The history and luxury of electric vehicles

Photo: istockphoto.com

Thomas Edison had one and the first EVs in the late 1900s were quite popular with wealthy urban women. They were cleaner and quieter and therefore more ladylike than the louder, smokier vehicles. In 1897, there was a fleet of electric taxicabs in New York City and in 1899, the Jamais Content, an electric sports car from Belgium, set the world land speed record at 68 miles per hour.

But here we are, over 100 years later, thinking an EV means limited range and power and waiting for new technology that may one day be viable. It may come as a surprise that the current land speed record for a Class III vehicle is held by the Buckeye Bullet, an EV that clocked in at just over 436 km/h. It beat out the previous winner, the White Lightning, another EV that clocked in at 395 km/h.

It's true that the White Lightning was built to compete at races held by the National Electric Drag Race Association (NEDRA) and highlight the potential power of EVs. But the very same technology that's under the hoods of these record-breakers can be yours for a price.

Electric Transportation Solutions in New York State has a line of somewhat EVs that will tap into your inner-Mario Andretti in a very green way. Their luxury EVs include a convertible 1932 Mercedes Gazelle and various models of Rolls Royces and Porsche 959s, all of which have had their motors stripped out and replaced by electric. The engines are supplied by Net Gain Technologies, which just happens to make the motors for the White Lightning. These new luxury mobiles don't need to be sipping on dinosaur fossil fuels!

Another retrofit company busy rehabilitating sports cars is Florida-based West Coast Exotics. They not only sell electric Porsches and Rollers but also have electric Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Even though the Lamborghini Diablo doesn't quite compete with its gas-powered brother, this is still one fast green ride.

These sexy EVs are not the green solution for anyone pinching pennies (stick to a bicycle or autoshare for now). But the prices are still considerably lower than the original vehicles. For example, the original Porsche 959 usually sells for over US $250,000 but the EV model is only US $69,000. The great thing is that, at these prices retrofitters are able to add newer technology batteries like the NiCad and lithium, which recharge quickly and have greater range between charges. A retrofitted Rolls, for example, comes with 22 batteries (your choice of traditional lead acid or the fancier upgrades such as lithium or nickel batteries) and even with 22 traditional batteries, and the driving range is over 400 kilometres.

Clearly, EVs are not someday-soon technology, especially for those with plenty of disposable income. For the rest of us, the good news is that these products are starting to come down the line. Like any new technology, EV prices are starting off high, but the price will drop pretty quickly. Expect to see electric Trans Ams and GTs in driveways near you in the near future.