It looks like we have been waiting forever for electric cars to come together, but after more false starts than you will see in the London Olympics this season, it seems like the electric car is finally here to stay.
Now, we will need to begin with some dull terminology: A true electric car (EV, for Electric Vehicle) has no gasoline engine as backup, so you’re reliant on the batteries having sufficient charge to get you to where you will need to go.
A normal hybrid uses an electric motor or a gas motor, depending on the conditions. You do not plug it into a wall socket as the batteries charge while you’re driving. A normal travel, even a short one, will use both petrol and electric power to drive wheels.
A plug-in hybridvehicle,”range-extending” electric car, is more of a fancy hybrid compared to a real EV even though it drives more like an EV compared to a hybrid. In practice it may be a enormous difference or none whatsoever, depending on how you use the vehicle. A range-extender, or plug hybrid because it is more commonly known, has a gas engine that could be used to power the electric motor when the batteries have drained, but the gas engine doesn’t directly drive the wheels. The Vauxhall Ampera/Chevrolet Volt twins would be the major example of the kind of car, and they assert an urban fuel consumption of 300mpg (yep, that’s three hundred.
A car running in an electric engine is normally very quiet (eerie quiet or a distant hum rather than a clearly perceptible gas engine) and smooth (no vibrations from motor or gearbox). The response from the vehicle away from remainder is both immediate and strong, as electrical motors generate tremendous amounts of torque immediately. They are quiet from the exterior to, to this extent that the EU is contemplating making audible warnings mandatory in the future as pedestrians simply won’t hear an electric car coming.
Concerning exciting handling, electric cars are normally not brilliant, it has to be said. They tend to be somewhat heavy and usually operate tyres & wheels more beneficial for market than handling. However, as a commuter vehicle around town, they’re zippy and productive. Plus they create less noise, pollution and heat to the road so a traffic jam of Nissan Leafs from town would be a good deal more pleasant for passing pedestrians.
The batteries on a standard electric car only give it enough scope for several miles (although an actual EV will have a larger battery pack as it does not need to match a petrol motor & gas tank too ), so the cars use various means to charge the battery while driving. Usually this entails converting kinetic energy from coasting and braking to electrical energy to store in the batteries.
In a fully electric car that means you’ve got to stop and control the batteries, so you parked close to a power socket somewhere and have several hours to find something else to do. In a hybridvehicle, the petrol engine will begin to offer the power. In a normal hybrid such as a Prius, the automobile effectively becomes a normal petrol car, albeit with a rather underpowered engine pushing a heavy car around so it is not swift. In a’range extender’ such as the Ampera/Volt, the gas engine offers energy to the electric motor to drive the wheels, which is more efficient in both economy and performance. Based on how you are driving, any spare energy in the gas engine can be used to charge the batteries up , so the car may switch back to electrical power once charging is complete.
So what exactly does this mean in real life?
Well, just how much of the subsequent driving do you do? We are assuming here that the batteries are fully charged when you put off.
Short excursions (<50 miles between charges).
These kind of journeys are best for electric cars and plug in hybrids, as the batteries will deal with the entire journey and get some charge as you drive. A normal hybrid will still have to use the gasoline engine, although just how much depends on how you drive it and how much charging it’s able to acquire along the way.
These are the kinds of excursions that provide EV drivers plenty of stress, since the traffic conditions may indicate that you run out of juice until you make it to your charging stage. A plug-in hybrid or normal hybrid will be OK since they can call on the gas engine. In a standard hybridvehicle, this means the car will be petrol powered for the majority of the journey. In a plug-in hybridvehicle, it’ll be mostly electric with the gas engine kicking into top up the batteries if needed late in the travel.
Longer excursions (100+ miles between charges)
Not feasible at a fully-electric car, as you’ll most likely run out of power before you arrive. The regular hybrid is essentially a gas car for almost the entire journey and the plug-in hybrid is bulk electric but supplemented by gas in a much more efficient manner than a regular hybrid.
Let us summarise the three Kinds of electrically-powered cars:
PROS: cheaper, no charging required, no range anxiety, regular gasoline engine makes it feel as a regular petrol car
CONS: just very short journeys (a few miles at best) will be completely electrical, small battery pack and feeble petrol engine means relatively poor performance compared to a normal gas car or a fully electric car, poor market when pushed hard (like most Prius minicabs in London…), not quite spacious for passengers and luggage because of carrying gas and electric powertrains in 1 car
PROS: strong electric motor gives better performance than a regular hybridvehicle, bigger battery pack means longer electrical running, no gasoline motor reduces weight and frees up a lot of space, #5000 government lien, power is cheaper and generally less polluting than petrol, privileged parking spaces in some public places
CONS: Still expensive despite rebate, minimal range capacity due to lack of gas engine backup, leading range stress is a real problem for motorists, question marks over battery life, technology improvements will make next generation massively better and hurt resale value, a few driving adaptation needed, lengthy recharging required after a moderate drive
PROS: strong electric motor and backup petrol engine provide best combination of range and performance, most journeys will be completely electric which is cheaper than gas, no range anxiety, privileged parking spaces in some public places
CONS: Very expensive despite rebate, question marks over battery life and resale value, wall socket charging remains slow, lack of space and quite heavy because of having petrol engine and gas tank in addition to electric motor and batteries.
Electric Car Economics – Why is it worth it?
For many people, an electric car is hard to justify on pure hard-headed economics. A Nissan Leaf begins at #31,000, so after the government provides you #5K you’ve spent 26K on a car which would be likely worth $15K if it had a normal petrol engine. That could conceivably get you a decade’s worth of fuel!
Purchasing a hybrid or electric car as you think you are helping the environment might not be helping that cause as much as you believe, if at all. Producing automobile batteries is a filthy and complex process, and the net result is that there’s a significantly higher environmental effects in creating an electric or hybrid car than creating a normal petrol or diesel car. So you are beginning behind the ecological eight-ball before you have even driven you fresh green vehicle.
Beware of”zero emissions” claims about electric vehicles, because most electricity still comes from fossil fuel sources (such as gas or coal) instead of renewable sources, and that means you’re still polluting the air when you push, albeit less and the effects are much less noticeable to you.
The biggest electric vehicle turn-off for auto buyers (besides the high purchase price) is the joint problem of very restricted variety and quite slow recharging. In a gas or diesel car, you can drive for a couple hundred miles, pull into a gas station and five minutes later you’re prepared to drive for another couple hundred miles.
If you just take short journeys and can keep the car plugged in if it stops (usually at home or work), this might never be an issue. However, you can not expect to jump in the car and drive a couple hundred miles, or eliminate needing to plug the car in immediately after a journey. You have to be far more disciplined in regard to planning your driving, and allow for recharging. Away from home this remains a huge problem since there are relatively few power sockets available in public parking places for you to use.
A plug-in hybrid such as the Vauxhall Ampera/Chevrolet Volt gets round the range anxiety problem, as does a normal hybrid such as a Toyota Prius, but you’re carting a petrol engine (and fuel) around all of the time that you might not need, including hundreds of kilos of weight and consuming lots of space, so it is a compromise.
So as you can see from all the above, it is not at all simple. You want to carefully consider what kind of driving you’ll be doing and what you want your vehicle to be able to do.
*there’s a complicated technical debate about whether the Ampera/Volt’s gasoline engine directly drives the wheels under certain conditions, but it is really boring and does not really make any difference to the way the car drives.
Stuart Masson is founder and owner of the auto Pro, a London-based independent and impartial car buying agency for anybody looking to get a new or used vehicle.
Stuart has combined his extensive knowledge of all things car-related with his own experience of selling automobiles and delivering high levels of customer satisfaction to deliver a unique and private vehicle buying agency to London. The auto Expert provides tailored and specific advice for anyone trying to find a new or used car in London.