Before electric or hybrid cars became popular, any vehicle powered by electricity was denigrated as a “golf cart.” But looking back to the pages of motoring history, a bold effort by the Tokyo Electro Automobile Co. Ltd. in the 1940s led to the birth of one of the first electric cars to run in the streets – the Tama electric car.
According to the website of Nissan Motors, Japan experienced a scarcity of oil right after World War II but there was plenty of electric power. That prompted the Japanese government to promote the manufacture of electric vehicles.
With the war over, about 200 employees of the Tachikawa Aircraft moved to the newly-established Tokyo Electro Automobile that answered the call of the Japanese government to develop and manufacture an electric car. Although battery technology was not yet that developed as it is today, the company still succeeded in developing a prototype 2-seater truck with a 500-kilogram load capacity that had a 4.5-horsepower electric motor. It was named “Tama” after the area where the company was based. The Tama Truck EOT-47 had a top speed of 34 kph.
The company then developed its first passenger car with two doors and seating for four, and weighing 1,050 kilograms. It could go 35 kph and had a range of 65 kilometers on a single charge. Besides serving as a family car, the Tama electric car was also used as taxis.
The battery of the Tama electric car was stored in the cabin floor where there were two compartments. To facilitate the changing of the batteries, each case had rollers, which was an innovation that got honors from the performance tests conducted by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1948.
Eventually, petrol-powered versions of Tama’s truck and passenger car were offered by the company.
In 1948, the Tama Junior, a compact passenger car, was introduced, and in 1949, the company introduced the Tama Senior, considered a mid-sized car for its era.
Tokyo Electro Automobile in 1951 became part of Prince Motor that became part of Nissan in 1966. Nissan Motors, now majority controlled by Renault, became one of the first companies to introduce an electric car in the Leaf.