An electric car is an
automobile that is propelled by one or more
electric motors, using electrical energy stored in
rechargeable batteries. The first practical electric cars were produced in the 1880s. Electric cars were popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century, until advances in internal combustion engines,
electric starters in particular, and
mass production of cheaper gasoline vehicles led to a decline in the use of
electric drive vehicles. In 1897, electric cars found their first commercial use in the USA. New York City taxis were electric, and they were manufactured by the Philadelphian Electric Carriage and Wagon company. During the 20th century, the main manufacturers of electric vehicles in the US were Anthony Electric, Baker, Columbia, Anderson, Edison, Riker, Milburn and others. Unlike gasoline-powered vehicles, the electric ones were quieter and did not require gear changes.
Compared with cars with internal combustion (IC) engines, electric cars are quieter and have no
tailpipe emissions. When recharged by low-emission electrical power sources, electric vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to IC engines. Where oil is imported, use of electric vehicles can reduce imports.
Recharging can take a long time and in many places there is inadequate
recharging infrastructure. Battery cost limits range and increases purchase cost over IC vehicles, but battery costs are decreasing. Drivers can also sometimes suffer from
range anxiety- the fear that the batteries will be depleted before reaching their destination.
As of December 2015, there were over 30 models of highway legal all-electric passenger cars and utility vans available. Cumulative global sales of highway-capable light-duty pure electric vehicles passed one million units in total, globally, in September 2016.
Electric cars are a variety of
electric vehicle (EV). The term "electric vehicle" refers to any vehicle that uses electric motors for propulsion, while "electric car" generally refers to highway-capable
automobiles powered by electricity.
Low-speed electric vehicles, classified as
neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) in the United States, and as electric
motorised quadricycles in Europe, are plug-in electric-powered
city cars with limitations in terms of weight, power and maximum speed that are allowed to travel on public roads and city streets up to a certain posted speed limit, which varies by country.
While an electric car's power source is not explicitly an on-board battery, electric cars with motors powered by other energy sources are generally referred to by a different name: an electric car carrying
solar panels to power it is a
solar car, and an electric car powered by a gasoline generator is a form of
hybrid car. Thus, an electric car that derives its power from an on-board battery pack is a form of
battery electric vehicle (BEV). Most often, the term "electric car" is used to refer to
battery electric vehicles.