Battery Switch Technology

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Evolution of Car Manufacturers



Manufacturers Popularity and Decline

There were over 300 companies building electric cars at the turn of the 20th century. At that time the United States had over 30,000 electric cars on the road. The Electric Vehicle Association of America (EVAA) was founded by Boston Edison in 1909. Electric cars were clean and quiet, and did not require manual starting by physically cranking the motor by hand. The biggest demographic customer base for these cars was women. Even Henry Ford's wife drove an electric car.

In 1913 Cadillac invented the electric starter; this was a huge advance, truly a milestone in automotive technology for internal combustion cars.  The internal combustion assembly lines of Henry Ford, active since 1908, caused a further decline in the use of electric cars. Ford's assembly line made cars inexpensive and it helped make them more uniform.  Parts were not custom made for each vehicle, this made repairs and replacements easier and more economic. At the time, electrics were still popular for some non-road applications, such as service vehicles like carts and forklifts.

Infrastructure

With more cars of all types being produced the transportation infrastructure began to improve dramatically. We began building more paved roads. This also made internal combustion cars more desirable because of their greater range. Even Thomas Edison preferred gasoline to electric. As gasoline vehicles became more popular we began building more service and support for them.  Garages and gas stations began to appear in more locations, making it easier to own and operate a gas vehicle.

Today's Hybrids and Electrics

Hybrid vehicles became popular at the turn of the 21st century. Fuel prices reached record levels, quickly going from two dollars to three dollars, and eventually to over four dollars per gallon. One of the first vehicles to reach critical success in the consumer marketplace was the hybrid Toyota Prius. This vehicle is affordable, efficient and advanced, its hybrid technology blurring the lines between the performance of electric and internal combustion vehicles.  Hybrids' have two drive trains that work with each other to provide the work to drive the vehicle.  Development of the Hybrid has produced new technology which combines the drive trains at a price people are willing to pay.  A side benefit of their development has been to show that electric technology works effectively.  Some Hybrid owners have done conversions allowing for their vehicles to be charged by directly plugging in, these are known as plug-in-hybrid-electric-vehicles (PHEV).

The history of electric cars and trucks is filled with both facts and politics. Arguably, the best electric vehicles (EVs) are the one produced by the major auto manufacturers.  The major manufacturers produced both "ground-up", or original EVs, and conversions of existing vehicles.  Most of these vehicles are no longer in existence due to the auto makers' claims that there is not enough consumer demand.  Economics have come into question at various times, as the major vehicle makers have a vested stake in their existing internal combustion engine (ICE) technology.

  Smaller manufacturers have attempted to build electric cars and trucks with varying degrees of success.  Some of the vehicles produced by these companies look similar to the internal combustion cars and trucks we drive, and others appear much more exotic.  Size is important in order to maximize range, so some vehicles are extremely light, almost like bicycles.  Others have been built with three wheels to qualify for motor vehicle licensing in the motorcycle category.  Cars have been produced with direct drive motors, chain drive, belt drive, hub motors.  

Several smaller "boutique", or specialty manufacturers still convert vehicles today. The degree of their quality and performance varies dramatically.  Some companies offer parts that are kitted into standardized assemblies, others simply provide general instructions and ideas, often with a loose recipe of parts and where to find them.

Many hobbyists are drawn to conversions because of the design and creativity necessary to convert one existing design into another.  Because of this freedom, many strange and unique features have come from individual projects.  This experimentation has included charging trailers that are towed behind the with a gas generator (the first "hybrids"); regenerative braking that puts energy back into the battery pack by temporarily making the motor into a charger; even exploring with solar or motion generators attached to the EV.

  The moderate or limited success of these early inventors has both helped and hurt the EV industry.  The best outcome has been that they have proven the concept.  EVs are possible, the technology is here and can be assembled by almost anyone.  The negative side is that some of the early vehicles produced were unappealing to consumers.  The main buyers of these concept cars were early adopters who were willing to try out new technology. Many people believe that a car or truck is not really viable unless it is made by a major car manufacturer.

Your project is the combination of a "major manufacturer" and a "boutique" shop.  The S-10 was manufactured by General Motors, and the conversion kit was made by Electric Auto Shop.  Putting them together into the electric drive truck will use another boutique shop, you and your school.

 Today's Fuel Cell Vehicles

Using fuel cells in vehicles may be new technology, but fuel cells were introduced over 100 years ago.  In this technology, fuel material is converted into electricity.  The fuel material can be a stream of hydrogen gas.  Like a lead acid battery, there is action between the cathode and anode which produces work to the wheels to drive the vehicle.  One drawback is that the fuel cell vehicle is expensive and needs a lot of space for the fuel cell to complete its conversion process. 

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