1950s America was a magical place of a rising middle class, the onset of the jet age, and the global dominance of American automakers. But even as cheap gas and cheap cars placed more Americans than ever in petrol-powered automobiles, the Henney Motor Company rolled out America’s first “mass produced” electric car, the Henney Kilowatt.
The Kilowatt was a product of the National Union Electric Company, a massive conglomerate that included the Henney Motor Company. Henney was a well-known coachmaker which often utilized Studebaker chassis to build everything from limos to ambulances. The Henney Kilowatt, however, was based on the Renault Dauphine, sharing many parts and body panels with the French Economy car.
But the obvious difference being the Kilowatt was powered by an electric drivetrain. Production began in earnest in 1959 with a 36-volt system that was, well, underwhelming to say the least. Introduced in 1959, the Kilowatt had a top speed that was limited to 40 mph, and a range that was limited to 40 miles per charge. Even by 1950s standards, this was fairly pathetic.
So for 1960 the electric system was updated to a 72-volt system, which allowed a more-acceptable 60 mph top speed and 60-mile range, but it still took a ponderously slow 32 seconds to go from 0-60 mph. I’ve literally pooped, wiped, and washed my hands faster than that.
The Henney relied on resistors and diodes for the speed controller Alas, of the 100 Henney Kilowatt bodies ordered and built, just 47 were purchased and fitted with drivetrains. Of those 47, an estimated 35 were sold to other electric companies, meaning just 12 or so Kilowatts were sold to the general public.
There are estimated to be less than ten Kilowatts left, and it wouldn’t be until the 1990s that America would once again be able to buy a legit electric car. With such terrible performance, is it any wonder Americans were turned off by the thought of electric cars?