In the late 19th Century, cars with electric motors, gasoline engines and steam engines were three, very real transport possibilities competing for long-term dominance. So what happened to EVs, and how has EV architecture developed over time? Allow TheVox Network to explain…
The creation of the electric car can be better described as a series of events rather than a specific moment, but the world would need to wait until 1859, before French Physicist Gaston Plante developed the lead-acid battery.
Various inventors and engineers from across the globe then started to develop a series of battery-powered, horseless carriages, including Thomas Parker. In 1884, the British Inventor who had already electrified the London Underground, built the first production electric car, powered by a rechargeable, high-capacity batteries. In 1894, American engineer Henry Morris and chemist Pedro Salom developed the Electrobat, the first truly successful electric vehicle, which featured steel wheels to support the weight of its heavy frame and large lead battery.
Things were going well for the electric carriage, but a poor range and lack of electrical infrastructure held back mass-adoption, right at the same time that large deposits of crude oil were being discovered. Very quickly, electric vehicles became a transportation footnote, sidelined for specialist uses such as forklift trucks and milk floats.
It wasn’t until the impending oil crises of the 60s and 70s where a few electric car prototypes emerged to show another way, but in 1996, General Motors presented a future vision that consumers could actually buy into.
The EV1 was a genuine trailblazer. Not only did it feature an aerodynamic and lightweight composite body, it configured a series of lead acid batteries to sit within the spine of the car’s chassis, reducing the centre of gravity and improving vehicle packaging, Unfortunately, batteries at the time still remained short on range, hideously expensive and half-a-tonne heavy, which is why the EV1 was only ever made available to incredibly limited markets, in incredibly small numbers, and on a leasing programme.
The world would have to wait until 2011, before the first, truly credible, mass-market electric car would be built. Tesla may have made electric cars cool, but the Nissan LEAF made the technology credible, with a bespoke EV platform that most carmakers now mimic, and is commonly referred to as ‘skateboard architecture’.
For any electric vehicle, the high voltage battery remains the heaviest and most cumbersome component on the vehicle, so Nissan designed the battery pack to be a sealed, flat unit, so it could be positioned very low and hidden away in the body floor. Not only does this provide a very low center of gravity, which improves overall stability, the configuration lets you push the cabin to the ends of the car, so you have smaller overhangs, a larger wheelbase and much more interior space.
Most of today’s bespoke Battery Electric Vehicle architecture features a powertrain on the front axle and the high voltage battery in the floor between the front and rear axle. But high performance models, like the Tesla Model S, can feature two electric motors; one on the front axle and one on the rear axle, to provide all-wheel drive.
The relative simplicity of skateboard architecture is one of the main reasons why the labour intensity of building a battery electric vehicle is about 20% less than that of an internal combustion vehicle, which is already impacting future roles in the automotive industry.