We live precisely in the age of the rise of electric mobility. Electricity starts to take over – even the beloved human-powered bicycle increasingly gets the help from a battery-powered electric motor. Electric scooters and bicycles are also becoming ubiquitous in big cities thanks to their ease of use and price. And even it may seem like it’s taking forever, cars are also following suit.
Thanks in no part to Tesla, almost every big automotive company started accelerating the plans for electric cars. The new category is also hot for investors – electric vehicle startups seem to be appearing every single day. However, electric cars are still plagued by some unjustified hatred from “purists” who’re still betting on internal-combustion engines (ICE) and oil. That’s a shame, to be honest. When viewed from the perspective of our environment, electrification in the car industry can’t come soon enough.
All of this begs the question – what is an electric car? The answer is not as straightforward as you think – several different technologies try to conquer the sector. Naturally, we will cover everything there is to know about electric cars in this article (including electric cars pros and cons). Read on to find out why they might be the future of motoring.
What Is An Electric Car, and How Does It Work?
An electric car is a vehicle that uses electricity and electric motor to propel you forward. For comparison, ICE vehicles use gasoline or diesel to give you forward motion. But, where do these electric cars get the electricity from? Well, it depends on how the electricity is stored on-board.
The most popular way of storing electricity in electric cars is batteries (Battery Electric Vehicles or BEVs). These are the same batteries that you have on your smartphone or tablet, only much bigger. The cells of electric cars are recharged with a cable, also like your smartphone. They also have a limited range, again like all smart devices, which means that you should recharge your electric vehicle frequently.
Almost every BEV on the road today uses Lithium-Ion (Li-on) batteries. This technology provides the highest energy density, charge the fastest, and lasts the longest. Electricity from Li-ion cells is used to power the electric motors, located at one of the axles, or both axles altogether. BEVs produce no emissions directly.
Another type of electric vehicle that also competes for a place on the market is Hydrogen Electric Vehicle or HEV. While the popular opinion is that these cars aren’t electric, they really use electricity to power the engines. The only difference is where they get the electricity from. HEVs have hydrogen fuel cells on-board that produce electricity from the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen, taken from the air.
These cars produce only pure water as a by-product of the reaction. However, hydrogen vehicles are still far from the mainstream. For example, Toyota only sells a few thousand Mirai models per year as opposed to hundreds of thousands of Teslas. Oh, and the Toyota Mirai is the most popular HEV today. That’s why in this article, we will mostly cover BEVs.
Some manufacturers also consider hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles like electric cars. However, these vehicles use electricity together with gasoline, and we will not cover them today.
What are the Benefits of Electric Cars?
They produce no tailpipe emissions. Yes, everybody knows that, but it’s still their biggest advantage. If we immediately just shifted to electric cars, global warming issues would be halved. For the other half, we’d still need to produce electricity from renewables or other clean sources.
If you ask purists, they’ll tell you that electric cars are worse precisely because of the way we produce electricity. Sure, a high percentage of it comes from coal which is worse for the environment than oil, but there’s a catch here. Big machines, like power generators, are much more efficient than the engine in your car. In other words; Yes, electricity from coal is terrible, but certainly not worse than oil-powered vehicles.
The second most prominent advantage of electric cars is efficiency. Electric engines are much more efficient than internal combustion engines. This means that they consume less power and are much cheaper to run – three to four times to be exact. That is certainly not insignificant. Costs of owning an electric car are also much lower – there is no oil and filter change. Oh, and you can charge them at your house, saving on the trip to the gas station. The low running costs certainly make electric vehicles a good prospect in the long run.
Then, there’s my favorite advantage – acceleration. To put it simply, electric motors are much better than internal combustion engines when it comes to torque. They not only have more of it, but they deliver it from 0 rpm. Just press on the gas pedal, and that will immediately transfer into forward momentum. On ICE cars, on the other hand, you need to be in the sweet spot of the engine. I’ll take instant acceleration every day, thank you.
Okay, But What Are Their Disadvantages?
Like every other type of car, battery electric vehicles aren’t perfect. They have some flaring disadvantages that keep them from becoming the norm. The first and most obvious one is the range. Some new electric cars can run for over 300 miles per charge, but that’s still less than ICE cars. Also, the range is much worse in colder climates, and batteries lose charge over time.
Then there’s the issue of how to fuel electric cars. More precisely, the is charging speed. This year, several BEVs have emerged that can charge from 0-80% in just 30 minutes, but that’s only on selected chargers. For most people, this will be just fine, mind you, but one must still plan long road trips. Also, since charge takes longer than refueling, other issues arise.
For example, a gas station with eight pumps can service around 250 cars per hour (2 minutes per vehicle). To achieve the same feat on battery-electric cars, you’ll need 125 charging stations. Oh, and the battery will be only 80% charged. To go to 100%, you might need another hour because the charging speed drops immensely. I know the fact that users can charge their vehicles at home might mitigate the issue slightly. However, this means that the parking space of every building should be flooded with chargers at every corner. Not everybody lives in a house!
In the end, as of September 2019, electric cars are still much more expensive than ICE cars. This is due to the price of the li-ion batteries, which is still very high, despite bumps in production.
What Is the Best Electric Car to Buy?
This year several companies seriously entered the BEV space. Audi (e-Tron), Mercedes-Benz (EQC), Porsche (Taycan) and Volkswagen (ID3) all presented their models for mass production. Some big manufacturers also entered the segment previously. Jaguar i-Pace, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Niro Electric, and BMW i3 are somewhat of a staple on the market by now. However, despite the onslaught of electric cars from big manufacturers, the electric-only Tesla still seems to have the edge. Their vehicles have the best range, breakneck charging speeds, and sports car performance in one package.
Considering the price, the cheapest Tesla Model 3 seems like a perfect option for the average buyer. It has a lot of space, strong performance, and low running costs. That said, options can launch the price to the stratosphere, so be careful. The new Nissan Leaf is another great alternative – it offers most of Tesla’s quality on a budget. The Chevrolet Bolt is also a very good electric car for the money – it’s spacious and has a very long-range.
What is the Cheapest Electric Vehicle to Buy?
Prices of new electric cars are changing rapidly, especially when a new model comes to the market. Also, some companies, like Tesla and General Motors, can’t use the limited $7,500 tax credit anymore. Put aside the tax credit aside, and the Smart EQ Fortwo is the cheapest electric car on the market today. However, the Smart is also a two-seater, has almost no boot space, and only a 58-miles EPA-estimated range. For a few thousand dollars more, the Nissan Leaf is a much better option. It can seat five, has enough boot space, and can go up to 226 miles on a charge.