When building automobiles became a viable business in the 1880s, the number of companies making horseless carriages proliferated rapidly.
By 1920, there were hundreds of automakers scattered around the world. As cars developed past simple, wheeled contraptions capable of self-propelled movement and became more sophisticated, assembly lines gave mass production a new meaning and scale of operation.
At the end of the ‘20s, depression driven disasters sent most small automakers into financial oblivion, bringing an end to the era of expanding numbers of automakers.
Manufacturing automobiles became such an extensive undertaking, serious entry into the auto industry became financially prohibitive. Even immense corporate empires such as Kaiser Industries with vast manufacturing plants left idle after WWII, ready-made for auto production near Detroit, could not sustain a competitive position in the business through its second decade before it became necessary to liquidate.
Today, however, the character of personal transportation is being redefined by oil prices and global warming. Americans see their automotive needs quickly evolving to include fuel-efficient, clean-green power plants, pollution control and pride in protecting the planet.
Because existing automakers are not responding to these needs adequately enough to satisfy many responsible drivers, a number of new companies have appeared to meet that challenge more effectively. In San Carlos, Calif., an all electric sports car, the Tesla, is being produced, powered by laptop computer batteries, with a 220-mile range, and performance comparable to a Ferrari.
According to Fortune Small Business, at least 15 new electric car manufacturers have announced models to go on sale before the end of this year. In Ontario, Calif., Phoenix Motorcars will offer its electric pickup trucks and SUV models for sale this year.
A Norwegian company, Think Global, sold 1,800 two passenger electric commute cars in Norway, and plans to enter the U.S. market in partnership with Think North America, capitalized at $95 million from venture capitalists in Menlo Park, Calif., and General Electric investment. Think N.A. also plans to market a five-passenger sedan for the U.S. market next year.
This year should bring the most interesting, exciting driving to Americans since automobiles were invented, so go road test an electric before buying, drivewise! ?
Automobile designer Jerry Cumbus is director of Automotive Research Center, a national association of auto designers, engineers and drivers.