When did the idea that electric cars are somehow “futuristic” first take hold? After all, people were driving electric cars well over a century ago, and the technologies that could make it feasible for manufacturers to mass-produce electrically powered vehicles have been around for a long, long time. Today, with the Tesla Roadster, Ford Focus Electric, Chevy Volt and other designs rolling off assembly lines all over the world, it’s beginning to look like the future is maybe, perhaps, probably here.
But an awful lot of people are still asking, What took so long?
Chris Paine’s powerful 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?, addresses that question through the prism of relatively recent history, focusing primarily on the controversial discontinuation of GM’s EV1 in the 1990s. Other films, books and, of course, countless websites dedicated to the history of electric vehicles have, over the years, chronicled the complex and, at times, infuriating story of how EVs have repeatedly been hyped as the the Next Big Thing—only to be overshadowed by the latest innovations among gas-guzzlers. Hydraulic brakes! Air bags! Cup holders!
Here, LIFE.com recalls a LIFE magazine article from almost 50 years ago that more or less announced that the Electric Car Age had, finally, arrived.
“Ford,” the article notes, “has moved to head off the worsening controversy over [car-created] air pollution by announcing it could be in the electric car business in 10 years.”
Okay, so it took them, and most every other car maker, closer to 50 years to actually start making good on that bold prediction. Better late than never.