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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Tornare

Electric cars you've never heard of!

The electric car has only become popular in the last decade. However, the idea of a car powered by energy stored in a battery is far from new. As a result, many electric vehicle projects emerged over the years. However, the majority of them were never brought to market and were forgotten.

In this article, find out about electric cars you have never heard of.

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland_Tesla Model X en charge

Although it is Elon Musk and his company Tesla that made the electric car popular, the idea of such a vehicle has been around for almost two centuries. The first electric car was created around 1835. It was not until about 20 years later that the first model was marketed. Switzerland also played a role in the development of these battery-powered vehicles. Between 1902 and 1920, the Tribelhorn company marketed various electric vehicles (cars, trucks, boats, etc.) and planned the first large-scale charging network. In reality, the electric car only became secondary with the arrival of the Model T Ford, which democratised the combustion engine car. The low gas prices and the First World War contributed to this.

However, various projects were developed during the twentieth century. They often remained unknown to the general public or were complete failures. Here are some of them.

BMW 1602 Electric

In the early 1970s, BMW converted its 1602 model into an electric car. The few examples produced were equipped with advanced technology for the time, such as a regenerative braking system. Despite this, the limited capacity of the batteries was not sufficient to ensure the proper functioning of the vehicle. The result was a limited range and unsatisfactory performance, a recurring problem in the attempts of the time.

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland_BMW 1602 Electric

BMW 325 iX

About ten years after the first electric car tests, the Bavarian manufacturer resumed its research. This led to the development of the 325 iX, a combustion model converted to electric with different technology to the 1602 Electric. The few units produced were used by the postal service to obtain data on the use of these cars. Although great progress was made in terms of range, performance remained very limited.

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland_BMW 325 iX Elektro

BMW 3-series E-mobil

Based on the data obtained during the use of the 325 iX, BMW developed the 3-series E-mobil in the 1990s. This model was not created for mass production, but it was a major step forward in electric mobility. Like the Mercedes-Benz 190 E Elektro, the Opel Impuls and the VW Golf CitySTROMer, this BMW participated in a research project in which 60 electric cars were given to the inhabitants of the German island of Rügen.

The second version of this car was presented in 1995. This time the vehicles were used internally for research purposes. However, electric mobility was put on hold after the takeover of MINI, which ended the research until the return of electric mobility with the BMW I3.

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland_BMW Serie 3 E-Mobil


The BMW E1 was a concept that never made it to the production line. Unlike many other electric prototypes, the E1 was not based on an existing model. Although its shape and proportions were unique, it incorporated design elements typical of BMWs of the period and was characterised by the use of lightweight materials.

The first version of this model was presented at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show. Two years later, a second, slightly revised E1 was unveiled. Although revolutionary in some respects, it never reached the market. Eventually, the lack of battery performance and a change in brand strategy pushed back the arrival of the German brand's first electric vehicle by about 20 years.

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland_BMW E1 Z11

General Motors EV1

Although General Motors' EV1 never reached the European continent, it was the first mass-produced electric model of the second half of the twentieth century. It was developed as a result of a mandate from the state of California requiring vehicle manufacturers to have 2% of their fleet electric. This mandate was later withdrawn. As a result, the EV1 was only offered to the residents of California and Arizona.

In total, General Motors produced just over 1100 units of the EV1 between 1996 and 1999. Only a few vehicles could be purchased. In the majority of cases, the car was only available on lease and had to be returned at the end of the contract. Despite positive customer feedback and a long waiting list, the American manufacturer did not consider the project viable and decided to scrap all EV1s. Today, it is extremely rare to find one of the few cars that survived this policy.

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland_General Motors EV1

Mercedes-Benz 190 E Elektro

Long before the brand's first 100% electric vehicle (in collaboration with Tesla) came onto the market in 2015, Mercedes-Benz was already playing with electrification projects for existing models. The 190 E Elektro was born in the early 1990s.

The engineers created 10 units of this model, which for the most part remained show cars. Because of the limited knowledge of battery technology, these prototypes had a range of only a few dozen kilometres and poor performance. In addition, the batteries were not safe enough to be marketed. However, some cars were given to German residents as part of a research project. One of the vehicles is said to have covered more than 100,000 km.

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland_Mercedes-Benz 190E Elektro

Opel Impuls

The Impuls project was conducted from 1990 to 1997. Initially, an Opel Kadett was electrified. The Impuls II programme led to the first electric Astra, which was further developed in Impuls III. It was this last generation that took part in the large-scale research on the island of Rügen. The ten units covered a total of more than 300,000 km and led to a better understanding of electric powertrains.

Peugeot 106 Electric

In the mid-1990s, Peugeot marketed an electric version of the 106. According to rumours, the French manufacturer expected to sell around 100,000 units of this model. The sales statistics proved them wrong. Only a few thousand units were ordered, and the majority were purchased by the French government. Like many of the models on this list, the Peugeot 106 Electric suffered from a very limited range and insufficient performance.

Carequest Car Broker Switzerland_Peugeot 106 Electrique

VW Golf CitySTROMer

Following the crisis of the 1970s, VW decided to look into electric mobility. After electrifying a hundred T2 buses, the Wolfsburg-based manufacturer turned its attention to the Golf. The first electric Golf was built two years after the Golf 1 was launched, and in 1981 the Golf CitySTROMer left the development centre. The 70 cars were first used for research purposes and then sold to the public.

The second generation came out in 1985 (70 units) and was followed by the third iteration in 1993 (120 units). The latter was involved in the Rügen Island research project and was offered for sale. Despite some improvements in terms of autonomy, all three models shared one characteristic: slowness.


Although Tesla is responsible for the democratisation of the electric car, it is by far not the first manufacturer to have looked into this technology. However, the early trials mentioned above were victims of the lack of technological knowledge of the time. As a result, these electric cars were not powerful enough to compete with combustion models, which prevented them from being marketed and caused them to be forgotten.

Despite this, these early experiments played a key role in the development of later models. Thanks to them, it became clear that more research was needed to create a viable product. However, it was not until the 21st century and the response of governments that sufficient funds were injected into research.

Today, electric cars are on an upward trend, partly due to the economic incentives offered by governments and the growing environmental awareness. However, we are still far from the figures of the early 20th century, when more than a third of the car fleet was electric.

The transition from a combustion model can be complicated. The search criteria are different, the potential problems also vary, and the range of products on offer has become much more diverse with the emergence of new manufacturers. This is why we offer our services. At Carequest, we help you find the right car stress-free. Buying a car has never been easier!


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