Innovative electric cars: the seven predecessors to the Tesla Model 3

Tesla's Model 3 is about to change the scene of electric cars

Graham Scott
Thursday 07 April 2016 13:25 BST

If you talk about electric cars, then a lot of people automatically think of Tesla. And the new Model 3 certainly does look likely to shake up the junior exec category. But before the American electric company there were many others who helped set the scene for the current popularity of electric. Here we profile the top seven cars that got the trend rolling.

Reva G-Wiz

This Indian vehicle was the predecessor to the Mahindra e2o which will be arriving on these shores this year. But the G-Wiz was not exactly the perfect solution for those looking for electric transport. It wasn’t much of a joy to behold but, more, importantly, it not only got round the London Congestion Charge, it also got round a lot of crash test rules. The result meant it didn’t match the safety regs in place at the time.

Lola Drayson B12/69 EV

This converted Lola-Drayson LMP racer showed that electric cars could be fast as well as frugal. Lord Paul Drayson replaced the engine in his racer with an 850bhp electric motor, which allowed him to set a new Land Speed Record of 2.04.185mph. That was back in 2013, and beat the record at the time by about 30mph.

General Motors EV1
General Motors EV1

General Motors EV1

GM actually crushed most of the 1100 cars it produced under this programme. This further helped fuel conspiracy theories that Big Oil didn’t want General Motors making a car that didn’t rely on oil. Choose your conspiracy. Whatever, the car was a failure but does stand out as the first mass-made electric vehicle that was designed for that purpose from the get-go. Between 1996 and 1999, GM produced the cars but the project seems to have been doomed from the start.

Sebring-Vanguard Citicar

A Sebring-Vanguard sounds rather elegant, like a valued timepiece or something. The Citicar doesn’t quite match up the looks with the name though. Even so, until Tesla arrived with the Model S this was, believe it or not, the biggest selling electric car in the USA. It was made from 1974 to 1977, and they actually sold a rather neat 4444 examples. It was pretty basic and simple, but it worked. The electric motor produced just 6bhp but it was small and did work in the American cityscape.

Sinclair C5
Sinclair C5

Sinclair C5

Remember the sneering suffered by Sir Clive Sinclair as his electric vehicle failed to start a revolution? Lotus had a say in the design, and there were plans for a four-seater saloon. But with three wheels and low to the ground, it was considered simply too dangerous to join in the cut and thrust of city driving. And, ironically, the driver’s face was at about exhaust-pipe level for any passing car, so any thoughts of emission-free motoring went up in a puff of smoke.

Renault Twizy

It’s sort of a car, sort of a scooter, and doors and windows cost extra. But, whatever it is, the Twizy is one of the cheapest ways to get electric motoring. It’s been on sale since 2012 and they’ve sold over 17,000 units. It won’t suit everyone, as the range is just 50 miles and top speed is about 50mph, but for city transport it does make sense.

Tesla Roadster

Like the Sinclair C5, the Tesla Roadster was influenced in its design by Lotus. Like the Sinclair, it also faced a barrage of criticism and distrust. But, unlike the C5, the Roadster really was the first step on the way for Elon Musk and Tesla. They sold about 2450 units in the four years it was in production, which ended in 2012. It could cover 200 miles from a single charge, and has set the scene for the next wave of Teslas. Which will include a new Roadster, when it comes into production in about three years’ time.

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