What is an electric car?

What is an electric car?

Tesla Model 3 Elon Musk

If you’re on the hunt for a new car (or even a used one, come to think of it) for the first time in a blue moon, it won’t have escaped your attention that electric cars are now everywhere.

Virtually every mainstream manufacturer either has a range of electric cars on sale already, or will do in the very near future. Not least because the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles is set to be outlawed in 2030. Even hybrids – which mix engines with electric power – will be banned by 2035. Nope, emissions really aren’t trendy any more.

Anyway, those deadlines mean lots of people are now at the start of what we’ll regrettably refer to as their ‘electric car journey’ (ugh), and so will be asking themselves questions like ‘What is an electric car, exactly?’ and ‘How do electric cars work?’

You may be among them. If so, congratulations! You’re in the right place to have your most pressing electric car questions answered. Keep scrolling and we’ll bring you up to speed with the very basics of this exciting new land on the Planet Car map…

What’s an electric car? And what’s an EV?

Let’s start at the very beginning: an electric car is very simply any car that uses electricity as its primary source of propulsion. Instead of an engine and fuel tank, most electric cars use one or more electric motors to generate propulsion, which are fed by a battery; much like the one you’ll find in your smartphone. Only bigger. Much bigger.

‘EV’ stands for ‘electric vehicle’, and the shorthand version has become common parlance among car-writing types who easily get fed up of typing out ‘electric vehicle’ every time it comes up. Lazy so and so’s, eh?

And what does BEV mean?

Ah, BEV is merely an extension of EV meaning ‘battery electric vehicle’. This term is usually deployed to differentiate between various types of ‘electrified’ vehicle, as in those that have an electric component in the powertrain but aren’t themselves fully electric. Ever heard the phrases ‘self-charging hybrid’ or ‘plug-in hybrid’? Yup, those are not BEVs.

The battery in an electric vehicle is usually (but not always) located in the floor of the car, and comprises hundreds (if not thousands) of individual cells. You charge an electric car by plugging it into a socket via a cable, again much like your phone.

How do electric cars work?

Not all electric-car set-ups are the same, but generally speaking electric cars work by using energy stored in a battery to feed one or more electric motors to provide drive. Mechanically speaking they are much simpler than internal combustion powertrains as they feature only one moving part, with motors harnessing the force that’s generated by running a current through a magnetic field (yup, electromagnetism, physics fans).

Almost all electric cars make do without a gearbox, which means there’s no clutch pedal; just a brake and an accelerator. So they drive like automatics, even though, technically, they aren’t.

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