100 Questions about Electric Vehicles

By David Herron
An electric vehicle is powered by electricity. Somehow that simple fact does not answer the confusion over what electric vehicles are. Some think that because a hybrid car (e.g. Toyota Prius) has an electric motor, it is electric, when it is not. After 100+ years of all vehicles being powered by gasoline or diesel, we all need to wrap our heads around the fact that the energy for our vehicles can come from other sources.

If an electric vehicle is powered by electricity, and a hybrid vehicle is not electric, let's explore what this actually means. To do so let's break the phrase apart:

  • Electric means electricity, of course
  • Vehicle means a car, truck, motorcycle, bus, airplane, etc

Therefore we are talking about a car, truck, motorcycle, bus, airplane, etc powered by electricity.

More specifically: A vehicle where the motive power comes by plugging the car into a power outlet.

In a gasoline or diesel or other liquid fuel, the motive power comes from burning the liquid fuel. In an electric vehicle the motive power is electricity.

As we used to say after hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius became available: It's not electric unless you can plug it in

In a hybrid car, the electricity comes from burning gasoline. The gasoline engine in hybrid cars not only powers the wheels, it powers a generator which charges a battery pack. The times the gasoline engine shuts off is because that pack is full enough to drive the car, but every erg of energy in that battery pack comes from gasoline (or diesel).

Hence -- a hybrid car is a gasoline car whose efficiency is amplified by electricity.

In an electric car, the energy to drive the vehicle, the motive power in other words, is stored in a battery pack. You of course do not refuel the battery pack at a gasoline station, but from an electric power outlet.

Specifically an electric vehicle charging station is used, because electric cars require specifically designed charging cords. Why is a special cord required? Charging cords carry regular old electricity. The special cord is required because of safety features built into the cord.

There are two kinds of electric vehicles:

  • Plug-in Hybrid: These have a gasoline engine like a Hybrid, and can plug in to a charging station to recharge a battery pack.
  • All Electric: These have no gasoline or diesel engine, and are powered solely by energy stored in a battery pack.

It's not just electric cars

We've said hybrid car, plug-in hybrid car and electric car but we've also said electric vehicle. We need to be clear that examples exist of electric vehicles of all sizes, including electric airplanes.

Pedego electric bicycle with "Tommy Bahama" branding at Interbike 2010. The electric motor is in the rear wheel, and the battery pack in the cargo thing behind the rear seat. Photo credit: David Herron
GM Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. GM likes us to call this an extended range electric vehicle, but it is a plug-in hybrid. The electric range is about 40 miles, and it contains a full size gasoline engine. Photo credit: GM
Kia Soul EV electric car. This car is manufactured by Kia, and is based on their extremely popular Soul cross-over-near-SUV-vehicle. It contains a battery pack and has about a 100 mile electric range. Photo credit: Kia
Zero S electric motorcycle by Zero Motorcycles. This all electric motorcycle has well over 100 mile range, and excellent performance. For those wanting more performance, like for racing, should look at the Zero SR. Photo credit: Zero Motorcycles
Proterra full size city bus, fully electric powered. This unit features extended range - Proterra holds a range record of over 1000 miles driven on a single charge, and rates this bus with about 600 miles range. Photo credit: Proterra
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