In 1912, a device invented by Kettering, one of the founders of Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. — Delco — appeared on a Cadillac. Instead of an iron hand crank, a small, high-torque electric motor, operated by a twist of a key, turned the crankshaft and started the engine. By the mid-1920s, the electric self-starter was standard on nearly every automobile. Steam- and battery-powered vehicles faded away.
The electric motor that drove those early EVs, though, did not vanish from automobiles. Essentially, it got a demotion. While the internal combustion engine became the preferred way to drive the wheels, small motors eventually would be used to operate windshield wipers, heater fans and radiator fans; raise and lower windows; move seats back and forth and up and down; and power dozens of other features.
After World War II, when battery technology improved, automakers again began tinkering with returning the electric motor to its original mission: driving the wheels.
Now, after a century of fits and starts, the era of the electric car appears to have finally arrived.
It’s been a long road back. Here’s a look at some historic EVs from major automakers and others built in the post-World War II era.
1959 Henney Kilowatt
Used a Renault Dauphine body and an electric drivetrain powered by lead-acid batteries
Top speed: 60 mph
Range: About 60 miles
Number built: 47
Notable: The electric motor was made by vacuum cleaner manufacturer Eureka.