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20 Electric Cars That Arrived Before The Tesla

Cameron EittreimOctober 22, 2019

The Elcar via Bing
The Elcar via Bing

17. The Elcar

A lot of progress was being made in the electric car realm during the 70s. As technology was advancing further than ever and gasoline prices were rising, the need for an electric car grew. Unfortunately, domestic automakers were not fully on board with the concept of an electric vehicle. The 1975 Elcar is another odd-shaped little vehicle that managed to provide decent city driving. Sounding like a lawnmower, the Elcar was a two-seat vehicle that looked more like a tiny Mitsubishi Van than anything.

What made the Elcar cool was that it had a 55-mile range, which was more than sufficient for most of the urban customers who wanted one. In terms of size, the Elcar was a bit too small to be taken on the freeway, which alienated a good portion of the market for one of these vehicles. The overall design of the vehicle was modern enough for most drivers to live with, but sadly, the Elcar didn’t live on for too long. You can still find Elcars on the used car market from time to time, and these are sure to be going up in value soon.

BMW 1602 E via Bing
BMW 1602 E via Bing

16. 1972 BMW 1602 E

Perhaps the most “ordinary” looking electric car came out of Germany and it debuted at the Summer Olympics. BMW is usually a company that’s ahead of the curve when it comes to technological advancements, and the E-Series was the first of its kind. Take one look at the sleek, swooping design of the coupe and you’re sure to see something that looks drivable and approachable. The 1972 BMW 1602 E was powered by twelve lead-acid starter batteries, which was ahead of the curve before Lithium-Ion came along. The 1602 E was the first electric car with refinement. The styling was subtle, but the car was revolutionary in a lot of ways.

With that array of batteries, you managed to squeeze out a whopping 42-horsepower. But don’t let that figure scare you, the sleekly-designed BMW could still manage 62 MPH. The interior featured a barebones version of a BMW interior to save on the overall weight of the vehicle. The range of 37 miles was also less than the other mini-electric cars that we covered. Sadly, the 1602 E was only a conceptual design and the physical vehicle never went into production. Needless to say, BMW was almost ahead of its time with a modern designed electric vehicle.

RT1 via Bing
RT1 via Bing

15. RT1 Electric Car Prototype

It would appear that the “box” theme was the going thing for electric vehicles during this time frame. The RT1 was another prototype electric car that tried to market a mass-produced electric car. What made the RT1 unique was that it could comfortably fit four passengers, which was a first for an electric car at the time. The RT1 was envisioned as being a mass-transit vehicle, as opposed to a personal vehicle.

The RT1 had a decent range and could comfortably seat the passengers without feeling unsafe. The unique design was something that resembled a mini passenger bus. Luckily, electric cars have come a long way in terms of design and refinement nowadays. But back in the seventies, the future looked bright and there was a good deal of excitement over what future cars might look like. When it comes to unique electric vehicle concepts that hit the market, the RT1 was unique for sure.

Volvo Electric Car via Bing
Volvo Electric Car via Bing

14. Volvo Electric Car

There were a lot of car companies that we’re jumping into the electric car fray during the 70s. The technology was advancing just far enough that the cars were becoming more feasible than ever. Volvo is a company that’s known for technological innovation and thus, the Volvo Electric Car was born. The Volvo Electric Car had a rather unique exterior style that made the little electric car looks more like a miniature Volvo wagon, and the automotive press loved it. The Volvo Electric Car took a whopping ten hours to charge, leaving only two hours of drive time.

Had the company progressed with the electric car research, the Volvo Electric Car could have been a viable option. The interior was more livable than other options that were on the road and it would seem that Volvo paid more attention to the aesthetics of the vehicle. When it came to precision-built electric vehicles that put safety and comfort above all else, the Volvo did the job right. But in the real world, the driving range of the Volvo was just not realistic for most drivers.

Toyota EX-II via Bing
Toyota EX-II via Bing

13. Toyota EX-II

Toyota has always been ahead of the curve in terms of technological advancements. After all, this is the company that brought us the Prius and introduced the world to the Corolla. The Toyota EX-II was an electric car concept that hit the Tokyo auto show in 1969. The car was one of the most revolutionary electric cars to hit the road, needless to say, the style was praised. The fully enclosed EX-II offered a noteworthy single person cabin and decent road manners.

The technology was still early at the time but the EX-II offered promise, especially in an industry that was still brand new. The car had most of the shortcomings that all-electric vehicles did around this period, such as a very small demeanor and no realistic cargo area. It seems that automakers had to get over the hurdle of finding a powerful enough electric motor to propel today’s much heavier vehicles. Still, in terms of design and technology, the Toyota EX-II was far ahead of the Tesla Model S by far.

SsangYong CCR-1 via Bing
SsangYong CCR-1 via Bing

12. SsangYong CCR-1

By the nineties, the Korean automotive market was bigger than ever, and technology had advanced enough to enter into electric cars. The SsangYong CCR-1 was a revolutionary electric car that bolstered a super lightweight design and a full-featured cabin. The problem with most electric cars well into the nineties was that they were not practical vehicles. The CCR-1 looked to change this by offering a modern-looking four-door design, coupled with a nice large cargo area. Horsepower was still scarce for an electric vehicle, rated at only 50HP. But still, the CCR-1 was the most advanced electric car yet.

The styling of the CCR-1 is reminiscent of the modern-day Tesla. We can see where Elon Musk got a good deal of his inspiration from. Unfortunately for the CCR-1 the product never went into production. Manufacturing a full-scale electric vehicle was still quite expensive at this time and there was still only a limited market. We have to wonder what the production model of the CCR-1 would have looked like and what kind of unique features it would have boasted in a market where comfort is everything.

Honda Sprocket via Bing
Honda Sprocket via Bing

11. Honda Spocket Concept

By the late nineties, Honda Motor Company was in great financial shape. The Civic and Accord models were more popular than ever and the new Honda Odyssey was slowly creeping up on the Chrysler minivan trio. Technology was advancing more and more and the thought of an entirely electric vehicle was not out of reach. Honda was looking to build an electric vehicle that the mainstream public would want, and that’s where the Sprocket came in. The unique design of the Sprocket is reminiscent of the Chevy SSR. The Sprocket Concept took the rear cargo bed of a pickup truck and combined it with a sports car.

A lot of the same technology that went into the Acura NSX was used in the Sprocket. The unique red and silver paint gave the car a very Indy Car feeling. The Sprocket never went into production, but the unique concept car was the base for many other alternative energy Honda vehicles that came after it. We also think that the Sprocket was the inspiration for the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck which came later on down the road. The Ridgeline, however, was not a hybrid, nor was it electric powered.

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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