Electric cars have been around since the inception of the automobile. As our planet faces increasing environmental challenges, fully electric vehicles have seen a spike in popularity because they are more environmentally friendly, convert more of their energy into actual power and require less maintenance than alternative internal combustion vehicles. Below, we explore what this new technology is, the history of it, how it works, as well as the pros-and-cons.
Electric cars (sometimes referred to as "EV" short for Electric Vehicle) are those vehicles that are powered by an electric motor drawing current from a rechargeable battery, fuel cell, or other portable source of electrical current. While the type of fuel source may change (e.g. battery, fuel cell) the engines are always an electric motor.
The basic concept behind an electric vehicle (EV) is straightforward: Direct-Current (DC) electricity powers a large electric motor, which then propels the vehicle.
Fully electric cars are propelled exclusively by an electric motor, as opposed to an internal combustion motor using gasoline or a hybrid car - which runs on a mixture of gasoline and battery power to fuel the combustion engine and electric motor respectively.
The main advantage of an EV is fuel economy. Hybrid electric vehicles average the equivalent of around 70-100 miles (or 100 MPG). Fully electric vehicles have a driving range that averages between 60 to 120 miles on a full charge (200 to 300 miles for some models). It is important to note that just like smartphones, fully electric EVs have to be recharged when they run out of battery power.
Fully electric cars have undergone a surge in popularity in recent years due to environmental concerns, but electric vehicles were already being made in the late 1800s. The vehicles remained popular until the early 20th century, which is when Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T was introduced in 1908. The Model T was the first mass-produced internal-combustion-engine vehicles, and sold for half the price of an electric car. After a couple of decades of competition, the internal combustion engine won, mainly because of the limitations of battery technologies and eager Americans wanting to explore the newly built roads connecting cities.
Cheap, abundant gasoline and continued improvements to the internal combustion engine caused public interest in electric vehicles to go into a sort of dark age with minimal advancements in the technology for several decades. Then came the the oil energy crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, which caused the U.S. Congress to pass the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1976, authorizing the U.S. Energy Department to support research and development in electric and hybrid vehicles. While this event sparked public awareness and research efforts, the vehicles developed by automakers during this time never made it into mass production. This is due to the fact that many of these vehicles had several drawbacks such as limited performance (usually topping at speeds of 45 miles per hour) and severely restricted range limitations (typical range was limited to 40 miles before needing to be recharged).
It wasn’t until around the start of the 21st century (circa 2001) that the true revival of the electric vehicle caught on. This shift in public acceptance of electric vehicles is often attributed to the introduction of the Toyota Prius, which was first released in Japan in 1997 (2000 worldwide release) and became the world’s first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle. Subsequent to the Prius, a (previously) small Silicon Valley startup called Tesla Motors, introduced a fully electric luxury electric sports car in 2008 called the Tesla Roadster, that could go more than 200 miles on a single charge. These two events, along with the mass acceptance by the public, has since spurred almost all big automakers to accelerate work on their own electric vehicles.
Consumers today have more choices than ever before when it comes to buying an electric vehicle. With virtually every giant automaker on the planet now selling an electric vehicle, consumers have options for every budget from the economical Leaf by Nissan, to the extreme FFZERO1 one-seater hypercar by Chinese Electric car manufacturer Faraday Future.
In an electric vehicle, the motor connects to the wheels through a drivetrain similar to the transmission in an ordinary internal combustion vehicle.
The only two significantly different components include an electric motor and a controller to regulate the speed the vehicle will move at.
The most common electric vehicle power source is the rechargeable lithium ion battery, which acts as a "gas tank" and supplies the electric motor with the energy necessary to move the vehicle.
The following technologies are core components to electric cars: