Battery-powered motor vehicle. Originating in the 1880s, electric cars were used for private passenger, truck, and bus transportation in cities, where their low speeds and limited battery range were not drawbacks, and the cars became popular for their quietness and low maintenance costs. Until 1920 they were competitive with gasoline-fueled cars; they became less so after the electric self-starter made gasoline-powered cars more attractive and mass production made them cheaper to produce. In Europe electric vehicles have been used as short-range delivery vans. Renewed interest in electric cars beginning in the 1970s, spurred especially by new consciousness of foreign oil dependency and environmental concern, led to improvements in speed and range. Recent laws, particularly in California, have mandated commercial production. “Hybrid” cars employing both electric and internal combustion engines and providing the best features of both technologies, have recently become commercially available. Experimental vehicles have used solar fuel cells.
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The Studebaker Electric was an automobile produced by the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company of South Bend, Indiana, a forerunner of the Studebaker Corporation. The battery-powered cars were sold from 1902 to 1912.
Studebaker entered into the automobile manufacturing field in 1898 when Frederick S. Fish, Studebaker president at the time, persuaded the board to supply $4,000 for the development on an electric vehicle. However, lacking the board’s full support, the project yielded one car. The company did, however, enter into the field of producing bodies for electric taxis through Alexander Pope’s Electric Vehicle Company.
Studebaker formally began production in earnest in 1902, and the company chose battery-powered electric vehicles because they were clean, easily recharged, and worked well in urban centers without need of refueling depots (gas stations).
Studebaker Electrics were available in a variety of body styles, many of which mimicked the bodies that it had long produced for its lucrative passenger carriage line. These included the Stanhope, Victoria, and Surrey. A four-passenger model was introduced in 1904.
Fish realized early on that Studebaker’s future did not rest in the limited electric car, but in the gasoline-powered automobile. Studebaker’s field of expertise was in body building and product distribution, not engine building. This realization led to the creation of the Studebaker-Garford automobile in 1904. The joint agreement worked well until 1909-1910 when Garford attempted to divert chassis to its own brand of automobile, and Studebaker, looking for an affordable car to sell entered into an agreement with the E-M-F Company of Detroit. E-M-F would build the entire car, which would then be distributed through Studebaker wagon dealers.
Still, Studebaker continued to build electric vehicles until John M. Studebaker's son-in-law Frederick Fish decided to begin the process of seizing control of E-M-F in 1909, which Studebaker completed by 1910.
By 1912, John M. Studebaker finally saw that the future in automobiles involved gasoline powered engines, and the limited production of electric cars stopped. An official announcement from the newly re-incorporated Studebaker Corporation stated: