posted on January 27th, 2016

Volkswagen has been in the news quite a bit lately. And not for good reasons. The company has come under fire for adding software to their vehicles that helps cars cheat emissions tests. While that is clearly a bad situation, there is a bigger threat to Volkswagen’s gas-powered cars, and the rest of the gas-powered manufacturing world: the electric car.

Electric vehicles’ troubled past

EVs are not a new idea. In fact, the idea of an electric-powered car goes back to 1828, when Hungarian inventor Anyos Jedlik built a small model car powered by an electric motor. A little over 30 years later, with the invention of the electric battery in 1865, more ideas started surfacing.

The late 1800s and early 1900s showed quite a bit of promise for electric vehicles. The first hybrid came about in 1911, but gasoline-powered cars prevailed as the preferred method to power our cars and trucks. Battery technology was too far from being able to successfully power a car for long distances. The size and cost of a battery to power a car was not practical compared to the internal combustion engine.

As environmental, political, and cost concerns grew around burning fossil fuels, the 1980s and 1990s brought about renewed interest in electric vehicles. However, the powerful oil and gas lobbies and auto manufacturers pushed ahead with gasoline, and consumers were more interested in larger sport utility vehicles than smaller, gas-powered cars.

A rise in fuel prices in the 2000s brought about renewed interest again, and this time Toyota launched the Prius as a response, one of the first commercially successful electric vehicles in history.

High gas prices and the modern EV

Since the launch of the Prius, electric vehicle adoption has increased around the world. In the United States, the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf have grown in popularity along with the high-end Tesla Roadster.

As gas prices have remained over $2 per gallon in most markets, and well over the $3–4 per gallon range in some cities, EVs have continued to grow in popularity. However, battery life and cost have still held the EV back from widespread adoption. But will that change in the coming decades?

The future of electric vehicles

Tesla is currently building a state-of-the-art factory in Nevada called the Gigafactory. Tesla has been at the center of new battery technology research, and the Gigafactory shows the company’s commitment to making electric vehicles work.

As battery technology advances, we are stuck waiting with the current options. The most promising option available today is the plugin hybrid. A plugin hybrid runs like an electric vehicle for most of the time — for commuting and running errands around town. Where the electric battery has limits, however, the gasoline engine is standing by as a backup.

Another issue to consider is how we power our electric vehicles. Today, they are plugged into our favorite power source: coal. In order to truly protect the environment as we move toward electric-powered transportation, we have to look at other options. A grid powered by a combination of renewable and sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear are the only way to power our thirst for energy as the world population grows and transportation needs evolve.

Experience the future today

As more people buy EVs, we’ll see more charging stations, battery swapping stations, and other innovative ideas to bring renewably powered vehicles to the forefront. And while EVs are not the norm just yet, there are plenty of opportunities to get behind the wheel of an electric car. Turo members have EVs around the country that you can rent for a day, a week, or longer to test drive an EV, like Emery’s Fiat or Shawn’s Tesla Model S

Next time you’re searching for cars, unfold the “Category” menu and select “Fuel sippers” and give an EV a whirl.

Eric is a personal finance, entrepreneurship, travel, and real estate blogger. When he's away from the computer, he's out flying planes, riding bikes, and DJing the occasional dance party.