We spend most of our time looking forward to cars like the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt hitting the streets this fall. And as many already know, these vehicles are the latest in a long line of EVs to be made around the world.
But of those vehicles which came before, which five vehicles have had an impact on the world’s impression of electric cars, and which ones have done more damage than good.
Here’s the five EVs we thing have revolutionized the EV world, and five we would rather hadn’t made it off the drawing board.
EVs We’re Glad Existed.
- 1998-2003 Toyota RAV4 EV
A veritable grand-daddy of the EV world, this vehicle remained the benchmark by which EVs were measured for many years.
Based on Toyota’s popular RAV4, the electric version offered all the creature comforts expected of any car - but powered by a pure electric drivetrain. The now legendary NiMh battery pack was placed under the car’s floor, giving the RAV4 EV as much cabin space as the gasoline model.
With a top speed of 78 mph and a range of up to 120 miles per charge, the RAV4 EV showed a whole generation that electric cars could be fun and functional.
- 1899-1914 Baker Electrics
While it won’t give you the exhilaration of a torque-filled acceleration to freeway speeds, the Baker Electric does offer a glimpse into a past where electric vehicles outnumbered gasoline ones.
With unparalleled visibility, the Baker Electric models are little more than an electric powered carriage - but as any historian will tell you - it’s good to know what went before.
Wrightspeed X1 - the electric Ariel Atom
- 2006 Wrightspeed X1
What happens when you combine one of the fastest, most radical street-legal cars from the U.K. with two high powered motors and a battery pack capable of providing up to 1,000 horsepower?
You get an EV capable of out-accelerating virtually any gasoline powered vehicle on the planet.
Built from the minimalist Ariel Atom, the X1 is capable of 0-60 mph in 2.9 seconds and features an all-tubular chassis. But don’t expect any creature comforts. This vehicle has no doors, roof or even stereo.
But for a vehicle which is only 0.3 slower to 60 mph than the legendary Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle, this vehicle is bound to get the blood pumping.
- 1987 GM Sunraycer
Built by GM, AeroVironment and Huges Aircraft, this solar powered car won the 1987 Solar Challenge, a race across Australia.
While it lacked luggage space and was undoubtedly rather uncomfortable to drive and cost GM a reputed $2 million to build in 1987, it’s not the vehicle itself we’re celebrating but the achievement.
Had the Sunraycer lost the Solar Challenge, we may never have seen the GM Impact. Developed as a consequence of winning the 1987 Solar Challenge, the Impact went on to influence the EV-1, GM’s infamous two-seat electric car which was sadly crushed in 2002/3
Not a production car, or even available to buy, the White Zombie is the creation of Drag-Racer John “Plasmaboy” Wayland of Portland, OR.
Converted from a 1970s Datsun, the White Zombie is the poster child for every electric-converted gasoline car in the world. Combining the very latest battery, motor and controller technology in a street-legal car the White Zombie can be spotted at Portland International Raceway, where it helps challenge the status quo of gas-powered dragsters.
Five EVs We Wish Hadn’t Been Made
- The Sinclair C5
Back in the U.K. of the 1980s an electronics engineer by the name of Clive Sinclair sought to revolutionize the world.
Creator of a legendary range of electronic calculators, Sinclair brought a wave of consumer electronics to the market, including a low-cost home computer and the Sinclair C5.
Sold in consumer electronics stores and designed as an electric car for the future, the C5 featured a single plastic seat in the middle of a three-wheeled chassis. With an open, low-slung body and a minuscule 250 watt motor, ‘drivers’ were expected to pedal the C5 to assist the motor up hills.
The C5 was an unmitigated disaster. At least very few made it to the U.S.
Another three-wheeled creation, this vehicle is an electric concept car we’re unlikely to see hitting the streets any time soon.
With two massive rear wheels and a drive-by-joystick system its creators claim a tight turning circle and impressive range.
But all the evidence we’ve seen from videos online show the vehicle to be very unstable and, unlikely to gain many fans.
ZAP Xebra Sedan
- The Zap Xebra
Designed as a three-wheeled Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV), the Chinese-built vehicles have been sold throughout the U.S. and are a feature of gated communities nationwide.
But with a limited top speed, poor build-quality and oh-so-unstable single-front wheel the Zap Xebra’s only real redeeming feature is the fuel it uses - electricity.
- eGo Helio Electric Scooter
It’s not an electric car, but this little scooter has caused a lot of negative feelings in the EV world.
Not an electric pedal cycle but not an electric motorbike, the eGo is legal in some states without a motorcycle license. The top speed of just 25 mph ensures the rider will hold up traffic just about anywhere the eGo is ridden.
And with unreliable motor parts, heavy lead-acid battery pack and laughable style we’d rather pretend that the eGo hadn’t been made.
1998 City El
- The City El/Mini El
Yes, another three-wheeler. Designed in Denmark in the 1980s around the same time as the C5 was being developed in the U.K., the City El was a particularly clever idea to provide covered, single-seat, all electric transport to commuters.
In production for over twenty years, the City El lacked much in the way of suspension or driver comfort.
Worse still, in some countries it was classed as a motorbike, meaning those with a motorcycle or even moped license could drive them.
Imported into the U.S. in the early 1990s, the CityEl can be seen in limited numbers in California. But thanks to its notorious instability on corners, an official import was cancelled after a prospective customer took a corner too quickly - and broke several bones.