The history of the automobile is actually the history of electric cars because electric came first. Electric cars, broke all the speed records and did everything well before gas cars did.
Ferdinand Porsche thought electricity was the best way to power cars. The classic electric vehicles I have in my garage are a 1909 Baker Electric and a 1916 Owens Magnetic, which is very like a hybrid car. The idea behind the Owens was that battery technology was not very good so consequently you would run out of power and you could just put gasoline in it. There was no mechanical connection between the engine and the drivetrain. The flywheels spin, which creates a magnetic field that spins a 24-volt generator.
One of the things I love about electric cars is that they are quiet. The 1909 Baker Electric is the only car I have that, when we go up into the hills, the deer actually come right up and look in the window. There's no smell, no sound, there's nothing to scare them away.
That being said, in busy New York, 100 years ago, electric cars were used as cabs. They would run about 80 miles on a charge, at 22 miles per hour, but they were on cobblestone roads, so speed was not a factor. So they would run for six or eight hours, and then they'd go back to the garage, plug in, take another one that's fully-charged, and that's how they did it. The modern electric or hybrid cars I have are a 2013 Fiat 500 electric and a Chevy Volt hybrid, which is about six years old. The Chevy Volt has 58,000 miles on it, and it's used 21 gallons of gas, in that time. The thing I like about it is, especially when I got it, and this was before Tesla had come out with long-range vehicles or anything like that, you didn't run out of power.
The Fiat 500 was my wife's car, although I love driving it. I always thought she would like the electric, because she never liked the inconvenience of going to the gas station. So the idea that she could just plug it in at night, and every day get another 100 miles, is fantastic. She thinks it's the greatest car ever invented, and can't imagine why anyone would have a gasoline car.
With more and more electric or hybrids coming on the market, it's interesting to wonder what might become classics of the future – like the Baker or the Owens. In America, horsepower cures all problems. What's the biggest problem with electric cars? Range, and the fact that they're slow. So Tesla now makes the fastest accelerating four-door sedan in the world, and the range is pretty good – 250 miles. Problems solved. The Tesla S would probably beat a Dodge Hellcat muscle car in a drag race, which is amazing when you think about it.
In New York 100 years ago, electric cars were used as cabs. They would run about 80 miles on a charge.
For the first time, we're seeing Hybrids being used not primarily for fuel economy but for power, and fuel economy is just a by-product. Like the McLaren P1, it's faster as a hybrid than it would be as just a gas car. They're using hybrid technology to go faster, and oh by the way, you get 34 miles per gallon.
They say the P1 is the first car never to go down in value. All classics started out expensive, dipped down a bit and then came back up again. They say the P1 is the first car to retail at a million and then go up from then on. And it's a hybrid. I think the first generation Prius will also be interesting, because I think they'll be seen as simple. If you look at a first generation Prius, it's sort of cute and unthreatening and simple. I think it might be a collectible for that reason.
Jay Leno, comedian, actor and the the host of NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
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