Charged Up: A brief history of Seattle’s electric vehicles

We’ve been plugging in cars since the original Tesla (Nikola) was still around.

A man plugs in a cord leading from an AMC Gremlin with signs that say "Electro Park" and "Passenger Load Only/No Parking"

Seattle’s elecrtified AMC Gremlin experiment 50 years ago was short-lived.

Photo via Seattle Municipal Archives

Bzzz bzzz bzzz — that’s the sound of our sustainable time machine revving up.

With Washington state announcing a new roadmap for electrifying transportation soon, we’re reminiscing about all the wild electric vehicles (EVs) Seattle has tinkered with over the years. Care for a test drive?

Flashback to the future

Woods Electric: This bad boy wasn’t just the first EV in Seattle — it was the first car to roll through town, period. Businessman Ralph S. Woods drove the three-horse-powered buggy all the way from Chicago in July of 1900 — it took him five months.

The Electruc: In 1968, Seattle City Light came up with a gas-free utility truck. On the side of the yellow EV there was a slogan that read, “Your bright new future is all electric.”

AMC Gremlin: Many who grew up in the 70s remember this car as a lemon. But City Light built an electric prototype in 1973 that could be charged for 25 cents per hour — which sounded sweet during an oil crisis. It ran on six-volt batteries and topped out at 50 mph.

A sqaut-looking electric vehicle with RT1 emblazoned on the side

We might have seen these rolling around the planet Tatooine (it came out around the same time as “Star Wars”).

Photo via Seattle Municipal Archives

RT1: Maybe our favorite City Light experiment came in 1976 with this amazing model straight out of a sci-fi flick. A single charge could last for 75 miles and it carried four passengers, even if it was a little cramped.

Plugging into present day

Those inventions may look quaint by today’s standards, but they helped pave the way for Seattle’s current electric vehicle adoption. This year, new EV registrations more than doubled over 2022, and 6% of Seattle households plan to get one over the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, our city’s utility department recently rolled out zero emission bike lane sweepers (which look adorable), and King County Metro’s fleet of electric buses is on the way. Now, if they’d just bring back the RT1, please.