These days when you think of going for an electric car, there are a variety of options available on the market. The electric car market has boomed as car manufacturers and people have realized how much better electric cars are for the environment. There are various types of electric cars that employ different technologies, so it can sometimes be hard to choose as the choice can be quite overwhelming for people new to electric cars. They all have different characteristics based on things like emissions, mileage on full charge, charging times, cost, etc.
The types of electric vehicles (EVs) can include fully electric ones like Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) or partially electric ones like Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) and Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs). Due to their different working mechanisms, they all have different characteristics and factors to consider before buying them. There are also different trade offs you will need to make, such as mileage range and cost.
The factors you need to consider can also vary depending on your own personal preferences and circumstances. For example, you may need to ask yourself questions like:
- Are you buying this car to mostly do short distance or long-distance journeys?
- Do you have a particular budget in mind?
- Would you prefer a lower upfront cost, or are long-term cost savings more important to you?
- Do you live in an area were EV technology has been established, and where there are numerous charging stations?
The Different Types of Electric Cars
The term ‘electric car’ is rather a broad term as it can cover many different types of electric cars. The term can refer to full electric cars such as BEVs and FCEVs that rely solely on electricity to drive the vehicle, to hybrid vehicles that use both gasoline and electricity in conjunction. The one thing all electric cars have in common is that they use an electric motor to carry out all or even a part of the car’s key functions. The electric motor is driven by electric current drawn from a power source such as a battery pack (in BEVs) or fuel cells (FCEVs).
Most electric cars also employ regenerative braking to prevent the kinetic energy during a car’s deceleration from being converted to and wasted as heat. In regenerative braking, the car’s motor turns in the reverse direction during the braking. In the reverse direction, the induction motor now becomes a generator and converts the kinetic energy of the braking to electrical energy which can be stored in the battery pack for future use.
Electric cars can be classified into:
Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)
These are fully electric vehicles that produce no emissions or waste products while driving. They rely solely on electrical energy stored in the battery packs for all the functions in the car. They do not have an internal combustion engine, just the electric motor to run everything.
Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs)
These are also fully electric vehicles and they draw the electric current to run the motor from a fuel cell. The fuel cell generates electrical current from the electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. These don’t cause CO2 emissions, but they do produce steam or water vapor as it is a by-product of the chemical reaction.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)
Hybrid Electric Vehicles use both electricity and petrol/diesel for key functions. So, they have both an electric motor as well as an internal combustion engine. They use the electric motor at low speeds where the motor can produce higher torque and the ICE at higher speeds as the engine is more efficient at higher speeds.
Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)
These are hybrid vehicles that can be charged with an external power source, unlike your typical HEV that cannot be recharged. Similar to typical hybrids, however, they can also alternate between electricity and gasoline.
Extended Range Electric Vehicles (E-REVs)
E-REVs are a type of PHEV that can cover a greater range on electricity alone.
A General Guide to Important Factors When Comparing Electric Cars
Range of the Electric Car
This is perhaps one of the most important performance indicators to keep in mind when comparing any cars, not just electric cars. In a traditional gasoline powered vehicle, the range refers to the maximum distance that the car can travel on a full gas tank. For electric cars, the maximum range refers to the maximum distance that can be covered by the car on single full charge of the battery. With FCEVs, the range would refer to the maximum distance that can be covered on a full tank of hydrogen fuel.
Charging Times and Range
Especially for BEVs and PHEVs, range is extremely important because it will determine how often you will have to recharge the battery. One of the biggest complaints about electric cars is that they are inconvenient to charge and take a long time to do so. If you don’t have the necessary equipment and charge the car on a standard electrical outlet at home, it can take the whole night to charge. This method of charging will give you 2-5 miles per hour of charging.
To get a faster charging time, you would need an EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) that operate on a 220/240 V circuit and can charge quicker than a standard outlet. An hour of charge will get you a mileage of about 10-25 miles.
The fastest charging method is to use a DC fast charger. These can give a full charge within an hour. Companies like Tesla have taken these even further, where their superchargers can get you a full charge in 30 minutes.
To put out a few numbers for perspective, here are some typical mileage values that can be achieved with an hour on an EVSE for some typical electric car models:
- Chevy Spark- 11 miles added per hour
- Fiat 500e- 22 miles added per hour
- Ford Fusion Energi- 11 miles added per hour
- BMW i3- 25 miles added per hour
- Kia Soul- 22 miles added per hour
- Mercedes B-class Electric- 29 miles added per hour
Speed of Charge and Maximum Range
So, here there are technically two things to consider when thinking about the range of an EV: how quickly it can be charged to full (how many miles are added per hour of charging) and the maximum range itself.
In EVs in general, it is hard to get a large range when running on electricity alone. Here are some typical maximum ranges (maximum distance per full single charge) for some popular EV models:
- Nissan Leaf- 107 miles
- Tesla Model S- 250 miles
- Tesla Model X- 300 miles
Note that these electric car models are all BEVs, so they are fully electric.
Price of the Electric Car
As with any product, important decisions all boil down to the price tag and operating costs. With EVs, there are many costs to consider before making a purchase. You need to consider the upfront cost of the car, the charging or fuel costs and any potential replacement part costs.
For EVs, there are a lot of trade offs with price and cost. For example, a lot of high range EVs have high upfront costs. So, while they don’t need to be charged as often and you would save on refuelling costs, you still would need to pay up a lot of money. This upfront cost can take a while before they pay off over the years with reduced fuel costs.
High-end EVs with high ranges can cost over $80,000 for models like Tesla’s X model. More affordable options are also available, however, such as the Nissan Leaf and the Hyundai Ioniq series.
Other costs could include the cost of an EV charging station if you plan to get one. A good charger can cost you around $700.
The most important operating cost for an EV is the price of electricity. This could vary, depending on where you live. In general though, electricity is cheaper than gasoline fuel, so your ‘fuel’ costs can be significantly cut down with EVs.
Hydrogen Fuel Prices
If you’re one of the brave few who are planning to go for an FCEV, you would need to consider the costs of hydrogen fuel. As the technology behind FCEVs are relatively new and there’s not much demand for FCEVs compared to other EV types such as hybrids and BEVs, hydrogen fuel is not that economical.
If you don’t have a charging station of your own, you should consider how many EV charging stations there are close to where you live. If there aren’t many, it could be inconvenient for you to buy full electric cars such as BEVs.
Another important factor to consider is fuel economy or what’s traditionally known as miles per gallon (mpg) for traditional vehicles. For electric cars, because full electric cars don’t use gasoline and electricity isn’t measured in gallons, there’s something known as eMPG or equivalent miles per gallon. These values can be used not only to compare EVs with each other, but also EVs with traditional cars.
The eMPG is somewhat similar to the range we talked about before. eMPG is the distance covered by the EV for the electricity equivalent of a gallon of petrol or diesel.
Before deciding to purchase an EV or what kind of EV, you need to consider general factors like cost and range. However, you also need to think about your individual demands. What kind of trips do you make? If you only need to make short-range trips, then you wouldn’t need to invest in an expensive, high-range EV. So, it all depends on making trade-offs with cost and performance.