Have Electric Cars Improved Much Over The Past Two Decades? (May 2013)

I have seen many debates about how little electric vehicles have improved since their inception.

2013 Nissan Leaf EV
2013 Nissan Leaf Interior.
Image obtained with thanks from Nissan.

Those which believe electric vehicles haven’t improved much cite the fact that some old electric cars from more than 10 years ago achieved the same range as today’s. Their opposition stated that electric vehicles are improving, and that they are the best alternative to gasoline-powered cars.

I decided to investigate and find the truth. That is what let to the creation of this website in the first place. I started researching and analysing debates, and found flaws fairly often, so I needed an outlet to post my corrections to these repetitive issues to enlighten people so they could finally move on, so that is how this website came to be.

The GM EV1 is commonly used in these discussions. Its range was stated to be 70 to 100 miles, while today’s Nissan Leaf achieves 73 miles per charge, and its range is now on the lower end of the electric vehicle market. Even the much larger 2013 RAV4 crossover SUV achieves 100 miles.

The Tesla Model S, which is a luxury sports car that seats seven can achieve over 260 miles of range per charge, that is a significant improvement over the EV1, which, in its day was a technological milestone.

100 miles was a milestone in the 90s, and now a car would have to exceed 300 miles, so, the range of electric vehicles improves significantly. Prototype battery technology can provide up to 1,000 miles of range per charge, and range options keep increasing.

It isn’t fair to compare the EV1 to the Nissan Leaf because the Nissan Leaf is a modern, 4-door, 4-seat car with modern features. The EV1 was a very basic, tiny, subcompact car with only two seats, and it was built with a plastic body.

Even its shape was unusually aerodynamic.

As for performance, the Tesla Roadster accelerates from 0 to 60 MPH in 3.9 seconds, which most cars (whether gasoline or electric) cannot do, so that is another major improvement for electric vehicles. They were very slow 20 years ago.

113 years ago (1900), electric cars achieved about 35 miles of range, indicating a more than eight fold improvement since then since they get up to 300 miles now (for vehicles on the market, such as the Tesla Model S).

That would be a three-fold improvement if it is compared to a more normal vehicle for the masses such as the RAV4 EV, which achieves 100 miles of range, just keep in mind that we are comparing the best to the best, and the Tesla Model S is currently the best, so the 35-mile 1900 car comparison to the RAV4 EV is not exactly fair, but the average range of electric vehicles is close to that of the RAV4 EV, as 35 miles was the average range of electric cars in 1900.

Charge time for the EV1 was 8 hours using a 220 volt power outlet. Today, that is how long it takes using a 120 volt outlet, and vehicles like the Chevy Spark can charge to 80% of their capacity in 20 minutes.

My conclusion is that electric vehicles have improved significantly since their inception. Much of this is attributable to battery technology improvements.

The EV 1 was manufactured between 1996 and 1999, and the Nissan Leaf 2011 to present.

All of the range indications in this article are per charge.