Cheap insurance made early electric trucks irresistible for city delivery

Petrol Vehicles Had A Bad Reputation For Catching Fire Those Days

Is there a word for the fear of your phone combusting inside your pocket? While rogue batteries are rare — considering that billions are in use — each battery fire is one too many for the reputation of lithium-ion storage.

Petrol vehicles had the same image problem a century ago. Reports of cars and trucks catching fire were common, and sometimes a house or a barn would burn down along with the automobile. In consequence, “gasoline machines were often excluded from docks, piers and terminals.” This was an opportunity for electric trucks that were otherwise hard to sell because of their restricted range.

Cost advantage

Electric trucks those days had one great advantage over both horse wagons and petrol vehicles — they were very cheap to run. Data collected by Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the time showed that horse wagons were most economical in only suburban delivery. Otherwise, “in city service of the same sort, electricity was found to be the cheapest means of propulsion.”

For various businesses — furniture delivery, brewing service, coal-hauling — electric trucks were the most economical, and petrol trucks the most expensive for delivery in the city and suburban markets.

By 1913, America had 10,000 electric trucks. New York alone had 1,700. Chicago had 630 — an increase of 400% in two years. But it led in the number of electric cars with about 2,200. Then came a sweetener in the form of lower insurance rates for electric vehicles.

Insurance treat

Electric trucks were not considered a fire hazard, so they could be used in docks, piers and terminals. And then, the New England Casualty Company, “after careful study of the subject” made electrics substantially cheaper to insure than petrol vehicles.

The new rates “covering loss by fire and theft went into effect all over the United States” on April 1, 1913. For petrol vehicles, the rates started at 1.625% for expensive new cars, increased to 3.125% for cheap second hand cars, and peaked at 4.875% for cars considered an “uninsurable risk from the standpoint of the underwriters.”

But electrics were insured at a flat rate of 1.5%, and if you didn’t want coverage for theft, the rate came down to 1.375%. The electric truck thus became the smart choice for businesses delivering within city limits.

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