9)

A peek under the bonnet gave onereason: it hadlead-acid batteries —thetype Hal Olson had used in the 1950s (later modelsupgraded to nickel metal hydride, with double the range).

It would take a new kind of batteryfor EVs to rival the range of internal combustion engine vehicles.

Fortunately, this breakthrough had already happened.

How mobile phones led to today's cars

These new batteries werealready in consumer electronics.

Patented in 1976, and greatly improved in the 1980s, lithium batteries werepowering everything from camcorders to mobile phonesin the early 1990s.

GM's EV ambitionfoundered, but soon an unknown company would releasethe first all-electric production car to use the lithium-ion battery cell.

That carwas the 2008 Tesla Roadster.

The need to find a betterbattery for consumer electronics drove the discoveries that led to lithium-ion batteries and today's EVs, said John Fletcher, a professor of electrical engineering at UNSW.

"Mobile devices coming of age was the prime mover for the improvement in battery technologies," he said.

"To a large extent the EV market has benefited from [mobile devices]rather than it being in the other direction."

So, could the leap tolithium-ion have come sooner?

Here, Professors Minchin andFletcher have differingopinions.

There was nothing inevitable about the triumph of the internal combustion engine, Professor Minchin said. It benefited from huge investment.

Plus, therewas cost of developing —from scratch —a vastnetwork of stations to fuel and service these new oil-guzzling machines.

"There was massive investment in the internal combustion engine. The car industry really pioneered mass production," he said.

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If more money had been spent on developing EVs, he said, a better battery would have come sooner.

But Professor Fletcher argued thatdevelopment of lithium-ion batteries required advances in associated fields, such as materials science.

"We first had to learn something about lithium," he said.

"It's not just money-related —the more money we pump into it doesn't necessarily make it go faster."

'It's not for sale'

In2003, with Hal's help,Andreas foundthe car.

It was owned by a 356 dealer who was willing to sell, and Andreashad it brought to Australia.

The electric Porsche arrived indecent shape, but was notroadworthy. The chassis was rusted, the lead-acid batteries had been drained,and awindshield sticker showed it hadn'tbeen registered for three decades.

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (10)

Andreas kept it in storage until aboutfive years ago when he sold it to Greg Newton, a specialist vintage car restorer in Melbourne.

Greg's workshop was the "factory in Melbourne" that GuidoEickholz had referred to in the 2019 meeting with Porsche executives.

Soon after that meeting, Porsche got in touch with Greg.

"The first thing they asked about was buying it," Greg recalled.

They offered $50,000, he said.

"I said, 'It's not for sale,I don't want to sell it.'"

Over the next three months, Greg said, the offerprice increased to $370,000.

"I just said, 'No, I'm not interested. I want to finish it.'"

Greg estimates the car will be readywithin about 18 months, although restoring a one-off prototype is tricky.

The history of EVs is long and weird. This rusty Porsche, parked in Melbourne, sums it up (11)

He plans to install modern lithium-ion batteries within the old lead-acid battery boxes, and keep the original electrical components.

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"The car should still look as it looked in those original old photos," he said.

"If that means thatI'll have a modern battery sitting inside something that looks like an old battery, I'll probably try and get away with that.

"I can't wait to driveit around."


What are 3 disadvantages to an electric car? ›

These disadvantages include finding charging stations, charging times, higher initial costs, limited driving range, and battery packs can be expensive to replace.

What is the oldest EVs on the market? ›

In 1996, General Motors released the EV1 – the first mass-produced, purpose-built modern electric car from one of the industry's key players. It was released under a leasing programme, and just over 1,000 were produced, but the saga ended in controversy.

What is the history of EV? ›

Between 1832 and 1839, Scottish inventor Robert Anderson also developed a crude electric carriage. In 1996, the first electric vehicle was a three-wheeler, invented by Scooter's India Pvt Ltd, and it was named VIKRAM SAFA. Approximately 400 vehicles were made and sold.

Why are EVs not popular in Australia? ›

Australians are being effectively “locked out of the EV market” by the lack of supply and model choice, and its sales of electric cars are just a fraction of those in other western markets, and barely above those in developing markets.

How cold is too cold for electric cars? ›

Edgar Barron with Long Lewis of Alabaster said batteries in electric vehicles don't last as long when outside temperatures drop below 45 degrees. Some EVs can lose up to 35% of their range in freezing conditions.

Is insurance higher for electric cars? ›

Generally, electric cars are more costly to insure than conventional vehicles. Because electric vehicles are pricier to both buy and repair, insurance providers charge their drivers more for coverage. That said, the savings you earn on gas and tax incentives might more than make up for your policy's extra cost.

Who makes the most reliable EVs? ›

Kia EV6, Tesla Model 3, & Nissan LEAF Most Reliable EVs — New Study
  • Data compiled by Consumer Reports shows that Tesla and Nissan's EVs are the most reliable on the market, drawing from a survey of hundreds of thousands of vehicle owners. ...
  • The full score breakdown of the 11 EVs tested.
Dec 17, 2022

Which EVs hold their value best? ›

  • The slowest-depreciating electric cars. ...
  • Vauxhall Mokka-e. ...
  • Vauxhall Mokka-e. ...
  • Nissan Ariya. ...
  • Nissan Ariya. ...
  • Volvo C40 Recharge P8. ...
  • Volvo C40 Recharge P8. ...
  • Audi E-tron GT.
May 12, 2022

Who sells the most EVs in us? ›

Tesla remains on top by a far margin, accounting for 65% of total EV sales in the United States in 2022.

Why did electric cars disappear? ›

Other advances reduced production costs. For example, combustion cars were often two to three times cheaper than their electric counterparts. These savings boosted the popularity of combustion engines. Although there were advances in battery technology, they were not fast enough.

What country has the most electric cars? ›

Norway is the country with the most electric car population. In this country, the share of plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) reaches 75 percent.

Who is the number 1 EV company? ›

Tesla is the largest Electric Vehicle seller, with over 900 thousand sold in 2021. The Tesla Model 3 is the top-selling electric vehicle. Toyota comes in as the second largest EV company, with nearly 600 thousand units sold in 2021.

Why are so many people against EV? ›

In addition to the myths, there are also some obvious reasons many car shoppers simply aren't yet buying into EVs, such as the high sticker price, range anxiety and the fear of battery degradation and potential fires.

Why EV is not the future? ›

Here lies the primary reason why electric cars are not the future: Battery limitations are holding the industry back. Without a national, dependable network of charging stations, electric cars risk remaining a luxury product bought by wealthy suburbanites who can outfit their garages with personal charging stations.

Will electric cars ever be affordable? ›

The cost for joining the electric car revolution is less now than ever before. Chevrolet, Hyundai, and Nissan lowered prices on their entry-level models, and now Tesla has cut its prices by $3,000 to $19,000 across its model line.

Are electric cars OK in snow? ›

Many EVs have front wheel drive, which is fine for most winter driving conditions in the northeast when accompanied by winter tires and modern traction control systems. A few EV models have rear wheel drive (RWD) systems, which may be less predictable in winter road conditions.

Can you jet wash an electric car? ›

Now that they are increasingly common, you should know that it is completely safe to wash electric and hybrid cars in rollovers, tunnels and jet wash areas, assuring that this equipment will not cause damage to the electric system or the batteries.

Can electric cars run in snow? ›

Advantages of Electric Vehicles on Snowy Roads

First of all, EVs come with large and heavy batteries so their weight makes them suitable for winter driving conditions. Heavy vehicles have a better chance of traction on snow or ice. Also, electric engines are gearless so getting up slowly on snow or ice is effortless.

What happens if an electric car runs out of charge on the road? ›

Running out of gas or electricity produces the same result: your car will stop. In the case of a gas car, a roadside service truck can usually bring you a can of gas, or tow you to the nearest gas station. Similarly, an electric car can simply be towed to the nearest charging station.

What are the reasons not to buy an electric car? ›

Common Reasons Drivers May Avoid EVs

The most common reasons drivers avoid EVs include fear the battery will run out of charge before reaching their destination, also known as “range anxiety,” fear of too few charging stations, long charge times, and initial higher upfront vehicle costs.

What are the disadvantages of owning an electric car? ›

What are the downsides to electric cars?
  • Their batteries need rare metals. ...
  • Making electric cars creates more emissions. ...
  • They are only as green as their power sources. ...
  • Electric cars can be expensive to buy. ...
  • You can't drive as far in an electric car. ...
  • There aren't enough charging points.

What is the biggest complaint with electric cars? ›

Biggest electric car complaints from charging to costs
  • The charging point is broken.
  • The vehicle proved to be too expensive to run.
  • Competition for charging spots.
  • My electric car has glitches.
Jan 27, 2023

Who is Tesla's biggest EV competitor? ›

Tesla also faces competition at the higher end of the market from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Polestar, Rivian, Lucid and others.

What is the No 1 electric car? ›

The best Electric Car is the 2023 Chevrolet Bolt, with an overall score of 8.0 out of 10. The best Luxury Electric Car is the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS Sedan, with an overall score of 9.2 out of 10. What is the best electric SUV? The best Electric SUV is the 2023 Kia EV6, with an overall score of 8.7 out of 10.

How much does it cost to replace electric car battery? ›

Experts say electric vehicle batteries typically cost between $2,000 and $10,000 to replace, but some are more expensive. Electric vehicles are growing in popularity worldwide, with sales doubling in 2021 to a new record of 6.6 million, the International Energy Agency said in May.

How much does it cost to charge a Tesla? ›

A Model 3 would cost $1.73 per day. For a Model X, this Tesla driver would spend $2.28 a day to charge. With a Model Y, the charging cost is $1.94. These estimates are based on the national average for residential energy ($0.14 per kilowatt-hour at the time of publication).

Which US automaker is going all electric? ›

Under CEO Mary Barra's “zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion” strategy, all General Motors brands (Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet, GMC) are set to be fully electrified by 2035(Opens in a new window)—the same year California(Opens in a new window) is set to ban gas-powered cars.

Who owns the most EV charging stations in the US? ›

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Tesla has over 1,600 Supercharger stations in the U.S., with over 17,000 fast-charging ports. Electrify America is next in line, with about 800 stations and 3,600 fast-charging ports. While EVgo has about 2,200 fast-charging ports, ChargePoint has about 1,800.

What electric cars are better than Tesla? ›

Here are 5 of the best electric cars and 5 of the best hybrids to buy instead of the Tesla Model 3.
  • 3 Hybrid – BMW 330e.
  • 4 Hybrid – VW Golf GTE. ...
  • 5 Hybrid – Toyota Camry Hybrid. ...
  • 6 Electric – Hyundai Ioniq 5. ...
  • 7 Electric – Ford Mustang Mach-E. ...
  • 8 Electric – BMW i3 Sedan. ...
  • 9 Electric – Polestar 2. ...
  • 10 Electric – Kia EV6. Via: Kia. ...
May 28, 2022

Who has the longest lasting EV battery? ›

Polestar: 8 years, 100,000 miles. Porsche: 8 years, 100,000 miles. Renault: 8 years, 100,000 miles.

What is the biggest problem with electric cars? ›

EV owners have experienced chronic problems with the display screens, exterior door lights, failing temperature sensors, mismatched paint, and seals and weatherstripping. It's not just that these problems occur, but that they occur at a higher rate than with conventional vehicles.

What is the downside of owning an electric car? ›

These disadvantages include finding charging stations, charging times, higher initial costs, limited driving range, and battery packs can be expensive to replace.

What are the negative effects of electric cars? ›

What Are the Dangers of Electric Vehicles?
  • Lithium ion (Li-ion) battery fires are still a common problem. ...
  • They pose a risk of electrocution. ...
  • The North Dakota weather isn't conducive to EVs. ...
  • Autonomous driving dangers come standard. ...
  • The lack of sound poses a risk to others. ...
  • If you are in an accident with an electric vehicle.
May 16, 2022

What are the most problems with electric cars? ›

What are the downsides to electric cars?
  • Their batteries need rare metals. ...
  • Making electric cars creates more emissions. ...
  • They are only as green as their power sources. ...
  • Electric cars can be expensive to buy. ...
  • You can't drive as far in an electric car. ...
  • There aren't enough charging points.

How much does it cost to replace battery in an electric car? ›

Replacing an electric car battery will cost between $4,000-$20,000, but there are some cheaper options. Whitney Vandiver writes for NerdWallet about ways car owners can save money on ownership and maintenance.

Do electric cars wear out tires faster? ›

The tires of electric vehicles wear 20% faster than those of internal combustion engines, which is due to the acceleration of electric vehicles that generate strong instantaneous power.

What is the lifespan of an electric car battery? ›

“Today, most EV batteries have a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years within the car – and a second life beyond.” It's also worth noting that EV battery technology is still evolving, so as tech develops we expect batteries' lifespan to increase – as well as becoming cheaper, smaller and even lighter.

Is it still worth buying an electric car? ›

If an EV is in your price range, and range isn't going to be a problem based on typical journeys, getting an electric car is a great idea. Not only is it cheaper to run, but it's also eco-friendly, usually nippy – and a way to futureproof your transport solution for years to come.

Are electric cars terrible for the environment? ›

Electric vehicles don't cause more pollution in the long run

Electric vehicles, often called EVs, are responsible for less global-warming pollution over their life cycle than gas-powered vehicles, despite the fact that battery manufacturing — for the moment — increases the climate impacts of EV production.

Do electric cars last longer than gas cars? ›

While battery life used to be a concern for prospective EV owners, modern technology has allowed EVs to last as long if not longer than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

What happens to electric cars in traffic jams? ›

Electric vehicles use little power when at a standstill, and their climate settings also do not require much power. An electric vehicle with a full battery would have enough energy to operate for a day or longer while stationary during a traffic jam, even while using air conditioning or heating.

Are electric cars hard on tires? ›

Torque to me: EV tires wear down faster

That means EVs put more pressure on tires than vehicles that accelerate more slowly. EVs also exert torque in reverse through regenerative braking. This is the feature that takes energy from a car slowing down and converts it into a little extra charge for the battery.


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