The venerated General Electric conglomerate, known by everyone as good old ‘GE’ since 1892, had several slogans about the advantages of electricity. More than a century ago, they encouraged us to “Live Better Electrically”. When the majority of factories, offices, and homes were connected to the ‘grid’, they confirmed that we are “Living Better Electrically”.
From a whistling teakettle to a shrieking jet engine, GE touches our lives everywhere and every day. We learned that ‘progress is their most important product’ and that ‘they bring good things to life’; all these slogans are oh so familiar.
Less well known is the fact that the US Government encouraged GE to explore electric vehicles even before the 1973 oil crisis. In 1967 the firm’s R&D division built the Delta GE experimental car. Very little is available in digital form about the “recent early days” of EVs, other than that secret experiments were also conducted with ET. (Not that ET) General Electric’s ET (electric truck) was actually named the Q-T van (quiet truck), and the period was 1970-1972.
When the 1973 oil crisis caused anxiety and price at petrol pumps to ‘hit the roof’, the US Department of Energy (DOE) made serious efforts to find and fund electric vehicles.
It took until 1982 before the GE Research Lab came up with the first hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) which could be considered an ancestor of the HEVs available today.
In 1988, Ford showed us their Ford/GE ETX-1, and one year later VW-Audi followed with their Duo hybrid, many years after the Voltswagen took to the road. However, it took many more years before practical hybrids were first produced in Japan, i.e. Toyota’s Prius and Honda’s Insight.
Everybody is aware of hybrids now, the first step in the electrification of the automobile. Now step two is taking place with plug-in hybrids and step three with battery-electric vehicles (BEV).
How many more steps will it take to accomplish acceptable electric transportation (that’s ET again), range- and price-wise?
Serious efforts are being made at this time by automakers as well as event promoters. Auto shows around the world have numerous EVs on display; competition –motor-sport in the literal sense with electric motors– are becoming more frequent. At the highest level, the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) has instituted the Formula E Wold Championship starting in 2014, as reported in a recent article.
While manufacturers have pulled out of Formula1, Formula E already has three major manufacturers participating, with support from Michelin and the McLaren and Williams Formula1 teams. Andretti Motorsport and teams from China, India, Britain, Germany, France and Japan will race sleek electric, open-wheel cars.
“We’ve been watching this new project of the FIA with great interest and are delighted that ABT Sportsline as one of our close and long-standing partners will be involved right from the beginning. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for the squad on tackling this new challenge and are planning to support its commitment with drivers from our factory line-up if required,” said Audi Motorsport Director Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.
VW-Audi recently won the World Endurance Championship with their e-tron hybrid cars; Renault-Nissan produces the ‘Leaf’ BEV, and India’s Mahindra has been producing small EVs for some time. VIA Motors, headed by Bob Lutz, the retired General Motors Vice Chairman, is ‘electrifying’ vans and pickups for long range driving.
With many more companies and countries energizing the E-automobile, it may not be long before we all will we be better off driving electrically.