Ford’s Electric Car Battery Breakthrough from 45 Years Ago

By · October 27, 2011

1966 Ford Falcon

The electric car that wasn't. In 1966, Ford said a car about the size of a Falcon could go 82 miles on a single charge, using new and improved battery chemistry.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford Motor Co. claimed it made a “major breakthrough in battery research" that will allow electric cars to achieve much longer driving range. According to the story, the timetable for introduction cars using the breakthrough EV technology will be five to ten years. Here’s the most interesting thing: the article was published more than 45 years ago, on Oct. 4, 1966.

In the article, Michael Ference, Ford vice-president for scientific research, made it clear that electric cars will not fully displace vehicles powered by gasoline—but conceded that there’s room for an EV for short-range urban and suburban driving. “The internal combustion engine will continue to be the most practical form of power for long-distance and expressway driving for some time to come,” said Ference.

Company officials said the battery breakthrough—using a sodium-sulfur chemistry instead of lead-acid—would mean a car about the size of a Ford Falcon could go 82 miles on a single charge.

Laurence G. O’Donnell, the Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote that the reason Ford was “pushing development of an electric car” was the prospect of new federal support designed to cut air pollution caused by gas-powered cars. “Ford conceded that introduction of a bill calling for federal aid to subsidize development of battery-powered vehicles was a prime reason it announced its battery research work months ahead of its original plans,” writes O’Donnell.

In a presentation on Oct. 3, Ford officials said the new battery technology would address the biggest problems associated with electric cars: limited range and performance. Ford said, with the new batteries, its electric car system could store 15 times more energy than before, and could deliver acceleration—during the first four seconds—faster than an internal combustion engine. “The officials said an electric car would be quieter and might prove more economical to operate,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

According to the article, Ford will make a full-scale battery ready for road testing by early 1968, and is in the process of developing better motors and controllers. The motors would be small and may be mounted on the wheels.

Back to the Future

Fast-forward 45 years to today. Ford is preparing to begin sales of the Ford Focus Electric in about two months. The company is promising range of about 100 miles. How much range will that mean for real-word driving? Probably around 82 on a single charge.

Now let’s fast-forward another 45 years to 2056. How many miles of range will electric cars offer? Will auto executives still be saying—as they did in 1966 and do today—that EVs are a niche vehicle best suited for urbanites and that the internal combustion engine will remain the most practical form of power for some time to come?

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