From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

The electric car is a car propelled by electric motors. Though technically this could also include vehicles in which the electricity to power said motors comes from hydrogen fuel cells[1] or ultra-capacitors, in general usage the term refers solely to battery electric cars, also referred to as EVs or BEVs. Electric cars promise to be a key technology, along with renewable energy, in preventing climate change, since transportation accounts for roughly 25% of carbon emissions in most developed societies.

Hybrid cars[edit]

Toyota Prius. The grandaddy of them all

The hybrid electric car refers to a car powered by both electricity and another power source, typically an internal combustion engine (ICE). There are three different types of hybrid electric car, the parallel hybrid (such as the Toyota Prius) and the series hybrid (Such as the BMW i3 REX), and the series-parallel hybrid (such as the Holden Volt). The latter two are commonly known as EREVs (Extended Range EV) or PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid EV), in reference to the fact that series hybrids can be charged from an external source, whilst the small battery in parallel EVs is charged by the ICE and re-generative braking.

Parallel Hybrids[edit]

In a parallel hybrid (commonly known simply as "hybrids"), both the ICE and the electric motor(s) are connected to the wheel and deliver propulsion directly. This type commonly uses a relatively small battery and electric motor aimed at boosting efficiency in city-traffic, keeping the ICE off in creeping stop-start traffic. The ICE kicks in above a certain speed (usually around 30km/h). Other driving will be done via the ICE directly driving the wheels (though the electric drive can also help under rapid acceleration). Parallel hybrids don't generally have a connector to allow plug-in charging, relying on the regular use of the ICE to charge the battery. This has led to some debate in EV advocacy circles as to whether or not parallel hybrids are actual EVs, and this has a significant real-world effect when it comes to government incentives. An example of this type is the Toyota Prius.

Series Hybrid[edit]

BMW i3 Rex

Series hybrids (commonly called, along with Paralell-Series hybrids as "Plug in Hybrid EVs" or PHEVs) are mechanically the simplest variant, using an the same pure electric drive-train of a regular EV. A small ICE unit is used simply a generator to provide power to the electric drive-train when the battery is discharged. [2].An example of this type is the BMW i3 Rex.

Series-Paralell Hybrid[edit]

Holden Volt, aka Chevrolet Volt, aka Vauxhall Ampera, aka Opel Ampera. A Series-Parallel PHEV with an identity crisis

A series-parallel hybrids (also called PHEVs) use an additional secondary gear and clutch mechanism, so that the vehicle can switch between full EV, Series hybrid and parallel hybrid modes. Unlike in a series hybrid, the ICE unit can directly drive the wheels via the the secondary clutch and gearbox when desired. The car's computer can usually automatically shift between modes on-the-fly for maximum efficiency, and the driver is largely unaware of the extra transmission system (driving a PHEV is no different to driving a regular automatic transmission car). The main draw-back of this arrangement is the considerable additional weight and mechanical complexity of the drive-train, and the extra space taken up by the gearboxes necessitates a smaller battery than a true EV. Nonetheless, they can be plugged-in to recharge, and as a result they are generally considered "true" EVs for the purposes of government incentives, and by EV owners. An example of this type is the Holden Volt (aka Chevrolet Volt aka Opel Ampera aka Vauxhall Ampera... Way to win at consistent branding!) and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.


The electric car is technology dating back to at least 1835,[3] and was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,[4] however with the invention of the electric starter, petrol powered cars became more common as they were cheaper to produce and their fuel was cheap and abundant at the time.

The hybrid electric car goes back to 1900 when Ferdinand Porsche used a petrol engine to generate electricity for what was initially meant to be a full electric car. Powering the car from lead acid batteries alone would cause it to weigh too much; it would still have been subject to the range issues which electric cars still suffer. Afterwards, interest in electric cars withered until the 1970s, when the first oil crisis led to new interest in fuel-efficient travel. However the oil price slump of the mid-80s soon led to the abandonment of these efforts, and it wasn't until the rise of environmentalism and awareness of global warming (though not by some) in the 1990s that efforts became more serious, though many large manufacturers remained skeptical and were (and continue to be) perceived as engaging in conspiracies to "kill" the electric car. Since then, and especially since the 2010s, electric cars have developed rapidly, aided by the vast improvements in battery, energy management and weight reduction technologies, and now almost all major manufacturers have at least electric model in their range, and sales volumes have been rapidly increasing in most OECD markets.

Generation 0: Pre-commercial[edit]

Oh my god! They killed my EV1! —Kenny
The lifelife, blood-spattered corpse of an EV1
The Honda EV Plus was a much more usable car than the EV1, and were likewise crushed. Apparently, that wasn't a problem.

Generation 0 cars can be described as the first "modern" pure EVs, mainly put into extremely limited production in the 1990s to comply with California's Zero Emission Vehicle quota requirements. Several manufacturers produced such vehicles, all in small quantities and released only through restrictive leasing agreements. One particular model, GM's EV1 became the focus of a conspiracy theory revolving around a collusion between Big oil and the big car manufacturers to stymie any move away from ICE based vehicles, when GM seized all of the leased EV1s, and had them crushed.[5]

Despite the complaints of current EV drivers about conflicting standards and approaches of the major manufacturers, technology in models of the era was even more variable. Ironically, the much celebrated GM EV1 used heavy and unreliable lead-acid batteries, and had a range barely over 60km, and despite being the size and weight of a European family hatchback, only seated two people. Meanwhile the Honda EV Plus used more advanced NiMH batteries, and was a regular compact 2 door 4/5 seat car, with a range of 130km, an incredible achievement for the era. However, even with the most advanced models, manufacturers refused to sell vehicles, and leased in such small amounts as the supporting charging infrastructure was hopelessly un-viable, and as such public awareness and interest in EV technology was slow to develop. In the early 2000s, California watered down the ZEV mandates under intense industry lobbying, and production of all Gen 0 cars by major manufacturers ceased. Existing fleets were recalled and destroyed by the manufacturers when the leases expired. Interestingly, only GM received flak for this, even though Honda did precisely the same with their far more viable vehicles.

Generation 1[edit]

Revai, aka G-wiz charging on-street in London. A crude, bumpy and cramped study in the evolution of EVs from lead to Li-ion
The Aixam-Mega E City was larger and more comfortable and more pricey. In an era when EVs were (and to some degree still are) seen as second cars, that wasn't a good thing.

Generation 1 cars followed from the early 2000s onwards. Unlike the Gen 0, these cars were largely produced by dedicated niche manufacturers, and were fully commercial vehicles on a regular production basis. As such there were efforts by these manufacturers to actually sell vehicles to the public, and increase volumes as much as possible.

The most notable vehicle of this generation, and in some ways it's embodiment, is the Revai, also marketed under the name G-wiz, which sold around 4,600 vehicles between 2001 and 2012, and saw technology evolve from heavy lead-acid batteries powering a DC motor to Lithium-ion batteries and AC motors, technologies which would lead to transformative change for EVs.

Gen 1 cars developed a niche in urban transport, supported by government policies. In Europe, cars like the Revai, and it's rival Aixam Mega E-City, along with early hybrids like the Toyota Prius, were exempted from the city congestion charge in London (a daily toll to drive into the CBD) and attracting tax exemptions, free parking and rights to bus lanes in Oslo. Other countries and municipalities offered similar perks, and began to roll out early charging networks, making longer commutes (those with a round-trip beyond the single-charge range) far simpler.

The major breakthrough of the era was awareness of weight and power saving technologies. The Revai and Aixiam/Mega E-city pioneered lightweight plastic body panels and kei-car inspired structural designs reduced weight, whilst improved on-board computers made dramatic improvements in battery management.

Nonetheless these cars, partly as a result of their purely urban focus, and partly due to being made by small-scale manufacturers with limited resources were often quite basic, and failed to keep up with the rapid succession of newer ICE - and later, EV - models being released by major manufacturers.

Generation 2[edit]

Nissan Leaf. The car that does what Tesla culties think Tesla does.
Peugeot iOn charging on-street, next to (yet another) Leaf
VW e-Golf is typical of the trend towards conventionally styled EVs that seek to create a sense of familiarity

Generation 2 cars started to appear from 2010 onward, and witnessed a return of the major manufacturers to EV manufacture, this time with mass-produced models available for general purchase. This current generation has seen explosive growth in both the variety of models and volumes produced. From 2010 onward, almost all major manufacturers worked to introduce electric cars (both pure electric, and/or PHEV) to their line-up. This has spurred a dramatic drop in the cost of batteries (as more manufacturers develop their own in-house production facilities), allowing even basic city EVs to utilise smaller, lighter and high-density lithium-ion batteries, dramatically improving performance across the board. The re-entrance of major manufacturers has also led to improving quality of EVs, as electric models benefit from the supply chain and parts inventory that major manufacturers can provide.

As of April 2015, the world's best selling pure-electric car, the Nissan Leaf, had sold over 170,000 units and covered 1 billion kilometres since it's release in 2010, and 47% of all EV ever sold before 2015 were sold in the previous 12 months. For all intents and purposes, generation 2 EVs are no different in terms of quality and comfort than their ICE counterparts. Indeed, many gen 2 designs are based on common designs with their ICE models (i.e. VW Golf/E-Golf and Ford Focus/Ford Focus Electric), whilst others such as the Nissan Leaf and GM Volt/Ampera are of directly comparable quality to ICE vehicles in the same class.

Tanking up a kilowatt-guzzler[edit]

CDAdeMO type DC Rapid Charger. Do not insert fork or other metal objects.

A crucial development in the growth of "generation 2" EVs has been the development of high-voltage DC "rapid charging" technology, allowing a typical car to be charged from empty to 80% in 20-30 minutes. This has had a revolutionary effect, promoting EVs from "2nd cars" for commuting to being viable ICE replacements. In much of the world, the infrastructure has spread quickly, including "Electric Highways" on key routes. As a result, inter-city journey times have dropped dramatically. In 2011, driving by EV from London to Edinburgh took four days. In 2014, it took 13 hours, including several delays for meeting with enthusiasts at charging stations en-route[6] with estimates that a "no faffage"[7] all-electric journey would take 1-2hrs less.

One potential problem emerging with the rapid DC infrastructure is the emergence of a "format war". Aside from Tesla's de-facto walled garden Supercharger network, two "standards" exist, used by multiple manufacturers - the older and far more established CHAdeMO (used by the overwhelmingly dominant Nissan Leaf, and the very popular Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV), and the newer - but carrying official sanction by the EU - Combined Charging System (CCS). Whilst new rapid chargers are fitted with both Chademo and CCS heads, there are a large number of sites with older CHAdeMO only units, and the ensuring farce has doubtless led to many potential EV buyers being wary of being left with a useless car five years down the line if they bet on the wrong horse, and has done little to strengthen faith in a fragile infrastructure undergoing intense growing pains.

Incentives, pricing and the free market fairy[edit]

EVs and PHEVs both still cost considerably more than their ICE counterparts, something that is most plainly visible when a given model has both EV and ICE versions. As a result, to encourage electrification of the vehicle fleet, most western countries (and the BRICS) offer government incentives, usually for both EVs and PHEVs. This commonly takes the form of subsidy on purchase of a new vehicle, either by waiving sales/registration taxes on the purchase (as in Norway), a direct grant/subsidy (UK) or allowing for a personal tax deduction (USA), as well as throwing in other "baubles" like use of bus/HOV lanes, cheap/free parking etc. All of these have the effect of making the vehicle appear cheaper (and more desireable) to the customer. Despite the rapid advances in EV technologies, it is undeniable that these incentives have been essential to EV adoption. The only major western country not to have offered any such incentives is Australia, where EV market share in 2014 was 0.11%, compared to 12.5% in Norway (world leader) and 5.6% in the Netherlands (EU leader).

However, incentives that directly reduce the purchase price of the vehicle (either by exemptions from sales/registration taxes, or a direct grant) may pose a barrier to driving down EV prices. Essentially, as long as the government is willing to chip in, reducing the price the buyer "sees", then there is little incentive for manufacturers to cut prices themselves. Indeed, almost all promotional material for Gen 2 EVs gives the local price after incentives. But before your annoying Libertarian co-worker gets their stopped clock moment, there is a solution that doesn't involve Gadsden flags and placards about BIG GUBMINT. One possible solution to this would be for incentives to be tapered, offering larger subsidies on cheaper cars and thus pushing manufacturers to price their cars under certain thresholds so that buyers get offered the higher incentive. This would also prevent the admittedly absurd situation whereby the investment banker buying a £90,000 top of the line Tesla gets his car subsidized to the same level as as the barista scrimping together her savings for a £15,000 Renault Zoe.

The Tesla "Miracle"[edit]

You know you want one

Tesla is a niche EV only manufacturer founded by techno-libertarian ~ Libertarian and PayPal billionaire, Elon Musk. The company has developed a cult-like following similar to Apple, attracting adoring, hyperebolic praise for single-handedly completely reshaping the nature of transport, or something.

Whilst the ultra-expensive, luxury EVs Tesla produces have doubtless played some role in changing perceptions of EVs (common, admit it, you know you want a Tesla... who doesn't?), it has been noted by various industry analysts that the real change in EVs is been driven in two ways - in the west, by the entrance of recognized large manufacturers, and in China, one of the world's largest car fleets, by explosive growth in domestic EV production. For every one car Tesla sells worldwide, Chinese manufacturers sell 10 domestic EVs, typically made by car builders well known and established in China, but never exported to the west. As Forbes has noted, once these manufacturers begin to export (something that is already happening) their already massive scale and low-cost base poses far more potential for re-shaping the industry than a niche player like Tesla.

Advantages of electric cars[edit]

  • Often cheaper to run.[8]
  • Less pollution produced if plugged into the right grid.[9]
  • Doesn't waste energy or pollute through idling (e.g. while in a traffic jam or waiting for the light to change), though this benefit is reduced when compared with traditional cars fitted with a start-stop system.Wikipedia's W.svg
  • Reduced traffic noise.
  • Balance-of-trade benefits for most countries through the use of domestically produced electricity and less reliance on liquid fuel imports.[10]
  • Less vibrations and noise when driving.
  • Exemptions from car stamp-duty, as well as reductions in registration fees (in certain countries).[11]

See also[edit]


  2. Most cars of this type allow the driver to choose to utilize the generator at other times, for example when driving on the highway, to "save" the charge for city driving where battery power is more efficient
  3. History Of Electric Vehicles,
  5. Cos customers always like it when you CRUSH THEIR FREAKIN CAR!
  6. and getting lost
  7. apparently not a sexual activity, according to the [video |]