Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance Featured Past, Present, and Future of EVs

The annual event showed how far we've advanced in terms of EV technology.

1909 Baker Victoria Roadster
1909 Baker Victoria Roadster.

Jim Motavalli

As a car writer, I’ve been away from Treehugger for a while, and it’s nice to be back with all my facilities intact. COVID abruptly curtailed my usual accumulation of frequent-flyer miles, and I’m only just now seeing the press trips resume. 

Automakers love sending journalists around the world, and even at the height of COVID they were making inquiries, “When are you willing to fly again?” Frankly, the answer was always no until last week, when I went to Florida to cover the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. It’s a prestigious classic car event, second only to the mighty conclave in Pebble Beach, and coincidentally the last event I went to in 2020 before the pandemic shut everything down. 

Last year it was in March, and the shift to a May event proved fortuitous. This year, at the 26th Annual Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, staff and volunteers wore masks, but virtually no one else did—outside or inside. It was all perfectly legal according to Florida law, but it felt weird. I clung to my mask, feeling a bit like a freak. It wasn’t scary or anything: I’m fully vaccinated, and COVID is receding all over the U.S., including in Florida. 

The Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance focuses on classic cars, which aren’t particularly green: Without catalytic converters, they’d be considered big polluters if they were daily drivers. But given the fact that they’re mostly taken out on sunny Sundays, their actual effect on the planet is minimal.

This year, interestingly enough, electric vehicles (EVs) were celebrated. A theme for 2021’s Amelia Island Concours is the past, present, and future of electric cars.

The oldest surviving electric car—the Electrobat IV, created by chemist Pedro Salom and engineer Henry Morris—dating back to 1894 was prominently featured. There was also a field full of the classic EVs that flourished between 1900 (when they were more popular than the gas variant) and 1925: 1901 Waverley Electric, 1905 Columbia XXXV Open Drive Brougham, 1909 Baker Victoria Roadster, 1909 Studebaker Electric 13a, 1910 Waverley Four Passenger Coupe, to name a few.

The 1910 Waverley Four Passenger Coupe is forgotten now, but in its day celebrities like Willa Cather and Thomas Edison drove them. The 1910 model claimed 40 miles of range and was driven by a tiller from the back seat. EVs were then largely marketed to women, as celebrated in an upcoming show at the Audrain Automobile Museum called Women Take the Wheel.

In addition to the tribute to the past, there were clear signs the industry is transitioning to electric power. Plug-ins were on the stand at BMW (the Mini Cooper Electric), Porsche (the Taycan), and General Motors (the Hummer EV pickup and SUV).

Volkswagen of America showcased the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV, alongside a 1979 Elektrotransporter. The bus carries a lot of history, according to Volkswagen:

During the global oil crisis of the early 1970s, Volkswagen produced a number of Type 2 buses converted to electric power to explore the feasibility of electric propulsion and charging. In 1978, the Electric Power Research Institute and the Tennessee Valley Authority bought 10 of these electric Type 2s to test how EVs performed under daily use in work fleet conditions.
The electric bus held 72 lead-acid battery cells in a 1,874-lb. pack under a raised floor with 25.9 kWh of energy. The electric motor was bolted directly to the existing bus’s transmission, which remained locked in second gear, driving the vehicle’s rear wheels. The Transporter produced only 23 hp, and claimed a top speed of 48 mph, though testing by NASA was only able to produce a top speed of 44 mph. While some pieces of the technology were rudimentary by modern standards, the Elektrotransporter did offer an early version of regenerative braking. Based in Chattanooga, the EPRI-TVA fleet clocked a total of about 54,000 electric miles over an 18-month test period.
Volkswagen presents the ID.4 EV and 1979 Elektrotransporter at Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
Volkswagen presents the ID.4 EV and 1979 Elektrotransporter at Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

Volkswagen

“In its era, the Elektrotransporter drove the streets of Chattanooga, helping to establish key technologies like regenerative braking that EV customers now take for granted," said Mark Gillies, senior manager of product and technology communications at Volkswagen of America. "The enthusiasm we saw this weekend reinforces our view that EVs are the future of personal transportation.”

The startups were there, too, Bollinger (ditto with the electric pickup and SUV) and Lucid (the Tesla-chasing Air). 

As impressive as new models and makes were, the throwback vehicles were truly entertaining. Some of the old cars were accompanied by folks in period costumes, which might have looked a mite anachronistic with face masks—but they had their pandemics back then, too. The main conclusion to draw here is that on a micro-level, people want COVID to be over and on a macro-level, society is embracing electric vehicles.