Electric car basics are here for those interested in electric cars, trucks, bikes, and scooters. These are all electric vehicles. Scroll down for more on EV definitions.
Electric vehicles or EVs are not that much different from gas powered vehicles or ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. ICE vehicles are often converted to electric. Hybrid vehicles share ICE and electric components for instance.
EV Battery Packs
The heart of the electric car, truck, electric bike or electric scooter is the battery pack. The pack may be one or more batteries strung together. The packs are modules of smaller battery units linked together to form one unit. After market EVs use deep-cycle batteries hooked together.
Hybrid cars use much smaller battery packs. Hybrids recharge their packs as they drive, so the size requirement is reduced. Their packs typically range from around 1 - 16 kWh capacity.
Typical battery pack chemistries are: Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion), and Lead-Acid (PBA or SLA). Li-Ion is the best of the bunch today.
Compare lots of EV cars and trucks here, and Ebikes and Scooters here.
Electric motors can be DC (direct-battery) or AC (alternating-household) current. EVs used to be mostly DC, but modern cars and truck manufacturers are lately finding more power and efficiency from AC motors.
Electric motors are basic relative to ICE motors and require no oil changes or tune-up. Electric motors run much cooler, and require much less maintenance than gas burners. Additionally, they turn 90%-95% of their energy to moving the vehicle. The ICE uses 30% to move the car, and 70% to waste heat, at best.
The electric motor is most powerful right off the line where the ICE needs to rev up to get its peak power. This is why EVs make great drag cars and bikes.
Electric motors measure their power in terms of kWh. ICE power can also be measured that way, and 745 Watts is equal to one horsepower.
Finally, electric motors are rated at continuous and peak power. The continuous power rating is considerably lower than the peak in most cases. Most EV motor ratings are giving by their manufacturers in terms of continuous power.
ICE vehicles burn energy stored in gasoline...and it is a lot! EVs use chemical energy usually stored in a battery of some kind. One US gallon of gasoline weighs around 6.2 lbs, yet has 1.5 times more energy than a 660 lb Lithium-Ion battery pack!
Energy is measured in Watts (for James Watt), and is also called Power. The actual units used are Watts/Hour or kiloWatt-Hours. The terms used most often are Wh and kWh.
Technically: Power = Watts = Volts x Amps (per hour). One Watt is pretty small, so kiloWatts is used most often. KiloWatts = kWh = Watts x 1000
Watts is the instant measure of power use this second. The kiloWatt Hour is the instant measurement over one hour. Power companies and EV battery and motor manufacturers use kiloWatt Hours. Electricity costs about $0.10 - $0.20 per kWh in the USA.
You will often see electric motors and battery packs rated in terms of kWh. EV energy may also be listed as Wh. When Wh are given, is is often Watt-hours per mile or kilometer. Electric cars get around 200 - 400 Wh/mile and ebikes might average 15 Wh/mile. These are general values for illustration only.
Battery Power compared to Gasoline Energy
To get a feel for EV energy, lets look at the energy in terms of gasoline. One US gallon of regular gasoline has the energy equivalent of about 36,000 Wh, or 36 kWh. Note that the figure 36 kWh may vary depending on the source, but we use 36 kWh on this site.
For interest: although EVs carry less energy than ICEs, they use it up to 3 times more efficiently. Note also that considerable research is underway to increase battery storage.
Computers use power too. How much? Google and Facebook combined use about 360,000 kWh. That's as much as 15,000 Nissan Leaf battery packs
Comparing EV to Home Power Use:
Electric use per home in the USA is around
920 kilowatt hours per month** on average.
That is equal to 38.3
Nissan Leaf battery packs of power.
Other EV gear under the hood
This is a bit beyond the basics, but for information, we list other gear common to electric vehicles.
To move the power out of the battery to the electric motor, or motors, electric vehicles need a controller, heavy duty wiring, a special "gas" pedal, gauges, shunts and electronics. See the DIY pages for more info on these items.
Power from the battery pack flows to the EV motor through the motor controller. The controller is the brain, and all EVs need to have some kind of brain to operate.
Some EVs use regenerative braking where the electric drive motor can be used as a generator during braking to put energy back into the battery pack. Most new EVs have this feature.
Watts in a Name?
Pardon the pun, but EV names can be confusing. There are a lot of abbreviations that mean the same or slightly different things.
EV - Electric vehicle
BEV - Battery electric vehicle
HEV - Hybrid electric vehicle
PHEV - Plugin hybrid - see the Next page for more
LEV - Light electric vehicle
NEV - Neighborhood electric vehicle
LSV - Low speed vehicle
REEV - Range extended electric Vehicle - Chevy Volt