Since at least 2013, a copypasta meme (meaning a post that is shared on social media by way of users copying and pasting a text verbatim) positing that the Japanese presciently built an electric car in 1949 that could travel 200 kilometers (just over 124 miles) on a single charge has circulated widely online.
Linked here is one one example of the meme, posted to Twitter in October 2013:
Other social media posts included images of the vehicle:
The meme likely gained renewed attention in 2022 because fuel prices surged, prompting acute interest among consumers in purchasing electric vehicles. These posts, and others like them, contained some factual information and some inaccurate information. But the main idea is true — shortly after World War II, Japanese auto manufacturers did develop and sell an electric vehicle, long before modern versions became popular in the 2010s.
The vehicle in the image above was developed by a Japanese company called Tokyo Electro Automobile Co., which would later become Prince Motors, Ltd. Prince Motors would go on to merge with auto maker Nissan in 1966.
According to Nissan, the vehicle was rolled out in 1947 (not 1949), two years after Japan surrendered in World War II. During that time, per Nissan’s website, “Japan was suffering from an acute shortage of oil, goods and food while the supply of electricity had a surplus since there were almost no home appliances or bulk users of electricity.”
The vehicle “achieved the driving range of 96km (nearly 60 miles) [as opposed to 200km, as stated in the meme above] and the maximum speed of 35km/h (nearly 22 mph),” and made a good taxi until 1951.
Because of the post-war oil shortage, Japanese start-ups churned out electric vehicles. The vehicle in the image above was dubbed TAMA and was restored to its original working condition in 2010 when Nissan launched its modern electric vehicle, LEAF. You can see the restored 1947 vehicle in action in a promotional video created by Nissan:
“Forget the Leaf, the 1947 Tama Electric Car Was Nissan’s First EV.” CarsGuide, https://www.carsguide.com.au/oversteer/forget-the-leaf-the-1947-tama-electric-car-was-nissans-first-ev-68563. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.
Nissan | Heritage Collection | Tama Electric Car. https://www.nissan-global.com/EN/HERITAGE/tama_electric.html. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.