I know most of us probably subscribe to more streaming services than rational people should do, which is why I wasn’t crazy about finding out that someone in my household (looking at you, cats) signed us up for AppleTV+. (Gotta admire how long Apple has stuck with that “+” thing). Still, this does mean that I can finally watch that alternate-space-history show I’ve been curious about, For All Mankind, and even better, there’s an interesting take on an alternate-1980s electric car in there. So that means I can write off the subscription on my taxes?
Essentially, For All Mankind is an alternate history where the major point of departure is that in 1969 the Soviets managed to land a cosmonaut on the moon before the Americans did. This means that in this alternate timeline, not only did the N1 rocket actually work, but the effect it had on America and NASA was such that the space race never really stopped. Also, it caused the culture of NASA to become a bit more bold, less risk-adverse and even a bit reckless.
With both the Soviets and Americans on the moon, the Cold War simply extended into the heavens, and by the 1970s both nations had permanently-crewed lunar bases. The spacecraft, bases and technology shown are all inspired by/adapted from real NASA post-Apollo plans that never happened, like the Apollo Applications Program, of which our timeline only really saw Skylab as a result; on the show, we get to see all kinds of fun stuff, like the Jamestown Base:
My only issues have been their computer display tech feels too advanced, but whatever. Technology in the show’s timeline has been moving at a quicker pace, and the results of that are what I’ve been trying to get to for this article: mainstream electric cars in the 1980s.
Thanks to all of the electric lunar rover development, the state of electric cars in the 1980s is better than what our timeline had, though significantly the show is good about keeping even this fantasy-timeline EV just shitty enough to seem actually plausible for the era.
Personally, I divide EVs into three main eras: the Archaic Era, which contains the early 1900s electric cars like a Detroit Electric; the Crap Era, a period from the 1950s to the mid 1990s, when EVs were just about useless for anyone except really dedicated weirdos; and now we’re in the Tesla Era, which actually starts with GM’s EV1 in 1997 but is dominated by the very fast, long-range and desirable Teslas of today.
Anyway, in the timeline of For All Mankind, we see a mass-market, usable EV in the mid-1980s:
I’m pretty sure that car is a slightly re-worked Ford Probe, with the front wheelarch flattened out and some other cosmetic changes:
We get to see a couple of fun details about the car, my favourite of which is this 1980s take on the remote-locking key fob:
It has a telescoping antenna! I love that! That feels like a good plausible detail. We also get a bit of detail on the car’s crucial specs, too. First, the range:
So, a range of 97 km. That’s laughable today, but pretty damn good by the standards of the 1980s, especially for a car that appears to be average-sized and have a real body and not just some crappy fibreglass shelter on wheels. For example, in our timeline, there were 6 kW EVs being sold that only could go 80 km at 56 km/h. Not great.
Before we get to how fast this un-named EV could go — a question asked almost immediately on the show, I want to note that the production designers actually took the time to show us a possible 80s-era EV charging plug standard.
It’s a big, heavy cable, connected to that clunky portable charging station, and the connector looks to be a six or seven-pin round deal, with a central grounding prong, too. There’s even a spring-loaded rubber flip-down cover that pops in place to help keep out weather. Again, in the context, this feels very plausible.
As far as speed, we see it’ll do 105 km/h, which is noted somewhat defensively as “fast enough,” especially in an era of 89 km/h speed limits. Now, 105 km/h and a 97 km range don’t impress us today, but if you think about it, those are reasonable minimums for a usable mostly city-driving EV. And if we expect that battery and electric motor tech was being pushed by lunar rover development since the 1970s, these feel like realistic numbers for a first-generation of widely-sold EVs in the 1980s.
I also like that the show takes a moment to show some issues still not completely resolved with our modern 2020s EVs, like managing thick, unwieldy cables and the lack of a mature infrastructure. Here, that mobile charger has just been stuck out in front of his spot, a cable laying sloppily across the footpath to an outdoor outlet.
I’m pleased they kept the specs plausibly modest here. The temptation would have been to describe specs comparable to our modern EVs, I suspect. I think this feels much more likely, and yet still very impressive, given the timeframe.
I’m hoping we see more of these alternate-timeline EVs! I want to see what they’re called and how they’re advertised. Do they have names that directly link them to the space program? Is that a Ford Luna there?
I really hope there’s a fake commercial, too. Maybe this universe will have insufferable EV stans, too! So many possibilities.