Before Tesla… 1980s Electric Cars

Before Tesla… 1980s Electric Cars


(music) In part one we looked at electric vehicles
and hybrids from the 1960s and 70s. If you want to check out that video, click
the link above. We now move onto the 1980s where individuals
all around the world didn’t want to give up on finding an alternative to the internal
combustion engine. These were the days before our knowledge of
global warming, and the motivation was around reducing city pollution and freedom from the
reliance on foreign oil. OK, let’s get started! (music) Before we get started on 80’s electric vehicles,
here’s a couple from the 70’s that I missed in part one. Thanks to Tomasz Orynski who put me on to
the EMA1. Produced in the communist Czechoslovakia in
1970, it was a tiny car but could take two adults and two children. The car was driven through two motors on each
rear wheel, removing the need for a differential, and like modern EVs the direct motors allowed
for regenerative braking. The top speed was 31mph or 50km/h with a range
of 31 miles or 50km. In 1977 Volvo were also experimenting with
electric vehicles. Known for boxy cars, they made the ultimate boxy
prototype, simply known as the Volvo Electric Car. Volvo only built two concepts, shown here. The car had a top speed of 43mph or 70km/h. The Soviet Union was experimenting with electric
cars of its own with the VAZ 2801 in 1980. It was based on the VAZ 2101 which was itself
based on the Fiat 124. It used lighter nickel-zinc batteries and
an aluminium frame, but even then could only manage 54mph or 87km/h with a range of 68
miles or 110km. There was a hope that it could be used during
the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Only 50 were produced as a test, but they
were found to be impractical. There was no recharging network, and 68 miles doesn’t
get you very far in the vast Soviet territory. Those nickel-zinc batteries could also only
last 150 charges before they needed to be replaced. Ever since the rebirth of electric cars in
1959, people kept trying new designs in the hope that one day, we could make a successful
alternative to the internal combustion engine. In 1981 Jet Industries took the North American
Ford Escort and its sister Mercury Lynx and offered electric conversions, dubbed the “Electrica”. Jet Industries weren’t strangers to converting
vehicles to electric power, creating the Electra-Van in 1978 from a Subaru Sambar, and also converting
the Dodge Omni 024 as the Jet Electrica 007! The Ford Escort was a popular car in the 1980s,
based on the same underpinnings as the European Ford Escort mark III. Jet Industries benefited from the Department
of Energy handouts in the late 70s designed to find a way of reducing the USA’s dependency
on foreign oil. The car used 16x 6V batteries and a 12V battery,
giving it a top speed of 70mph or 110km/h and a range of 50 miles or 80km. Despite it being a full-size car, Jet Industries
managed to sell only 3,000 converted cars between the late 70s and early 80s. The US Postal Service were seeking a replacement
for the stalwart Jeep DJ that it had used since the 1950s. As we saw in the previous video, they had tried
an electric Jeep DJ as well as a converted Comuta-Car in the late 70s. Still without a replacement, by 1981 they
tried another electric alternative, the all-aluminium Kurbwatt by Grumman Aerospace, makers of the
Apollo Lunar Lander. It ran on 14x 6V lead acid batteries with
a 40 mile or 64km range and a top speed of 55mph or 88km/h. Grumman built 50 for the Postal Service to
try out, and although they were used until 1992 they were ultimately unsuccessful. But it wasn’t all bad for Grumman as they
won the contract to replace the Jeep DJ with their petrol-powered Grumman LLV built on
a Chevy S-10 chassis that’s still a common site on American roads today. Unique Mobility launched the Electrek in 1982. It’s styling may have been heavily influenced
by Star Wars, but the car featured both regenerative braking and a sled to quickly remove the 16x 6V
batteries allowing for them to be fast swapped. The car had a top speed of 75mph or 120km/h
with a 100 mile or 160km range. The list price was around $25,000 which today
is around $66,000 or £54,000. Weaning America off foreign oil didn’t come
cheap, and only 50 to 75 fibreglass clad Electrek’s were ever produced. Ubiquity Mobility is actually still around
today as UQM Technologies, selling electric drives for buses, lorries, cars, boats and
even aeroplanes. General Motors has a long history of investigating
electric technology, and we’ll take a look at the ill-fated EV1 in another video, but
after the mid-70s Electrovette concept, GM took another look in 1983, producing a full-size
concept of what this electric car might look like. This would kickstart the work that would eventually
lead to the EV1. Over in Denmark the Hope Computer company
was working in secret on its next big project. Soon it became clear it would be an electric
car, the first Danish car for many years. The Hope Whisper W1 was proudly launched at
an event that lives on to this day in Danish folklore, for all the wrong reasons. The driver of the Whisper was an engineer
who’d been working around the clock to get the car ready and he was exhausted. While driving it around the track he fell asleep
at the wheel, driving the car into a barrier. Although no one was hurt, it was a very embarrassing
event, especially in front of 3000 guests, the worlds press and the Danish Prime Minister! What was to be a day quite literally of hope,
turned into a day of ridicule and the butt of jokes for years to come. Hope tried again with the Whisper II, but
they couldn’t get it into production. Sir Clive Sinclair led nothing short of a
computing revolution in the UK with his ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum computers. A serial innovator he used the money created
from these computers to make an innovative portable TV, and continuing work on a series
of electric cars started in the late 70s. Sinclair was convinced there was a market
for a light electrical car that could go about 30 miles on a charge. It could be more weather-proof than a moped
and likely cheaper, using injection-moulded plastic and polypropylene for the body. Cycle company Raleigh wanted to release electric
bicycles, so in 1983 the Government created a new category of “electrically assisted
pedal cycle”. The vehicle could be driven by people 14 years
and older without a driving licence, but had to go no faster than 15mph or 24km/h. Sinclair
saw his electric vehicle could fit perfectly, so converted his existing design to something
that would fit into this new law. All work on this “car” was done in complete
secrecy and tellingly without any market research. What Sinclair focused on was wind tunnel testing,
believing that the way to longer range was through lower aerodynamic drag. The C5 was launched in January 1985, not the
best time for an electric skate that had no weather protection. It had a range of just 20 miles or 32km, although
the insipid battery meant pedalling assistance would often be required. Clive Sinclair was keen to say that this was
just the first of many electric cars. The larger C10 and C15 would follow. Although the company pointed out that the
C5 driver sat at the same height as a driver of a regular car, it was still very low to the ground,
and many felt it was a death trap on the road. With no market research the team had failed
to realise some of its glaring problems. It was marketed as a way to commute to the
train station, but it would easily get wet left standing outside all day and was light
enough for someone to pick it up and steal it. With a big backlash in the press, sales were
disappointing with many having to be sold at a steep loss. But this hasn’t stopped Sir Clive from trying
to perfect the commuter bike concept. He released the foldable electric Zike in
1992, and the A-bike in 2006, with an electric version launched on Kickstarter in 2015 and they’re still available today for just £400 or $500! There was also the spiritual successor to
the C5, the X-1 that was launched in 2010, but failed to get to production. Although the C5 was the butt of many jokes,
it’s becoming something of a collectable and today has a vibrant fanbase. Over in the USA and GM was looking at electric
vehicles once more. They heard there would be a solar powered
race in 1987 from Darwin at the top of Australia to Adelaide in the south, a distance of 3000km
or almost 1900 miles. The vehicles would have the make the entire
distance powered only by the sun. GM worked with AeroVironment and Hughes Aircraft
to produce a lightweight vehicle called the Sunraycer. It had very low drag and was covered in solar panels
that could generate up to 1500W of power. New innovations in rare-earth magnet motors
meant the vehicle would have improved performance. The new motor was lighter, and GM claimed
it was 92% efficient. Extra power from the solar panels would be
stored in lightweight silver-oxide batteries. The Sunraycer didn’t just win, it crushed
the competition. It finished in Adelaide in just over five
days, at an average speed of 42mph or 67km/h. The second-place car took another two days
to arrive. The Sunraycer set a solar powered vehicle
record the following year, a record bested in 2014 by Ashiya University’s Sky Ace TIGA
at 56mph or 91km/h. Denmark was down after the Hope Whisper debacle,
but it wasn’t out. Seemingly taking notes from Sinclair’s C5,
El Trans produced a larger but very similar three-wheeled electric car, known as the Mini-El. It had room for one with a space at the back
just big enough for a small child or some luggage. Initially the car used lead acid batteries
with a top speed of 25mph or 40km/h and a 43 mile or 70km range. Almost immediately the company ran into financial
difficulty, but new incarnations of the company kept producing the Mini-El, eventually selling
it around Europe and even in North America. What’s surprising is this car is still being
produced today by CityCom in Germany, where it’s been renamed as the CityEl. The drivetrain has been improved and uses
lighter and more powerful lithium ion batteries, taking the top speed to 40mph or 63km/h with
an improved range of 75 miles or 120km. You can own your own brand new CityEl for
just £9,000 or $11,000! Finally, Audi worked on a hybrid concept in
1989 with the Audi 100 Duo. The front wheels were driven by the 100’s
usual 2.3L 5-cylinder engine, but the rear wheels were driven by a motor powered by a
large batch of Ni-Cad batteries in the boot that took 8 hours to recharge. In 1991 Audi produced a similar concept based
on the 100 Avant that had permanent 4-wheel drive. Audi said the car could get 50 miles just
on electric power. To get early advert free access to new videos,
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video!

79 Comments

  1. Loved the video!
    I guess too many electric and hybrid cars were made in the 90s for it to be in one video?
    also that Sinclair looks amazing!

  2. Honestly I do have a life. It’s just a coincidence that I’m here at this time. Interesting and well presented. Thanks from Dorian’s path.

  3. Thanks, an interesting history. I now drive a PHEV, and my particular driving routine averages about 90mpg including converting the charging costs into fuel equivalent.
    These pioneers got us this far, but all failed.
    I test drove a Tesla model 3 last week, and WOW, what a machine, hope Elon survives. The model 3 was just too small for me.
    Keep up the good work, your videos are very informative.

  4. All these electric vehicle failures over the years and actually owning an electric car is still impractical for the majority. Also why did designers practically go all out to produce such butt ugly concepts !

  5. Another informative video, but @7:35, Good grief. Vespas and Lambrettas are NOT "mopeds". Tunturi made mopeds. That's like fellow Yanks calling their crap Harley-Davidsons "scooters". Sad, very sad.

    On another note, my alma mater, Western Washington University (approx 2 hours north of Seattle) was significantly involved in researching/developing solar-generated electric-powered vehicles, through the Vehicle Research Institute (VRI), especially in the 1980s-'90s, and regularly competed in the GM Sunrayce of events. As car-obsessed Industrial Design major, it was interesting to see (from a distance) what those guys in the basement were coming up with. We ID students even partnered with the VRI program to explore concepts for alternate uses for a thermophotovoltaic electric power generator that they were working on incorporating into their latest car, 20+ years ago.

  6. Great video, HOWEVER, I feel we need to address the fact you remade your Chaterham in blue. You absolute legend. 👏👏

  7. A KID AT MY SCHOOL HAD A SINCLAIR C5 WHICH HE HAD WON IN A COMPETITION.HE USED TO DRIVE IT AROUND THE PLAYGROUND.I THINK THE MOTOR WAS MADE BY HOOVER.THERE WAS ALSO A SINCLAIR ZIKE WHICH WAS AN ELECTRIC BIKE.

  8. Another great video! I'm hoping for a video about the Orginal Mini through to the lastest Mini. There's a lot fof informative videos about the orginal Mini online but im sure you'll make something with new information in!

  9. I usually don't comment until I've finished watching the video but holy heck! That UQM Electrek! 😀
    I think the poor thing had a stroke.

  10. I love my C5, wherever I go it gets attention, people my age (45) say they haven't seen one for years and kids say "Wow, I want one of those" and they think it's brand new! The picture you've used of a C5 in the snow was my friend's!

  11. Sinclair C5 was the world's best selling EV until the Nissan Leaf. Marketing it as a leisure product (like a Segway) rather than the future of transport would have seen thought of as a success. Apparently the seat design came from a Capri.

  12. Soviet-Union had a few more interesting electrical vehicles like UAZ electric minivan: http://denisovets.ru/uaz/uazprototips/UAZ451MI_2.jpg
    https://www.rbth.com/science-and-tech/330803-top-7-electric-cars

  13. These were the days before our knowledge of global warming??? What the hell are you talking about, I remember in the 70s they were telling us all the major cities would be under water,im still waiting,global warming is just about money if it was real cars would be getting smaller not bigger,and Tesla cars are really great for the environment….NOT

  14. In the eighties, I drove a Larel, a Fiat Panda reduced to a two-seater with 600 kg of lead-acid batteries in the back and a clutch with a four speed gear box.

  15. I think we knew about global warming long before the 1980's. It was called the Greenhouse Effect and was known about at least as far back as the 1970's. The film Soylent Green from 1973 was based on a book from 1966 and was (among other things) all about the 'Greenhouse Effect' AKA Global Warming and it's effect on the planet. Just saying 🙂

  16. I wonder how well known the Sinclair C5 is outside the UK ? Even as a kid I knew they were totally impractical as a vehicle but would be great fun just to mess around with away from traffic. I couldn't afford £400 in the 1980's so had to stick with my BMX and Raleigh Grifter

  17. I own a City-el, I have fitted it with a mix of lead acid and lifepo-4 cells. top speed is 40 mph and it has a range around 40 miles.
    The car was built in 1999.

  18. My Dad built one of those Lego motorbikes you have on your shelve for me when I got one for my 6th Birthday – I’m nearly 34 now and I still have it!

  19. The uk had a bigger problem with 70's to early 2000's the government insisted british cars basically were only aĺlowed to meet the same size as the old blue plastic pig disabled car and with tough battery and power limits with electirc OAP trikes batteries, powers and ranges. Many innovative small british firms got put out of buisness by the regs and rules. Even for 4 wheel, all terrain disabled scooters. And only european and tesla presssure let the uk relax the throttling regulations here in the uk

  20. Thank you for the two videos of electric cars, please when you do the 90s do all ranges charge times top speeds and costs just like these two videos. Great job thanks.

  21. The scientists were warning about climate change from the 1960's. It was the politicians and media who failed to deal with it, basically for the same reason that the Amazon is burning now, because too many leaders are c***s.

  22. I knew about the lada but not much about it. I didn't know about the Czechoslovak car though. Wasn't there another electric VAZ based on something called the lada Oka that did about 20mph?

  23. I have a Sinclair C5 – first vehicle I ever bought (and first thing I bought on ebay). You say 'no market research was done' – I do not believe this is true. When I first got my C5 someone on a now defunct forum who used to work for Sinclair said he did commission research, however, it told them what Sir Clive didn't want to hear, and so he ordered it to be locked away or destroyed (I forget which). The research said that the most likely people to buy them were old people, likely those who couldn't drive but just needed to pop to the shops. But they aimed it as something cool for young people – but a 14 year old didn't have £400 to buy one, and a 16yr old would be buying a moped, because its faster (and probably cooler).

  24. I'm trying to repair a 1998 Ford electric Ranger I also have the Chevy version from around the same time that's not working. If you need some pictures for an electric car in the 90s I can give them to you. Click on my profile picture

  25. I'm a huge aviation fan and especially Grumman…Glad to see you mention the Grumman LLV postal truck..it's a go to for me when I want to stump someone with obscure triva ( that and the Lunar Lander)

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