It’s finally here, the last third of our electric car timeline, at least according to me, a man who has chosen to divide the nearly 200-year timeline of electric vehicles into three parts, mostly in a vain attempt to impress those people who kicked me out of various homes, parties, and minigolf courses over the years. This last era — the era we’re all in right now, as we speak, I’m calling the Tesla Era. Let’s look at it a bit, why not?
Just to recap, the previous two eras were the Contender Era, when EVs were viable competitors for dominance among automobiles, right along with gasoline and steam-powered cars.
Next came the Crap Era, that awkward but still important adolescence of EVs, when America’s best selling electric car was a 6 horsepower plastic shit-wedge that looked like a doorstop. I’m really fond of this era, but, honestly, most rational people aren’t.
So, that brings us to the current time, which is very clearly the Tesla Era. I’ve decided to call it this because whatever problems I may have with Tesla — and I have more than a few — there’s absolutely no question that the company completely re-defined what electric cars could be, and transformed them from slow affectations of various Ed Begleys, Jr. into sleek, modern, fast, desirable vehicles that have commanded more general public attention and awareness than perhaps any other current auto brand.
So, as far as EVs go, we’re very much in an era defined by Tesla. Which is why it’s so surprising to realize that this era wasn’t actually started by Tesla at all, but rather that old automotive dinosaur, GM.
If there’s one thing GM seems better at than almost any other automaker, its performing remarkable engineering feats and advancements, developing them to the point of getting everyone excited, and then, bafflingly, dropping them completely.
A great example of this is GM’s 1996 EV-1, the electric car that broke us out of the Crap Era by being so astoundingly non-shitty. With the EV-1, GM demonstrated that a fast, attractive, usable EV with reasonable range was something that could finally be built.
And, it even built them! Well, it built about 1,100 of them, but in keeping with GM’s anti-success policies, these cars could only be leased, and all were taken back in 2002 and crushed, because no one ever said GM didn’t like a bit of drama.
Even if GM couldn’t bring themselves to really pursue modern EVs, the EV-1 did show what was possible.
GM still wasn’t satisfied, though, and in 2002 GM took things a step further and essentially defined the engineering layout of modern EVs with their Hy-Wire project.
Even though it was an EV designed to run on hydrogen fuel cells instead of conventional batteries, GM’s Hy-Wire came up with the fully integrated skateboard design that forms the basis for nearly all modern EVs.
It’s just what it sounds like: motors, energy storage systems (hydrogen for GM, but batteries for those that followed) and all related inverters and cooling systems and transmissions and other components are all integrated into a skateboard-like chassis unit that the car’s body is mounted to.
The result of this is an incredibly space-efficient package, and Hy-Wire-based concept cars showed this to great effect. When the Tesla Model S was introduced in 2012, it used a very similar skateboard-type design, and the result was a masterpiece of automotive packaging, with the center of gravity low, plenty of passenger room, and cargo areas at front and rear.
So, yes, the Model S really kicked off EV desirability and awareness in popular culture more than any electric car prior, but, if we’re being really honest, GM was the real pioneer, just ones that didn’t have the guts or sense to actually see what exactly it was pioneering.
I’m not sure how much longer the Tesla Era will last; with nearly all major automakers coming out with competitive EVs of their own, I suspect soon we’ll be introducing the Ubiquity Era or something like that, though I think that will need to be predicated on some sort of dramatic expansion of charging stations and/or a revolution in swappable, perhaps standardized batteries.
Anyway, for more details and to avoid the indignity of having to read anymore, watch the video!