As Tesla struggles to build enough cars to fill orders, other, independently funded companies, such as Karma, are gaining traction; and the revived Volvo is committed to producing only electric vehicles and hybrids beginning in 2019. BMW, Nissan, GM, and Toyota continue to launch EVs. Despite low gas prices, the logic and inevitability of EVs are becoming more apparent. EVs first hit the road in the 19th century but lost the power struggle to internal combustion. Firms founded in the 21st century continue to advance the argument. Today, EV firms are making cars, vans, buses, and trucks--Tesla is launching a semi--as they rewire the auto industry. But which ones can generate enough juice for the long run?
1898: The EV taxi debuts on Broadway
Isaac Rice's Electric Vehicle Company built and operated a fleet of 100 EV taxis in New York City. The firm imploded after he was bought out. Rice turned to submarines; his Electric Boat Company later evolved into General Dynamics.
1914: Ford touts EVs
The Detroit Electric Car Co. produced 13,000 EVs--that's Tom Edison next to one--from 1907 to 1939. Henry Ford announced plans in 1914 to work with Edison to launch a Ford EV. He never did. Internal-combustion engines prevailed for the rest of the century.
1974: A car for a crisis
Responding to OPEC's oil embargo of the United States, Sebring-Vanguard's CitiCar made its debut in 1974 with a top speed of more than 30 mph and a warm-weather range of 40 miles. Founded by former Chrysler dealer Bob Beaumont, the Sebring, Florida-based outfit was, by 1976, the sixth-largest U.S. automaker. From 1974 to 1979, when the company went under, 4,444 vehicles were built. Its successor, Commuter Vehicles, owned by Frank Flowers, built an estimated 2,144 Comuta-Cars until 1982.
1996: Roger Smith
GM boss Roger Smith backed the company's first electric car, the EV1. GM would lease more than 1,000 EV1s before ultimately recalling them in 1999--and then junking them, along with the EV program.
2000: EVs become cool
Toyota's U.S. entry established the market for EVs and gas-electric hybrids. The Prius became a status symbol in Hollywood, evidence of your green cred. It set other car makers in motion--and some entrepreneurs to dreaming.
2003: Tech's star car
Elon Musk founded Tesla in 2003, and five years later it released its $109,000 Roadster as bait: It was designed to attract interest and investment, enabling the company to build more affordable, mass-market cars. It did. In 2017, Tesla has some 450,000 orders for its $35,000 Model 3. And no profits. While Musk tries to unsnarl production problems, Tesla alumni are busy with their own creations.
2007: Fast and curious
Lucid Motors' $60,000 Air prototype can reach 235 mph, which may not be as fast as the rumors swirling around whether it will be acquired. A would-be Tesla killer when the company launched in 2007, Lucid, previously known as Atieva and started by a Tesla alum, has run through two Chinese investors and is now seeking funding for a factory.
2008: Get on the bus
Arguably the most Millennial of the new EV firms, Local Motors is combining crowdsourced design and 3-D printing into a nontraditional process called direct digital manufacturing, done in four mini factories. Co-founded in 2008 by CEO Jay Rogers, an ex-Marine officer and McKinsey consultant, it prints EVs such as Olli, a driverless shuttle that runs on IBM's Watson platform.
2014: Driving to get to market
Faraday Future's FF91 prototype is similar to Tesla's Model X crossover and boasts slick design and tech innovations such as the patented FF Echelon Inverter (not to be confused with a flux capacitor). But the company, started in 2014 and financed by serial EV investor Jia Yueting, has had the same executive turnover issues that Tesla once did--though without any sales. Production is slated to begin in 2018.
2014: Kalifornia kool
The Karma Revero is gorgeous, fun to drive--and in production. Karma Automotive is the successor to Fisker Automotive, maker of the Finnish-designed Fisker Karma hybrid, which debuted in 2012 and sold fewer than 2,500 cars before production halted. Founder Henrik Fisker left the company in 2013. Reorganized in 2014 and restaffed, Karma is run by entrepreneur Tom Corcoran and former GM exec Jim Taylor with funding by Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang Group. "It's essentially a startup," says Taylor. The solar-roofed, $130,000 Revero is being built in Moreno Valley, California.
2014: Upstate upstart
The Bollinger Motors B1 was "developed, designed, and engineered in Hobart, New York" following the company's founding in 2014 by serial entrepreneur Robert Bollinger. The B1 is an SUT--a sport utility truck, the first EV designed for off-road. It has the Spartan look of a Hummer made by Lego, and is geared toward the utility truck market. There are 10,000 orders for the as-yet-unbuilt $60,000 SUT.
2016: Parts department
After departing Tesla in 2008, co-founder Martin Eberhard moved to Lucid Motors before launching InEvit in 2016. His firm isn't a car maker. It will license and supply "chassis architecture"--power trains, energy storage, and management systems--to EV makers. China's SF Motors bought InEvit last October.
2016: Restarting his engine
Henrik Fisker is a great designer, but his first EV outfit sputtered. In 2016, he started Fisker Inc., which will try to erase that failure with the EMotion, a luxury sedan priced at $129,000--in line with the Karma Revero and Tesla Model S. In addition to style, Fisker is promising a fast-charging, 400-mile-range EV. The company is taking reservations ($2,000), but delivery isn't scheduled until 2019.
2017: Comes with a vacuum?
Appliance designer James Dyson on why he'll invest $1 billion to create a new EV: "We are starting from scratch. There isn't one that is suitable."