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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