There were several reasons why the internal combustion engine so decisively won the three-cornered race between itself, steam and electrics. And, in the case of electrics, those reasons were not merely technical. Of course, there were technical disadvantages to electrics. Their range between charges was limited and they didn't go much above 30mph. And the weight and bulk of the necessary batteries meant that they tended to be both cramped and ungainly.
But technical problems can be overcome. All you need are engineering skills and money. However, these have tended to be masculine domains, and electrics didn't catch the male imagination. Electrics were sedate' they had associations with electrically powered household gadgets' they had problems with hills' there was no satisfying engine noise. In a word, they were dick-less, and in so far as they were ever in general use (that is, until around 1915), it was as ladies' cars. Mrs Ford drove an electric. Mr Ford emphatically did not. As the current vogue for the G-Wiz shows, even ungainliness and low speeds need not preclude commercial success. As roads become more noisy, crowded and polluted, and fuel costs rise, electrics' cleanliness and silence make them desirable, while the urban commute is usually well within their range.
However, a few green-minded European urbanites were never going to change the face of motoring. The only things that can do that are legislation, fuel costs - and the American market.
In the case of electrics, whose chief virtue is that they cut urban pollution, legislation has been tried - and failed. A decade ago, the state of California planned to introduce a zero-emissions quota for all cars sold: the result was General Motors' electric EV1 two-seater. But oil and …