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Step into the history
of electric vehicles

Steam, electricity and petrol

Electric motors and batteries were already available when the automobile was still in its infancy, and electric scale model ‘cars’ had been around since 1828. The first electric vehicle was built in 1888, two years after Carl Benz developed the first automobile. In the early years electric, steam and petrol-powered vehicles were engaged in fierce competition. The main advantage of electric vehicles was the lack of noise the cars made and reliability. The invention of the electric starter motor for petrol engines and a significant drop in the price of petrol signalled the end for steam power and the electric vehicle. Fossil fuel shortages during World War II brought about a brief resurgence of the EV. The Peugeot VLV and the Breguet A2 are two examples from that era.

1899

Columbia Electric Landaulet

This Columbia is believed to have been used for transporting VIPs in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. It is literally a horseless carriage. The horses have been replaced by a couple of large electric motors. The controls and volt/ammeter are mounted on the dashboard. The paintwork features beautiful hand-painted pinstripes.

1905

Hedag Electric Brougham

Hedag obtained a licence to run taxis in Hamburg after a ban had been imposed on petrol taxis in cities such as Hamburg and Berlin. Two heavy electric motors are mounted on the front wheels of this Hedag, one on each side, and the batteries are located underneath the driver’s seat and at the rear. Its range was approximately 80 km and its maximum speed 23 km/h.

1908

Baker Electric Roadster

With this model Baker tried to make his electric cars look like the petrol-powered competition. The radiator however had no function and the batteries were located in the front under the bonnet. The floor-mounted dashboard was made up of one Volt and one Ampere gauge. The battery charger can also be seen here.

1912

Baker Electric Coupe

This Baker Electric was the model for Grandma Duck’s car in Walt Disney’s Donald Duck cartoons.
The Baker was positioned as the ‘Aristocrat of Motordom’, which guaranteed freedom from ‘the Uncertainties of the Explosive Motor or Steam-Driven Vehicles’

1912

Detroit Electric Clear Vision Brougham

The phrase ‘Clear Vision’ in this Detroit Electric’s name refers to the extra flip-up windscreen. The batteries are stored in the boot at the rear of the car. The 160 km range was very competitive so it was not surprising that the Detroit Electric became one of the market leaders in electric cars.

1920

Cygnet The Baby Swan Car

To accompany the ‘Swan Car’, the Maharaja of Nabha had this smaller version made for use on his estate in the 1920s. The ‘Baby Swan’ or ‘Cygnet’ was fitted with an electric motor. Both cars are now reunited in the museum, like ‘mother and daughter’.

1941

Peugeot VLV

The electrically powered VLV (Voiture Légère de Ville – light town car) was manufactured by Peugeot during World War II because of the lack of fossil fuels. It has the appearance of a three-wheeler, but the two rear wheels are placed very close together – the track width is no more than 33.5 cm.

1942

Breguet A2

Before World War I, in addition to aircraft, Breguet manufactured some luxury 6-cylinder cars. Although of good quality, they failed to sell in large numbers. Breguet was not allowed to manufacture aircraft between 1941 and 1945 so out of necessity they manufactured a number of electric vehicles. The car was fitted with 6 batteries which gave the car a range of 65 km at an average speed of 40 km/h.

2000

Corbin Sparrow Electric Single-Seater

Its official name is the Personal Transportation Module (PTM), but it is also known as the ‘Jelly Bean’. This all-electric, three-wheeled car was intended for everyday use: its range is approximately 55 kilometres and has a top speed of 120 km/h.

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