Shortly after it was founded, the Bundesbahn decided to purchase new railcars for branch lines with low operating costs. Looking back on the battery railcars successfully used by the Prussian State Railways and the Reichsbahn, it was decided to develop new battery railcars. Since ultimately it was also to be used on main routes, a maximum speed of up to 100 km/h was required without having to sacrifice the high acceleration when operating on secondary routes with many stops.
Finally, in 1952, the first two prototypes were delivered, the mechanical part of which came from Wegmann and the electrics from Siemens and AEG. This was followed in 1954 by three more with mechanical parts from Wegmann and WMD Donauwörth, all of which were supplied with the electrical part from Siemens. Since the vehicles only had a driver's cab at one end, eight corresponding driving trailers were built short time after.
The car bodies were designed with a stable floor pan that could carry the heavy batteries with a capacity of 940 ampere hours. Above that was the passenger compartment, which initially included first, second, and third class. From 1956 only the first and second class was run. Power was transmitted to one of the two bogies, which was equipped with two light, high-speed traction motors. These allowed a top speed of 90 km/h for the first two vehicles and 100 km/h for the remaining ones. Sufficient acceleration was ensured by permitting to overload the traction motors briefly to start off.
The vehicles were distributed over several depots, but were very rarely relocated during their lifetime due to the necessary charging facilities. Depending on the route profile, up to 250 miles could be covered with one battery charge and one charging process per day could be expected. From 1968 the powercars were listed as class 517 and the driving trailers as class 817. Electronic control and regenerative braking were later tested on the vehicles. Experience with these vehicles led to the development of the ETA 150, which went into series production from 1954. The eight ETA 176 were only retired between 1981 and 1984.