1998-02-23

The Electric Truck in America: Why Did It Fail? 980618

Since the Californian ZEV mandate caused a new wave of interest in the electric automotive propulsion system to sweep over the world, the question of why earlier attempts to bring the electric vehicle to the market failed is heavily debated. As to the possible causes of failure of the electric vehicle during the first two decades of this century, the consensus among automotive engineers tends to be that it was the high weight and the low energy density of the battery which prevented the electric motor from becoming the dominant automotive propulsion system. Since then, this argument goes, the situation hasn't changed very much.In this paper, based upon a recently finished doctoral dissertation on the history of early American and European electric vehicles [1], other, mainly non-technical, failure factors are suggested as being more convincing. Although this paper will be limited to the case of the American electric truck, it is argued that the history of automotive technology should become an integral part of engineering education, as it helps young engineers to weigh technological impulses of change against other, non-technical influences.

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