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20 Electric Cars That Arrived Before The Tesla

Cameron EittreimOctober 22, 2019

Honda J-VX via Bing
Honda J-VX via Bing

10. Honda J-VX

Electric-powered vehicles have always excited auto fans. These are cars that can run without the use of fossil fuel, saving the environment and our bodies from toxins. Honda takes pride in creating vehicles that use fewer emissions, and the company’s green line of vehicles has become quite popular since the Insight model. The inspiration for the Insight Hybrid came in 1997 in the form of the Honda J-VX. The unique vehicle used a supercapacitor electrical storage system for the engine. Achieving 70MPG, the J-VX was among one of the most fuel-efficient designs in the world at the time.

Safety-wise, the J-VX featured some unique features such as Airbag “belts,” a first for any type of consumer automobiles. The J-VX looked a lot like the production model of the Insight and we have to think that Honda gathered a good deal of inspiration from the model. The Honda J-VX will stand out as one of the first real mainstream alternative energy vehicles that gave us the inspiration for the cars that we see today. Long before the Model S, it was Honda that was at the forefront of electric technology.

Honda FSR via Bing
Honda FSR via Bing

9. Honda FSR

What we have here is one of the first all-electric four-door family sedans. The FSR was another concept car that was designed by Honda. The unique design was based on the Civic platform at the time, which was one of the best selling compact cars in the world. The unique design featured a split four-door look and an open-air cabin feeling. Riding in the FSR felt a whole lot bigger than the car would entail, and this is what the automotive press loved about the vehicle the most.

While the FSR was still a new concept at the time, the model did help to create a buzz about electric cars. Given the time of the decade, the FSR was far advanced in terms of styling, and the car still looks unique today. The digital dashboard and cluster are similar to the dashboard that you’ll find in today’s Civic. The FSR also introduced the world to the first front-mounted camera for parking, a feature that’s the norm in vehicles nowadays. The FSR was truly a technological marvel at a time when SUV models were becoming the norm.

EVX via Bing
EVX via Bing

8. Honda EVX

With all of the progress that Honda was making in the electric car landscape, the company didn’t want to alienate their loyal hatchback customer base. Thus, the Honda EVX was born. The all-electric hatchback took the Civic styling of the time and transformed it into a futuristic vehicle. The overall design of the EVX looked a bit like the CR-V compact SUV that came later on. Reflective paint and a panoramic roof were some trademark features that made the little compact car stand out from the crowd.

Honda took the time to design an urban city car that could still travel. The EVX was the first electric hatchback that looked like something that people would buy. In terms of styling, the EVX was the furthest thing from a box that you could get. The automotive press praised the car for its zippy handling and decent range. Years later, Honda would incorporate a good deal of the same technology into their future car models. We still see a lot of the styling cues that came from the EVX in today’s Honda lineup, and that’s a good thing.

GM Impact via Bing
GM Impact via Bing

7. General Motors Impact

Domestic automakers were late to jump into the electric vehicle race because SUV sales were booming. But due to mounting pressure from the EPA, it was high time to create an electric vehicle. The Impact would ultimately become the EV-1. The Impact was based on the Saturn car platform, which in itself was a revolutionary change for GM. What made the Impact great was that it was the first highway compliant electric vehicle on the road and it had the highest range.

The car was a bit strange looking at a time when vehicle design had progressed pretty far. Few examples were left of the Impact after GM famously destroyed all of the vehicles at the end of their lease period. The company was taken to court by an entire group of drivers who wanted to continue with the EV-1. The Impact/EV-1 will go down in history as the little electric car that could. And it was a revolutionary one at that, giving us a glimpse of what Tesla would become.

AMC Rambler via Bing
AMC Rambler via Bing

6. AMC Concept Electron

There was a time not so long ago when AMC was one of the dominant automakers in the domestic market. Sadly, the company didn’t make it into the new millennium but still had some good ideas. AMC, the same company that brought us the Pacer, also designed one of the first functional electric cars. The Concept Electron was an experimental car that added something different. The overall design of the car resembled the Pacer, and that’s what drove a lot of excitement.

Unfortunately, AMC was hemorrhaging money at this point and the Concept Electron never made it to fruition as a production vehicle. The final product was rather unique, to say the least, and it offered an in-depth look into what was capable of the future of electric cars. AMC is a brand that had innovated the automotive industry for decades, so naturally, it was a pleasant surprise to see a stand out vehicle like this. We have to wonder what would have become of the Electron if AMC was in business today.

Peugeot ION via Bing
Peugeot ION via Bing

5. Peugeot Ion

As battery technology continued to advance more and more, automakers were attempting to get into the electric car race. Peugeot brought a new concept to the table. The Ion was a car that looked like something many of us would drive instead of scaring people away with futuristic styling. The car was designed in a collaboration with Mitsubishi and featured a lot of interesting aspects. Peugeot knows that consumers want some semblance of sportiness and a Euro-inspired antenna gave the car a unique look.

The flashy orange paint made the car stand out in terms of styling, and if you looked at it from a distance you wouldn’t even know this car was electric. The overall design is very refined for a concept car, and the Ion seemed to be a production-ready vehicle that was going to bring the world face to face with a modern electric car. Yet the brand decided not to bring the Ion into production until many years later, and this concept version is one that we have not gotten a chance to see on the road.

BMW E1 via Bing
BMW E1 via Bing

4. BMW Z11 (E1)

When it comes to roadworthy electric vehicles that hit the road during the 90s, the Z11 was a standout. The spunky little hatchback was a roadworthy vehicle with a roomy interior and a large cargo area. Look at the Z11 from the side and you might think that you’re looking at a Honda Civic. What made the Z11 extraordinary was that the car was completely freeway-compliant. That means that you could drive this car anywhere and feel safe when you were doing it.

The high quality of the Z11 helped propel the little electric car to the top of the food chain. Reviewers lauded the high-quality interior and the exceptional ride quality. This odd-shaped car was a BMW in every aspect, and thus the launching pad for other mainstream electric vehicles that came after it. Although the Z11 is not mentioned nowadays, the car was a very unique electric car and probably one of the best-built BMW models that we can remember.

Toyota Fine S via Bing
Toyota Fine S via Bing

3. Toyota Fine-S Concept

Toyota is the carmaker that revolutionized the world with the Prius. This was obviously the first mass-produced hybrid car that just about anyone could own. But Toyota was also the first brand to design an all-electric sports car. Where do we start with the Fine-S Concept? The car is a unique blend of sportiness and functionality. In fact, the concept was a line of different concept cars in a serious. You had the Fine-S, which was the sport concept, and then you had a hatchback variation as well.

Toyota was shooting for a conceptual design with this one. When you look at the Fine-S Concept, you know that the car is far too advanced for production. But the Fine-S Concept still managed to show off what kind of technology Toyota was capable of getting their hands on. The car was sleek and managed to offer some excitement at a time when electric cars were still on the horizon. We like what the Fine-S Concept has to offer, and it’s one of the more memorable electric car concepts of the last decade.

RAV4 EV via Bing
RAV4 EV via Bing

2. RAV4 EV (First Generation)

Right as GM was marketing the EV-1 as a viable electric car to consumers, Toyota also introduced a massively popular electric vehicle. The RAV4 EV was the first electric consumer vehicle that was based on a gasoline model and featured a completely functional interior. The RAV4 EV was mostly confined to California, although fleet models made their way to some other locations around the country. Almost everything about the RAV4 EV was the same as the production model except for a tailpipe.

There were a total of 1,484 RAV4 EV models that hit the market during the original run, and 1200 of these cars are still in use today. From a design standpoint, the RAV4 EV wasn’t a revolution, and shoppers liked that. The RAV4 EV was a practical electric car that you could drive anywhere and it didn’t make you feel like you were in a spaceship. It also helped that the RAV4 EV hit the market at a time when SUV models were selling like hotcakes.

RAV4 EV via Bing
RAV4 EV via Bing

1. RAV4 EV (Second Generation)

Another limited run of RAV4 EV models hit the market for a second time. The second generation of the RAV4 EV kept the same magic that made the original model a success story. 2,489 examples of the second generation RAV4 EV were sold over a few years. The interesting part of the story is that the second generation of the RAV4 EV was developed in conjunction with Tesla. The little SUV had all of the features that made the first model a success and the low-key styling was a hit with shoppers. The RAV4 EV second generation also featured a third-row seat.

The RAV4 EV captured a portion of the electric market. You’ll still see the second generation RAV4 EV driving around California and these cars are exceptionally reliable. If you wanted the joys of owning a RAV4 and the thrill of an electric vehicle, the RAV4 EV was a ride that you could feel good about driving. We have to wonder if there will be a third-generation RAV4 EV soon.

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