What is an electric car?

Electric cars are nothing new. In fact, the earliest electric vehicles hit the road in the late 19th century. Readers of a certain age will also remember the evocative sound of the electric milk float delivering bottles in the early hours of the morning.

Without going into a full history lesson, for the vast majority of the 20th century, the electric car industry was purely a niche sector, with petrol and diesel dominating sales. Electric cars simply didn’t have the range, price or flexibility required to make them a worthy alternative to a conventional vehicle.

Times are changing. Although the numbers are still relatively small, electric cars are increasing in popularity. At the end of February 2020, pure electric cars had a 2.9 percent market share in the UK. That’s up from just 0.8 percent in 2019.

Here, we’ll attempt to explain the basics of an electric car in the simplest of terms.

What is an electric car?

Honda e

Electric car, electric vehicle (EV), battery electric vehicle (BEV), all-electric car, pure electric car – there are many names, but they’re fundamentally the same thing. The one difference is that ‘EV’ and ‘BEV’ could be used to describe an electric van, bus or truck.

An electric car features a large battery pack that sends power to an electric motor. This motor drives the front, rear or all four wheels, depending on the configuration. It’s as simple as that.

Batteries are measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy – the larger the battery capacity, the greater the electric range. Take the Nissan Leaf. The standard car features a 40kWh battery, which is good for up to 168 miles. Meanwhile, the 62kWh version can deliver up to 239 miles.

In the majority of cases, the electric version of a car looks almost identical to its petrol or diesel equivalent. Examples of this include the Peugeot e-208, Vauxhall Corsa-e, Kia e-Niro, Hyundai Kona Electric and Mini Electric.

Porsche Taycan

Others are easier to spot. Take the Honda e, which was developed from the ground up as an electric car. It’s a similar story with all Tesla models, the Jaguar i-Pace and the Porsche Taycan.

In many respects, the basics of an electric car will be familiar to anyone who has driven a conventional vehicle. There are four wheels, up to seven seats, space for your luggage and a conventional steering wheel. The key difference is that you don’t need to fill it up with fuel. Instead, an electric car needs to be recharged.

Charging can be done via a domestic socket or wall box. Typically, an overnight charge will provide between 100 and 300 miles of electric range, depending on the vehicle in question.

Alternatively, you can charge the battery via the network of public chargers. Depending on the model, it might be possible to charge to 80 percent in as little as 20 minutes using a rapid charger.

Discover how to find your nearest electric car charger

What else do I need to know about electric cars?

Skoda Citigo e IV

We’ll explore the ins and outs of running an electric car in separate articles. For example, we’ll look at how to charge an electric car, how to drive one and the things you need to consider before venturing down electric avenue.

For now, it’s worth noting that an electric car is very different to a hybrid. A plug-in hybrid will provide a limited amount of electric range before the petrol or diesel engine takes over, while the electric motor in a standard hybrid is there to improve efficiency, rather than to provide any electric range.

In an electric car, there’s no internal combustion engine (ICE). They’re 100 percent electric, which also means they deliver 100 percent zero emission driving. The government will even provide a discount if you choose to buy a new electric car.

It’s time to stop viewing the electric car as an unconventional and niche choice. As we approach the ban on new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars, electric cars will become mainstream. You could find that they’re the only socially acceptable form of personal transport, with an increasing number of cities choosing to ban conventional cars.

Read more advice on buying an electric car

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