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Electric curious? Is your colleague, neighbor, friend or family member now driving an electric car? Are you considering that an electric car might be a good fit for you? Over 1.2 million plug-in electric vehicles have been sold in the U.S., and in some California cities, EV penetration is higher than 10% in annual car sales. It’s true: electric vehicle adoption is increasing, and more people that hadn’t considered getting an EV are now thinking about one for their next vehicle. There’s a good reason for this EV surge, and it can be linked to the first electric drivetrain.

Electric Car Information: What is an electric vehicle (EV)? And how does it work?

An electric vehicle (EV), is a vehicle which uses one or more electric motors for propulsion. Unlike an internal combustion engine (ICE), which uses a heat engine to transform chemical energy into useful mechanical energy, an electric motor is an electrical machine that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy. Most electric motors operate through the interaction between the motor's magnetic field and electric current in a wire winding to generate force in the form of rotation of a shaft, where as internal combustion engine (ICE) requires more parts to direct force, typically to pistons, turbine blades, rotor or a nozzle.

As a result, the energy conversion from electricity is a much more efficient process than from gasoline. Electric motors can have efficiencies of more than 90%, compared to that of an ICE vehicle, which ranges from 25-50%, depending on the drivetrain.

Who invented the first electric car?

While there is still a debate about who the first inventor was, a couple of innovators are most often credited for the “first practical electric car,” which used electric motors and batteries that were non-rechargeable.

In 1828, Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian engineer, invented an electric motor for a small model car. And as early as 1834 across the globe, a Vermont blacksmith, named Thomas Davenport developed and patented the first DC electric motor in the U.S. His motors ran at up to 600 revolutions per minute, and primarily powered machine tools and a printing press. However, batteries were cost-prohibitive for commercial scale and ultimately bankrupted Davenport, so his EV aspirations disintegrated. Also, around the same time, Robert Anderson, a Scotsman invented an electric car. Later on, in 1859, rechargeable batteries became a viable source to store electricity on a vehicle with lead–acid chemistry, and was designed and implemented by French physicist Gaston Planté.

Fast forward to the early 1900’s when automobiles started to proliferate in major urban centers. Electric cars were actually preferred at the time by many because they didn’t have the noise, odor and vibration, that their gasoline competition had. And unlike gas-powered cars, they didn’t require gear changes and a hand crank to start the car. No manual effort was required and driving was made simple for all.

Unfortunately, battery advancements didn’t keep up with the progress of gasoline cars, and by the 1920’s electric cars gave way to internal combustion cars, which would have a strong 100 year-run as the only propulsion system used in automobiles.

Why are EVs becoming popular now?

In the early 2000’s, lithium-ion battery-technology had begun to improve to the point where many believed battery-electric cars could once again compete with internal combustion vehicles. In today’s market, many popular car manufacturing companies are making some of the best electric cars. In 2003, Tesla Motors formed, with the intention of being an electric vehicle manufacturer based in California. Then in 2010, Nissan became the first established auto manufacturer to mass produce and sell an all-electric vehicle, the Nissan LEAF, which is the world’s most popular electric car today. At the same time Nissan was launching the LEAF, Chevrolet began selling the Volt, which was the first mass produced plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Since then, Audi, BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Toyota, Honda, Chrysler, Kia, Jaguar, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Porsche, Volvo, smart, MINI, Fiat, Subaru and Cadillac have all produced and sold electric vehicles.

Every year battery technology improves, and at the same time gets less expensive. That has allowed the average driving range of electric cars to double in the past ten years, while battery pack costs have actually declined. Experts predict that by 2022 the average driving range of battery electric vehicles will be 275 miles per charge. This is really the driving force behind the resurgence of the electric car. It was always possible to make electric cars, but the batteries didn’t last long enough, and they were expensive. Electric car batteries have gotten so much better that they can last hundreds of thousands of miles, can recharge very quickly, and cost 85% less then they did only a few years ago. As you can see, the benefits of electric cars are truly endless.

Electric cars now come in all shapes and sizes, from small hatchback commuter cars, to full size, family-friendly SUVs. Even more variety is on the way with fully-electric pickup trucks planned to be available as soon as next year from Tesla and Rivian.

Can EVs save you money?

The short answer is yes, you can save money with an electric car. However, the amount depends on a number of factors, including how much you paid for your vehicle, your driving routine, your location and the price of gas, etc. For example, Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that trading in your gas-powered car for an electric car can save the average American $770 per year on fuel alone.

Also the Department of Energy has a nifty “eGallon” calculator, which compares the price of gas and electricity to power your car in different states. According to the DOE, it costs more than twice as much to travel the same distance with an ICE vehicle versus an EV. And since the typical American household spends roughly 20% of its total family expenditures on transportation, spending half as much on fuel can make a big difference.

Also, electricity is less expensive than gasoline and EVs are more efficient than gasoline vehicles, so operating an EV saves many people more money over the lifetime of the vehicle than gas-powered cars. Furthermore, electricity prices are not volatile like gasoline prices, so it’s easier to predict how much your operating expenses will be in the future with an EV. Finally, some utilities offer reduced electricity rates at night, which is a typical time to charge your vehicle at charging stations.

How long do electric cars last?

Like ICE vehicles, the lifespan varies depending on how much you drive and how long you want to keep your vehicle. Most new car warranties last three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first, and typically also have an additional powertrain warranty, which is good for five years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. EV manufacturers are offering battery and car warranties for 8 years or 100,000 miles, like the Chevy Volt. However, Nissan is providing additional battery capacity loss coverage for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

That said, most drivers keep their cars for much longer than the warranty. In 2018, the Department of Transportation surveyed lifetime of vehicles and reported the average pickup was 13.6 years old in 2017 as compared to 11.2 in 2009; vans jumped to 10.9 years (up 24 percent), SUVs rose to 8.5 years (up 20 percent), and cars' average age increased to 10.3 years (up 8 percent). Like a conventional vehicle, electric cars are designed and manufactured to last over 100,000 miles, and there are reports of Tesla drivers surpassing 300,000 and 400,000 miles.

The long electric car life is attributed to its simple electric drivetrain, which requires minimal maintenance, potentially a battery replacement around 200,000 miles, whereas gas-powered cars need constant repair: oil changes, fuel filters, spark plug replacements, and emission checks.

How do you charge an electric car?

Both plug-in hybrids and battery-electric cars need to be plugged-in to recharge their batteries at EV charging stations. How long they take to charge is based on a few factors:

  • 1. How large the EV’s battery is. Batteries are measured by how many kilowatt hours (kWh) they can hold.
  • 2. How much energy the car is capable of accepting.
  • 3. How much energy the charging station you’re using can deliver.

Most electric cars come with a 120-volt portable charger, which will charge the car, but it can take a very long time in many cases. These are called level 1 chargers, as they plug-into a 120-volt household outlet. If you have a plug-in hybrid with a very small battery, you may find the 120-volt charger suits your daily charging needs.

However, many electric car owners purchase a level 2 charging station, which uses a 240-volt electric supply, and can charge an electric car much faster than a level 1 charger can. For instance, let’s take a look at the level 1 and level 2 charging times for the popular Chevrolet Bolt EV:

Model Year Max Charge Rate Battery Size Charge Time on L1 Charge Time with JuiceBox Pro 40 All Electric Range
2017 to 2019 7.7 kW 60 kW 48 hrs 8.5 hrs 238 miles

Using the supplied level 1 charger that comes with the Chevrolet Bolt EV, it can take up to 48 hours to fully charge the car. However, charging a Bolt EV on the JuiceBox Pro 40 level 2 smart charger reduces the time to only 8.5 hours. Having the ability to quickly recharge your EV will dramatically improve its utility, as it will be ready to go whenever you need it.

There’s also one more way to recharge electric cars, and that’s from a level 3 DC fast charger. Most plug-in electric cars do not support level 3 charging because their batteries aren’t large enough to really need it. However, BEVs with large batteries like the Chevy Bolt EV can use DC fast chargers. Level 3 chargers aren’t used at home for daily charging, because they are very expensive, and most homes aren’t equipped with the electricity supply needed to power these high-speed chargers. DC fast chargers are mostly installed along major freeways to accommodate long-distance traveling when rapid recharging is necessary to continue the trip. Getting to an 80% charge varies across makes and models, as a result of different battery sizes.

For example, a Nissan LEAF Plus charges to 80% in 1 hour at 50 kW, a Hyundai Kona Electric gets an 80% charge in 75 minutes at 50 kW, a Jaguar I-Pace gets 80% in 40 minutes at 100 kW and an Audi e-tron gets 80% in 30 minutes at 150 kw.

The future of electric cars

Most industry experts have concluded that the future of the automobile industry is electric, it’s really just a matter of how fast that will happen. Electric vehicle sales are rapidly accelerating, and we’re on track to sell more than 400,000 electric vehicles in the US in 2019. That’s up from a total of only 17,000 in 2011. Electric cars are getting better every year. They go further, last longer, and are less expensive than ever before. Perhaps it’s time for you to also consider plugging-in instead of filling up.

If you are in the process of researching the different types of battery electric vehicles, eMotorWorks can help. Give our experts a call or visit our website for more information on plug-in electric vehicles.