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EV = Electric Vehicle. An EV is not a hybrid, it's a vehicle powered entirely by electricity
either via a motor-generator, a fuel cell, or a battery pack. Historically, GM first proved
that a fully-electric car could be a success with their EV1, a car which ultimately was
killed off by short-sightedness and political lobbying. (See the film Who Killed The
Electric Car for the torrid history of that vehicle.

The Chevy Volt was supposed to be the world's first mass-produced, family-friendly,
everyman electric vehicle. It looked like it would happen too; the original idea behind the
Volt was fantastic. It's a battery-powered vehicle that can get a decent commuter range
on pure battery power. At night you plug it in to recharge it, and if you start to run short
on juice during the daytime, a small onboard petrol engine could spin up a generator to
provide recharging capability to the batteries on-the-fly. If you stayed within the electric
range, the petrol engine would never come on. This is how Chevy promoted the Volt
right up until October 2010 when it transpired that a tiny, but critical design change had
been made which turned the Volt from an EV into a petrol-electric hybrid instead. Up
until that point, GM had been promoting the mantra that there was "no mechanism in
the Volt to drive the wheels even if the engineers wanted to" source). It was when Motor
Trend first test drove a production Volt that they discovered that the petrol
engine could and did drive the wheels. Whilst there is nodirect mechanical link (like a
driveshaft) between the Volt's gas engine and the wheels, above 70mph a
linkage is accomplished by meshing the power output of the engine with the power
output of one of the motor-generators through the plantary gearset. Just like a Prius. No
matter which way you cut it, the gas engine directly contributes to driving the
transmission. That means it's not an EV, it's a hybrid (although GM like to call it a
Range-Extended EV or ER-EV for short).
(Motor Trend Explains the Volt's Powertrain)
(Motor Trend Explains the Volt's Powertrain)
Picture credit: Chevrolet


After the Volt, the next most likely name you'll have heard of for an EV is Tesla Motors.
The brainchild of Elon Musk (Tony Stark wannabe), Tesla were the first manufacturers
to build a pure EV that wasn't some joyless science experiment. Rather than trying to
take an existing car and cram in electric drive components, they designed electric cars
to be electric cars. The original boutique proof of concept was the 2-seat Roadster -
they took some novel design approaches to the motor, transmission and batteries and
covered it with the body from a Lotus Elise.
The Roadster was, by all accounts, an amazing car to drive with sports-car handling
and if you drove it with a light foot, a 250 mile range. The Roadster was not
manufactured in large numbers and the cost was prohibitive for the average buyer.
Basically it was a test platform for what came next - the Model S - a 4 seat family sedan
which has made huge strides to undo the damage done by GM to the public perception
of what a fully electric family car for the masses could and should be. Prices are steep
but not intergalactic (base price in 2014 is around $57,000). The Model S is a good
looking car with all-torque-all-the-time performance, plentiful seating and storage space
and again - it's a genuinely fun car to drive. The genius design feature is that the
heaviest part of the car - the battery - is basically the chassis - it's the lowest component
on the car which means an incredibly low C-of-G, which translates into great grip and
road-holding. My only personal gripe? The giant touch screen in the dash that looks like
an afterthought. You say tom-ay-toes, I say tom-ah-toes.
Picture credits: Tesla Motors



The Tesla Roadster and Model-S, and the Chevy Volt are the most common EVs you
might know about, but there are others which are definitely worth paying attention to,
especially if you don't have the sort of capital required to get into a Tesla:
The Nissan Leaf.
The Fiat 500e.
The BMW i3 The Smart electric drive Smart Car.
In Europe, Renault and Peugeot both have EVs in their lineup, and globally Ford now
have the frankly brilliant Focus Electric available to everyone. Although they don't
market it much which is weird because it's a remarkable car for the price.
There is a pronounced difference in the driving experience when you step into an EV for
the first time. There is typically no gearbox or transmission. Electric motors differ greatly
from internal combustion engines in the way they deliver power and torque, and for the
most part, you have full torque from the instant you mash the accelerator pedal until the
motor overheats. It's like an instant "go" pedal - there's no hanging about waiting for the
engine to get up to speed, no changing gears, nothing. Unless you've driven an EV it's
very difficult to explain what it feels like, but the best way is this: imagine your car in first
gear with your foot flat to the floor. Now imagine that acceleration all the way up to the
top speed of the car without any interruption. But then accompanied by an electrical
buzz that sounds like a swarm of bees on crack.

The graph here gives you a theoretical comparison. The orange plot represents an
electric motor torque curve and the blue plot represents an electric motor power curve.
By comparison, the black plot shows a high performance internal combustion engine
torque curve. From this you can see the full torque from zero of the electric motor as
well as the linear power delivery. It's also interesting to note that most decent petrol
engines are spent by about 8000rpm whereas a half-decent EV motor can go up to
15000rpm or so.

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The major drawback to a fully electric vehicle is that when you run out of juice, you can't
simply walk to the nearest petrol station. When the battery is dead, it's dead, and the
range is highly dependent on multiple factors. Weather affects EVs - cold days mean
less juice not only because of the inherent design issues of batteries, but because as a
driver you'll typically want to run the heater at the same time. Same goes for very hot
days - turn on the electric air conditioning and your range can drop in half. How you
drive has a huge impact on the range. Want to run the radio? Seat-back entertainment?
Open the windows? Once you're all-electric, these are all considerations.
If you think manufacturers are overly optimistic when they report gas-mileage for petrol
cars, the electric range quoted for many electric vehicles can be nothing sort of
downright lies. For example the 'official' published range for a Tesla Model S is 265
miles. Driven by a normal human being in normal conditions, you'd be lucky to get 200
miles. Driven like a hyper-miler, you might squeak out 230. The highest owner-reported
range on Tesla's own forums is 235 miles. The average owner won't see more than 180
per charge. Driven with a lead foot it'll drop as low as 60.
If you're a horsepower-driven petrolhead, then things will be bleak for you in an EV - for
now I'd just steer clear of them completely. If you're a little more practical though, things
aren't so bad. For example if your daily commute is less than 100 miles each way,
frankly an EV is the ideal car. If your workplace is forward-thinking enough to provide
charging posts for some of the parking spots, things look even better because you can
leave your car charging whilst you work. The problem comes when you start talking
about long journeys and road trips. No EV is going to give you a 500 or 1000 mile range
like a petrol or diesel car can. And internal combustion engines are simple to get going
again - pull in to a petrol station, spend 3 minutes filling up and you're on your way. EVs
do not have the luxury of that sort of infrastructure yet - it's not like you can pull in
somewhere and juice your car. Granted there are more charging posts than there were,
but time becomes the issue then. A slow charge for an EV battery pack is typically 8
hours. A quick charge with the correct equipment is 2 hours - better but it's still not 3
minutes. Until battery technology can overcome the charging issue, EVs will be stuck in
the commuter market and realistically that's no bad thing. Less pollution in crowded
cities can only be good for everyone.
Charging stations
EV charging stations are not yet a common sight in most places and as such, there's no
accepted way of informing drivers where they are. There is an open source road sign
being proposed in Europe by a Dutch group, but at the moment it is still just a public
domain proposal and has not yet been officially sanctioned. EVINFRA are also
proposing standard charging bay layouts and couplers in an attempt to prevent VHS vs.
BETAMAX or BluRay vs. DVD-HD type standards battles that do nothing other than set
back the technology and confuse consumers.
Thinking laterally
One possible solution to the slow recharge issue would require all manufacturers to
homologate on a common battery pack design and access. Given the history of
commonality between different vehicles, I think we all know this would be difficult if not
impossible to achieve but the benefits of doing it would be huge. Why? Imagine the
battery pack isn't bolted into the car permanently, but that it is removable. Future
charging stations wouldn't have charging posts, but would have a way of pulling the
depleted battery pack out of your car and replacing it with a fully-charged one. Your
depleted pack is then charged 'offline' by the facility and is then put into someone else's
car when they come in for a 'fill up'. In essence, you own your car, but not the battery
pack - it becomes like petrol - a commodity your vehicle uses but you don't own it. A
good-sized EV battery pack is hefty - it weighs a couple of hundred kilos at least and it's
not something you could just whip out on your own. The charging station would need to
have automated equipment to do it for you which is why there would need to be a
common standard for battery pack design, location and access.
Better Place
One company that pioneered a lot of infrastructure technology was Better Place, based
out of Palo Alto, California. They brought electric taxis to California as well as a planned
$1bn charging post infrastructure. They worked on swappable battery packs (the video
below shows an example) and flirted with foreign markets in Europe, Asia, Australia and
Israel. Sadly this is all past tense though as Better Place went bankrupt early in 2013.
Tesla again
Better Place had the right idea but they didn't have the cash. Elon Musk does and it's
certain that he's going to push interchangeable batteries in all EVs. Not only that, but
with his new mega battery plant in Arizona, it's clear he wants Tesla to be the supplier of
those common batteries. Tesla have already demonstrated a proof-of-concept Model S
with battery-swap capability. Give it another year or two.....
The Green brigade get all foamy at the mouth over EVs because of the perception that
they are pollution-free. Locally, they are - ie directly around the vehicle itself, there is no
pollution generated by the vehicle (unless you have a range-extended). But globally,
they are not. You have to charge an electric vehicle, which means you have to use
electricity. Electricity generation happens at power plants, which produce pollution. So
an EV is a displaced polluter, which isn't a bad thing. There's a far higher chance of
being able to figure out how to clean up the source of electricity generation than there is
of trying to clean up millions of individual cars.
The other consideration is the overall impact of an EV. They cost about the same to
make, in terms of consumption of raw materials and power, but when it comes to
disposal, there's now the battery to contend with, with all it's metal content and
chemicals. So it could be argued that the cradle-to-grave carbon and environmental
footprint of an EV is actually not much different to it's petrol counterpart.
The true nirvana
The dream here would be to use renewable energy like wind or solar power to provide
the electricity to charge electric vehicles. At that point, the only pollution involved would
be during the manufacture and disposal of the vehicles themselves. In daily use, they
would effectively be fully zero-emission vehicles.

Currently most electric vehicles use either nickel metal hydride (NiMH) or lithium-ion (Li-
ion) batteries providing a DC voltage up to 500v, and a power rating of anything from 18
to 50 kilowatt-hours. This is why you need a charging station or a special kit to rapid-
charge an EV battery. A typical household electrical supply simply isn't capable of
providing the amount of power required to perform a quick-charge.
Li-ion batteries are now preferred because, configured correctly, they can weigh less
than half of what a similar capacity NiMH battery pack weighs. Tesla's current
generation battery pack crams so much power into such a small footprint that they
currently have the highest energy density in the industry, and one pack could run a
small house for 2 days on a single charge.
Tesla's battery packs are unique in that they use thousands of 18650 form factor cells
that are 18mm in diameter by 65mm in length. If you dismantled the battery pack, the
cells look like AA batteries. Tesla claim that this form factor increases battery life and is
more efficient for heat transfer.
The Chevy Volt, by comparison, uses a more traditional system of interleaved vertical
plates packed together into modules, several of which are stacked to form the entire
battery pack - a T-shaped unit that sits behind the rear seats and protrudes down the
centre of the car where a traditional transmission tunnel would be.
Picture credit: Tesla Motors


To paraphrase Spiderman: with great voltage comes great opportunity for frying
yourself. For first-responders attending the scene of an accident and for home
mechanics alike, the terms Manual Disconnect Switch (MDS) and Service Disconnect
Switch (SDS) will become very important. All EVs (and most Hybrids for that matter)
have an easily-identifiable switch that can be pulled, pushed, or thrown to disconnect
the high voltage battery from all the vehicle's other electrical systems. Fortunately the
industry seems to have standardised on bright orange for the high voltage components -
both wiring and the disconnect switches. The MDS/SDS is normally located on the
battery pack itself.
Here's an interesting idea : never service your car. With internal combustion you know
where that will get you. But on a fully electric vehicle, what needs regular maintenance?
Only the consumable items. Check the brake pads and discs, and the tyres. That's
about it. If the car has a transmission instead of direct drive (rare) then that fluid needs
looking at every 60,000 miles. There's no oil to change, no oil or air filters, no spark
plugs. There might still be coolant to check - EVs typically use radiators and coolant to
keep the operating temperature of the battery packs down, but other than that, the
whole concept of regular servicing becomes really skewed when you start talking about
electric vehicles.
A pure plug-in EV is simply a motor and a rack of batteries. A Hybrid is a combination of
electric motor and internal combustion engine both of which can drive the wheels. Until
infrastructure and technology comes along to solve the battery charging issue, the
immediate solution is ER-EVs - extended-range electric vehicles. ER-EVs are
essentially EVs but with an onboard mechanism of generating more electricity on the
go. Generating electricity as you drive isn't a new idea, there are several methods of
doing it right now, and these are used in various combinations to help range-boost
electric vehicles.
Regenerative braking. Similar to the same system in a hybrid vehicle, regenerative
braking turns the electric motor into an electric generator when you slow down. The
potential energy of the car traveling at speed is turned back into electricity to help
recharge the batteries. Unless you're completely gullible, you understand the idea that a
perpetual motion device is impossible, so you can't drive an EV up a hill then brake all
the way down the other side to recover 100% of the charge you used in the climb.
Regenerative braking boosts the range but can never fully recharge the batteries.
Internal combustion generators. If you've ever seen, heard or travelled on a train in
the last 50 years, you'll have experienced a diesel-electric engine at some point. These
systems add a small internal combustion engine into the mix but rather than connecting
it to the transmission (as in a hybrid), the engine is used solely for running a generator
to recharge the onboard batteries. Imagine a golf cart with an emergency Honda power
generator tied to the back of it and you get the picture. As mentioned at the top of the
page, this is exactly what the Chevy Volt was supposed to be in its original design. The
benefit of these systems is a hugely increased range because now you're not the
battery's bitch any more - when it starts to run low, the engine recharges it. When the
engine runs low on petrol or diesel, you fill the tank.
BMW have embraced this idea, although with petrol, not diesel. Their i3 can be supplied
either as a pure EV or as a range-extended version with a little petrol engine in the rear
hooked up to a generator.
More serious performance cars have embraced this idea too - the Porsche 918 and
McLaren P1, although to be honest those are more like hybrids because they have
pitiful electric ranges and the electric motors are there more for acceleration and
compensating for friction in the internal combustion engines.
A good example of this particular type of technology was the Fisker Karma. It had two
electric motors rated at a combined 402hp that drove the rear wheels, driven from a
600lb lithium-ion battery pack. Up front there was a 2 litre turbocharged petrol engine
connected to a generator that came on when the battery range dropped to 15%. There
was an onboard fuel tank that fed the petrol engine that, Fisker claimed, range-boosted
the Fisker from a battery-only 50 miles up to 300 miles. And for good measure, Fisker
added a roof full of solar panels to help recharge the battery pack too. Interestingly, the
Karma did not produce enough power to run the electric motors at their full 400+hp
unless the battery was full and the generator was running at the same time. In that case
it was at the driver's command via a steering-wheel mounted switch that flicked it from
'Stealth' mode to 'Sport' mode.
Fisker ran into legal and financial troubles in 2013 and pretty much ceased trading
facing financial meltdown and an inability to deliver cars to their customers.
Picture credits: Fisker Automotive

Hydrogen fuel cells. Ditch the battery pack completely and generate electricity on-the-
fly with hydrogen fuel cells. I have a whole section on this over in the fuel & engine bible
:Hydrogen fuel cells.

There will undoubtedly be improvements in battery technology for EVs but one of the
biggest challenges right now still concerns the transmission. All current EVs have a
tradition single motor coupled to a transmission which is used to drive the wheels. Volvo
had a concept in 2007 called the ReCharge which was a diesel-electric hybrid, but had
the noteable feature of wheel motors. This solves the transmission problem because
instead of having one large motor, there are instead four smaller ones, one built into
each wheel hub. This removes all the weight of the transmission and gives expanded
possibilities for vehicle control. For example all-wheel-drive vehicles become very easy
to build and control once you start using wheel motors. Rather than all that nonsense
with limited-slip diffs, torque-sensing couplings, clutch packs, speed sensors, hydraulics
etc, you simply have four wheel motors that can each be monitored for slip. If one is
slipping, the electrical system simply reduces or cuts power to that motor.
In a similar fashion, stability control could be implemented the same way - rather than
braking an errant wheel as we do today with ABS-coupled traction control, in a wheel
motor solution, the wheel that needs to be brought into check could simply have the
motor begin to act as a generator, inducing drag and slowing the wheel down like
brakes do today. For that matter, 4-wheel regenerative braking would be a very efficient
way of topping up battery charge on the move.