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  • Writer's pictureAli Assareh

In 1905, most commercial vehicles on the road were electric. (Yes, 1905!)

In 1905, most commercial vehicles on the road were electric. (Yes, 1905!)

But, by 1920, electric vehicles were a dying breed, while combustion engine cars were taking off.

Traditional explanations of range and cost don't add up: As for range, electric cars could go 90 miles by the 1910s. As for cost, they cost the same as combustion engine cars.

One big problem was the condition of roads: Electric cars needed smoother roads, to reduce the jostling of their heavy batteries.

Another was lack of charging stations: Many rural shops already stocked petrol for farm and household equipment, while not every place had access to ample electricity.

A new study finds that, if America produced as much electricity in 1902 as it did in 1922 -- just a 20-year gap -- more than 70% of cars would have been electric by 1920. Even accounting for the extra power generation needed to make all those electric cars, that would have reduced America's CO2 emission from cars by almost HALF.

Writing about electric cars in 1903, Edison marveled, “All is rotary, beautifully perfect and wonderfully efficient. There is not that almost terrifying uncertain throb and whirr of the powerful combustion engine…no dangerous and evil smelling gasoline and no noise. Perfect freedom from vibration assures both comfort and peace of mind.”

Sometimes, you can have a superior product -- but the timing is not right. In this case, we missed a golden opportunity by just 20 years; and are paying for it now, and our children will too.

Perhaps we can keep an eye out for similar golden opportunities now, and commit to a more holistic concept of progress and comfort.

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