Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=1970-514

Electric vehicles

My colleague Peter Turvey, senior curator at our Wroughton site, brought to my attention the BMW MINI E, an electric version of the famous small car I talked about in an earlier post. It’s going to be trialled in south-west England this autumn and, if successful, may join the likes of the curiously-shaped G-Wiz electric car on our streets.

Electric cars sound like the height of modernity, but in fact they have a far longer history than you might imagine. In fact, they’ve been around as long as the petrol motor car, and actually out-sold petrol cars in the USA in the early twentieth century. Then, as now, they were easy-to-drive, clean, quiet and relatively vibration-free.

We’ve got some very interesting early battery-powered vehicles in the Science Museum’s collections. Our Bersey electric taxicab (London’s first self-propelled taxi) dates from 1897:

Bersey electric cab, 1897 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Bersey electric cab, 1897 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

This 1904 Krieger is rather luxurious – and still works:

Krieger electric car, 1904 (Science Museum)

Krieger electric car, 1904 (Science Museum)

Our more recent electric vehicles include a 1930s delivery van (from a well-known grocery store), and a Ford ‘Comuta’ car from 1967, which reminds me very much of the G-Wiz:

Harrods electric delivery van, 1930s (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Harrods electric delivery van, 1930s (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Ford Comuta car, 1967 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Ford 'Comuta' car, 1967 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

The problem was, and is, the batteries: the range of an electric car is very short compared to that of a petrol car with a full tank. The electric car is heavy, and its top speed is relatively low. But that isn’t necessarily a big deal for most urban driving, and it brings the enormous benefit of reduced local emissions in heavily-populated areas. 

I await the MINI trial results with great interest!