The renaissance (twenty first century)
The Th!nk City car was produced in small numbers by Ford. There was a UK launch on 11th September 2001 when the news was obviously dominated by what was happening in the USA on that particular day. Ford cease production in 2003 after only 1005 cars had been manufactured and Th!nk was sold. Production of a revised Th!nk City resumed in 2008 in Europe and in 2010 a plant opened in the USA. By 2011 the company was bankrupt and production ceased. There is still talk of reviving production of this little car.
Tesla Motors began development of an electric car in 2004 and launched the Tesla Roadster in 2008. This was based on the Lotus Elise platform and was a high performance electric car. At this same time the Japanese manufacturers Mitsubishi and Nissan were planning mass production electric cars. Mitsubishi launched the i-MiEV in 2009 and Nissan introduced the Leaf in 2010 which would go on to become the world’s best selling electric car.
By 2010 there was buzz of activity from the OEM car manufacturers. Chinese manufacturer BYD introduced the e6, Chevrolet introduced the Volt and many other manufacturers were announcing their plans. The Tesla Model S was introduced in 2012 as a fast luxury salon. Sales of this car grew very rapidly and their CEO Elon Musk has become well known for his pioneering visions. By 2014 there were full electric cars being offered by BMW, Renault, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, Ford and Fiat. Additionally there were many others offering plug-in hybrid vehicles and a number of new names with low volume high performance offerings.
Another trend in electrification has been to use hybridisation as a way of boosting the performance of vehicles in addition to making them more efficient. Prime examples of this are the McLaren P1, Ferrari’s LaFerrari and the Porsche 918. These hypercars could not achieve such performance without the addition of an electric power train and they also achieve surprisingly good fuel efficiency compared with conventional supercars.
In September 2014 the very first FIA Formula E race was run. This is the first dedicate single seat racing series exclusively for electric vehicles and has attracted many names familiar to those who follow F1. Formula E races are run on city street circuits around the world and the series is designed to accelerate the development of technology which will be used in mass production electric cars of the near future.
Over the past decade there has been a lot of political pressure to move from SUV type vehicles towards smaller more efficient cars, hybrid cars and of course full electric cars. Today in 2015 the future of electric cars seems assured but what is not so clear is how the growth of pure electrics will compare with the growth of hybrid vehicles in their various forms. What does seem certain is that electric power trains will be part of almost all vehicles in the future but the extent to which these will displace the internal combustion engine is difficult to predict.