This week in 1903: The all-electric vehicle

It is tempting to think of the all-electric vehicle as a relatively modern development, but engineers were taking the concept seriously as far back as 1903


It is tempting to regard the all-electric vehicle as a relatively modern development but, as this piece from the archives demonstrates, engineers were taking the concept seriously as far back as 1903.

‘Electrically-driven vehicles would appear to be coming much more into use,’ wrote the magazine, pointing to some interesting developments on the other side of the Channel.

‘Our neighbours across the Channel are many of them making electric cars,’ reported the article, pointing to the development of the double electric Phaeton by the Compaigne de L’industrie Electrique of Geneva. ‘The double electric Phaeton… is a distinctly handy car — we have ridden in one, so are in a position to judge. Though it cannot be termed fast, since its speed is limited as a maximum to 12½ miles an hour,’ declared The Engineer.

‘The makers inform us that this low speed has been chosen, since the car is intended primarily for use in towns. It is — largely in consequence of its batteries — a fairly heavy carriage, weighing as it does some 2865lb.’

A large portion of this weight is taken up by the 1,100lb battery. This, wrote the magazine, ‘is made up of forty cells with a capacity of 120 ampere-hours. For a speed of 20km/h the current required is about 40 amperes so that with one charging the car can run for three hours and cover a distance of 60km.’

The article reports that the motor, connected to a spindle through gearing with a ratio of one to three, is rated at 5hp but can withstand momentary calls for greater power, ‘say up to 10 or even 12 horsepower’.

Commenting on the vehicle’s resemblance to a petrol car, the article concludes: ‘The motor is placed just over the front axles, an arrangement which enables the working parts to be got at with facility. The starting and regulating mechanism is also placed well forward and it is manipulated by a hand wheel fixed to the steering wheel.’

Jon Excell, features editor