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Connected Driving 5 min read

EV ambitions: the evolution of electric cars

A person pushes their shopping cart toward their parked electric vehicle.

The first electric vehicle was invented in the 19th century, but it took almost 200 years to become widely adopted. We explore why.

The automotive industry has witnessed a remarkable transformation in recent decades, with electric vehicles (EVs) paving the way toward a sustainable and environmentally friendly future of mobility. But the road to widespread adoption was long and winding, and it took almost two centuries for EVs to realize their full potential.

The rise and fall — and rise again

The concept of electric vehicles dates back to the 19th century when inventors like Thomas Davenport and Robert Anderson experimented with rudimentary electric-powered carriages. But it was Thomas Edison and his creation of the nickel-iron battery in the early twentieth century that laid the groundwork for more practical electric vehicles. These early EVs were embraced for their quietness and lack of emissions, but their limited range and the availability of cheap gasoline eventually blocked their widespread adoption.

After the initial back draws, EVs received a new wave of attention in the 20th century, especially during the oil crises of the 1970s. Major automakers introduced electric models, but the high cost of batteries, limited technological advancements and lack of infrastructure support hindered their success. By the 1990s, the spotlight shifted away from EVs to internal combustion engine (ICE) cars as gasoline-powered vehicles dominated the market.

That was until the turn of the 21st century brought a renewed focus on sustainability and environmental concerns. ICE cars started raising attention for all the wrong reasons and the need for greener cars took over. Thanks to advances in battery technology and recycling, interest in EVs reignited and this time, it didn’t fade. Cars have become quieter, more efficient and better for the environment, giving momentum to EV adoption that is yet to slow down. 

A woman at an EV charge point in the US

Recharging momentum

One of the most important breakthroughs in the evolution of EVs was the development of lithium-ion batteries. These high-energy-density batteries provided longer ranges and faster charging times, addressing the major concerns of earlier electric vehicles. The advancements in battery technology not only improved the performance of EVs but also made them more affordable and accessible to a broader audience, fueling the appeal of becoming an e-vehicle driver. 

Electric Vehicles

Electric obstacles

Although the modern EVs have a much higher adoption rate, it hasn’t come without challenges. They might be better for the environment, but EVs are still more expensive than ICE cars. This is why governments worldwide started offering incentives for electric vehicle adoption. Coupled with a growing public awareness of the environmentally friendly benefits, the incentives gave EV adoption the final push. Major automakers followed suit, investing heavily in electric vehicle development and introducing a diverse range of models to cater to different consumer needs.

New perks also meant new challenges. With EVs, the challenge is called range anxiety. This is where location technology steps in. By providing accurate real-time data on the vehicle's range, based on factors such as route topography and traffic conditions, location technology can help alleviate range anxiety. Moreover, it can guide drivers to the nearest charging station, taking into account variables like the remaining battery charge and speed limits along the route. With a “two birds, one stone” effect, improving charging infrastructure aims to mitigate range anxiety and its sister fear - charge anxiety.

A close-up view of an AI-enabled car dashboard or digital cockpit.

AI acceleration

Probably the biggest change in EVs compared to the original prototypes is the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Smart charging infrastructure benefits from AI by predicting peak usage times and optimizing energy distribution, while predictive maintenance, personalized driving experiences and continuous software updates ensure that EVs operate efficiently, reliably and adapt to evolving user preferences.

AI algorithms also mitigate range and charge anxiety by enhancing battery management and predicting and optimizing range. Finally, AI contributes to the development of autonomous driving features, enabling safer and more efficient transportation.

An illustration of a passenger traveling in their self-driving car.

Entering the EV era

Looking ahead, the evolution of electric vehicles continues with advancements in battery technology, increased range and improved charging infrastructure. The integration of artificial intelligence and smart technologies in EVs promises enhanced efficiency, safety and user experience. As the world continues to prioritize a greener future, electric vehicles are poised to shape the automotive landscape for generations to come.

Maja Stefanovic

Maja Stefanovic

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