Electric Golf I © Volkswagen

The electric car is not a contemporary innovation, but actually dates from the end of the XIXth century. The first electric taxis in Paris appeared in 1899, more than a century before the arrival of the first Tesla Model S.

We offer a small retrospective of the evolution of the electric car with European car manufacturers over the past 50 years.

BMW, pioneer since 1972

The German firm is recognized for its talents as engine manufacturers. Its adventure in the world of electric motorization dates back to the early 1970s. At the time, BMW had electrified a 1602 with a Bosch engine of 43 horsepower, and heavy lead batteries accumulating 12.6 kWh, placed under the hood . 0 to 50 km / h was slowly reached in 8 seconds. The range did not exceed 30 km.

This project gave birth to other prototypes at the Bavarian automaker, including a prototype made on the basis of an old BMW LS. The model had a charging socket for the first time and could be charged in 14 hours. This was followed by a project based on the BMW 325iX E30 which then took advantage of an electronic power management system. The range here reached 150 km.

Then there was the arrival of the BMW E1, a car entirely developed for electric motors. Presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1991 after only ten months of development, autonomy was announced at 160 km and the full charge achievable in just 4 to 6 hours.

With the arrival of the E36 3 series, BMW is developing 25 electric vehicles to test different design techniques and several types of batteries to find the best compromise. These years of research will give birth thereafter, in 2008, to the new Mini Electric then to the BMW i3 and i8.


© Arnaud MARCHAL

106 or Saxo, at PSA there is a choice

PSA will start its electric adventure by attacking utilities. In 1989, an electric version of the J5 was produced with the help of Leroy-Sommer. It can travel up to 70 km and reach 80 km / h. 50 copies are then purchased by EDF.

In the mid-1990s, the PSA group marketed an electric version of its city car sold under the Peugeot and Citroën brands. If the group had big ambitions, sales are not there. Only a few thousand copies of the 106, Saxo and Ax have been sold.

This failure is probably due to too restrictive technology. The weight of the nickel-cadmium batteries then amounted to 260 kg, or one third of the usual weight of the city car, which made it particularly heavy and underpowered with an electric motor of only 27 horsepower. Top speed was capped at 90 km / h and its range limited to 80 km.

Peugeot 106 Electric © Groupe PSA

The first Golf had its electric version

Volkswagen started its electric adventure with the Combi in 1972. It was equipped with a Bosch engine and 850 kg of lead batteries produced by Varta. Its weight reached 2.2 tonnes empty … 120 copies of this electric combi would have been produced with different bodies.

Next comes the electric Golf 1, only two years after the launch of the original thermal version. Against the background of the oil crisis, the Elektro Golf 1 was thus fitted with an electric motor instead of the petrol engine. The car retains its four-speed manual gearbox and could reach 60 km of range.

Electrical testing continued in 1985 with the Golf II CityStromer produced in 70 units, then in 1993 with the Golf III. The latter then benefited from the progress already made in partnership with Siemens, and its autonomy reached 90 km. In just 90 minutes of charging, the batteries could recover 80% of their capacity.

Electric Golf I © Volkswagen

© Volkswagen

Mercedes-Benz 190 E: E for electric?

At the request of the German government, which wished to carry out an experiment between 1992 and 1996 with the car manufacturers of the country, Opel, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz prepared several electric prototypes.

It is within this framework that Mercedes-Benz developed an electric version of its 190 E. Ten copies were put into circulation, and one of them even managed to reach 100,000 km, which is a great success for a first try.

Within the framework of this experiment, the Stuttgart manufacturer carried out several assemblies of batteries and motors to test different solutions. One of them consisted of two 22 hp rear electric motors powered by sodium and nickel chloride batteries. The whole was completed by a regenerative braking system. It was presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1991.

Mercedes 190E Electric © Mercedes-Benz

© Mercedes-Benz