Autos: Replace Gas Engines with Electric


There is no doubt autos with gasoline-combustion engines are by far the dominant mode of transportation in the U.S., but how long will that continue? For those who think gas-propelled cars will remain indefinitely, they should be reminded of the horse-and-buggy, which was once considered a permanent institution.

The question is not whether the gas-combustion engine will become a thing of the past, the only issue is: When will it be replaced, and by what alternative source of energy?

It may be surprising to many, but electric cars were manufactured by 54 different American firms between 1893 and 1928, and were once widely used. 300 electric taxis were operating in New York City in 1900. The next year, an electric ambulance took President McKinley to the hospital, following his assassination in 1901.

Although electric cars had the advantage of being quiet and clean, as they emitted no poisonous gases, their top speed was only about 20 MPH, and they could only go about 50 miles before their lead-acid batteries needed replacement. To complicate the problem, new batteries were expensive. As gas-propelled vehicles became easier to operate in 1910, the electric car faded from the scene, and they were eliminated completely in 1928.

Another predecessor to gas was the steam engine, known as the Stanley Steamer, which was first marketed in 1896. They remained through 1925, when again gas-combustion took over.

The gas-combustion engine got their boost in Germany in 1885, when Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz built vehicles. In the U.S., Henry Ford and Ransom Olds started in 1896. Olds took the first step towards an assembly line, as he increased production from 425 cars in 1901 to 2,500 in 1902. Using Ford’s conveyor belt in 1913, they were able to make one Model T every 93 minutes.

Following WWI, the gas-propelled auto became the major means of transportation in the U.S. Its use increased many times over in the subsequent decades of the 20th Century.

To make the auto dominant, the government invested billions in federal, state, and local highway systems, beginning in 1921. As tax dollars were spent, millions of miles of roads were added during the 20 years through 1941. Suburban communities exploded, particularly after WWII, as many were invented in places not previously serviced by rail or water.

Now, the era of the gas-engine has had a long 90-year run, during which many improvements were made to the car, but many problems also surfaced. Gas engines have given us air pollution, congested highways, urban sprawl, a foreign oil addiction, automobile accidents, as well as a host of other problems.

When considering their cost, we must keep in mind not only the price of the car, but the taxes spent by the government to build and maintain roads, military spending to keep the sea lanes open for oil shipments, and environmental harm to the air we breath.

Political leaders should be pushing scientists and engineers to bring back the electric car, since they are quieter, cleaner, and need not rely on foreign oil. The government invested heavily in roads to help gas-powered car get off the ground. Now, we need the same to help electric cars become our primary form of transit.

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