With every dramatic surge in oil prices comes renewed interest in alternative fuels for cars; the intense focus on electric power by carmakers at the end of the first decade of the 21st century is nothing new.
There was wide interest in bringing small electric cars to the market in the late 1970s, as the recent fuel crisis receded but the world dipped into an economic recession and concerns mounted about urban air pollution. Many prototypes were demonstrated but this particular example hailed from an unusual source: America’s Copper Development Association, an industry body devoted to promoting metals in industry.
Its Runabout, the sixth in a series of electric car prototypes started in 1970, was a rolling advert for copper, featuring it in the motor, cables, switches, winding mechanisms, wiring, and also in brake drums, brake tubing, and air lines.
The Runabout was reasonably normallooking. A glass sunroof helped to ventilate the cramped interior, while the smoothfronted nose had pedestrian-friendly concealed windshield wipers, and the plastic body featured a useful hatchback.
The car was claimed to have a range of 79 miles (127km), and running costs of no more than two cents a kilometer. Its 18 six-volt batteries could recharge overnight.
The copper industry was in the doldrums, and the lack of uptake in electric cars didn’t help. But no-one could foresee the explosion in telecommunications and IT—consuming enormous amounts of copper.
“Designed specifically for the second car market, the new Copper Electric Runabout is described as a short but roomy vehicle with excellent maneuverability in traffic.”
Press Release From The Copper Development Association, 1979
Specification: model of the car Copper Electric Runabout
YEAR REVEALED: 1979
PLACE OF ORIGIN: New York
HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
ENGINE: electric motor
MAXIMUM POWER: 14bhp
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: two-door, four-seater sedan
TOP SPEED: 59mph (95kph)
NUMBER BUILT: one