Mention Porsche and visions of fast, sleek cars come to mind. But for the company’s namesake Ferdinand Porsche it was electricity, not gasoline, that first piqued his interest.
In 1893, at age 18, Porsche electrified his parents’ house. Before the turn of the century he was working for the Vereinigte Elektrizitäts-AG Béla Egger company in Vienna. It was that company that he first began designing and experimenting with automobiles. They were battery driven electric cars.
In 1900 he designed a highly advanced automobile. The ‘Semper Vivus’, his second car, was launched as the production-ready Lohner-Porsche ‘Mixte’. It had an internal gasoline engine powered by naptha. But rather than driving the car the engine was used to power a generator that sent a charge to the wheel hubs for propulsion.
The first decades of the 20th century, much like the first decades of the 21st century, were an era of innovation in the auto industry. But the innovators of the 21st century had a slight advantage as they were standing of the shoulders of pioneers.
Byron Carter capitalized on the bicycle mania of the 1890s and produced a quality two wheeld product in Jackson, Michigan. Still, there was little to differernate his bicycles from hundreds of others on the market at the time.
His, cars, however, were another matter. The Cartercar was friction drive, which eliminated the need for a transmission. The Carter Two Engine was even more radical in design. It was a four cylinder automobile, with conventional transmission. The selling point was reliability. Under the hood was a second four cyclinder engine, in case of mechanical failure with the first engine!
Before the introduction of the electric starter on the 1912 Cadillac, steam and electric powered cars were the industry leaders. These were the trend setters. A White steamer was the first automobile to replace carriages at the White House. A Stanley built steamer set a land speed record of nearly 150 miles an hour in 1906.
Rapid advancement of gasoline engine technology, and development of an electrical system that included starter and lights, proved the death knell for steeam powered cars. Electric cars fell out of favor, but as we see today, they still pique the interest of innovators who see a different future for the automobile.
Detroit Electric enjoyed strong brand loyalty. And they found a market in the growing number of female drivers as they were relatively clean and easy to operate, especially in comparison to cars such as the Model T Ford. Still, by 1914 the company reached its zenith when annual production topped 4,000 vehicles. The comapny continued producing vehicles into the 1930s, and even built a limited edition vehicle that used by the postal service.
The past, the present and the future of alternative energy vehicles, and supportive infrastructure are a regular topic of discussion on Car Talk From The Main Street of America, a podcast from Jim Hinckley’s America. We guarantee that the program will provide lots of fodder for trivia fueled discussions, be filled with surprising stories, and will have you looking at Tesla built cars in a whole new way.