HENRY FORD may have brought motoring to the masses with the Model T, but his wife preferred to drive an electric car. Combustion engines were noisy, dirty and in their early years required hand-cranking. Mrs Ford’s 1914 Detroit Electric moved away instantly, was nearly silent and its speed was easily controlled by a wooden rod that selected the required amount of power from a bank of nickel-iron batteries. Her car could travel for about 80 miles on a single charge and exceed speeds of 20mph.
Mr Ford’s mass-production techniques soon cut a Model T’s price to $500—one seventh that of Mrs Ford’s car. As refuelling stations spread, the internal-combustion engine went on to conquer all. Now electric cars are cruising back, as performance improves and costs fall. Tesla’s new Model 3 reaches 140mph and has enough juice for 300 miles.