All About Electric Cars: A Plug-In Primer

Learn about electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars, and get information on charging an electric vehicle, lithium-ion batteries, how EVs work and the electric cars available.

| GUIDE TO GREEN CARS, Summer 2012

  • Electric Car Under Hood
    Many new electric cars are coming on the market including this one, Mistubishi’s all-electric i-MiEV, which was recently named the Greenest Vehicle by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
    PHOTO: MITSUBISHI
  • Electric Car Public Plug In
    As electric car options increase, so do the options for recharging them, including a network of public charging stations.
    ECOTALITY
  • Electric Car Lithium Ion Battery
    A lithium-ion battery pack, a key electric car technology.
    NISSAN
  • Electric Car Home Charging Station
    You can have an easy-to-use electric car charging station installed right in your garage.
    AEROVIRONMENT
  • Electric Car Dashboard Display
    Dash displays on the Chevrolet Volt show battery level, total range (gas + electric) and much more.
    CHEVROLET
  • Electric Car Street Charging Station
    More public charging stations can mean commuting without using a drop of gas.
    CHEVROLET
  • Nissan Leaf Red Right
    Nissan jumped out in front of many automakers with its introduction of the Nissan Leaf.
    NISSAN
  • Tesla Model S On Road
    Tesla’s Model S electric sports car combines luxury and sustainability.
    TESLA MOTORS
  • Mitsubishi I Front Silver
    Mitsubishi has high hopes for its all-electric i-MiEV, which is getting a lot of buzz in the world of electric vehicles.
    MITSUBISHI
  • Honda Fit Blue Left
    The Honda Fit EV joins several other electric cars hitting markets in 2012.
    HONDA
  • Electric BMW I3 Concept Car
    The new all-electric BMW i3 concept is designed for super-efficient city driving.
    BMW

  • Electric Car Under Hood
  • Electric Car Public Plug In
  • Electric Car Lithium Ion Battery
  • Electric Car Home Charging Station
  • Electric Car Dashboard Display
  • Electric Car Street Charging Station
  • Nissan Leaf Red Right
  • Tesla Model S On Road
  • Mitsubishi I Front Silver
  • Honda Fit Blue Left
  • Electric BMW I3 Concept Car

After more than 100 years of internal combustion, will electric cars come as, pardon the pun, a shock? The good news is electric vehicles, sometimes called EVs, don’t require a major re-education for drivers. The first thing you need to know about electric cars is that they’re powered by battery packs, the capacity of which is measured in kilowatt-hours. In a truly all-electric car, there is no gas tank; the battery pack is the only game in town. Unlike a gas car — which generates electricity for accessories such as the radio or heater from the engine-driven alternator — the electric car is wholly dependent on batteries. That’s why turning on the radio or running the heater affects the electric car’s range.

After the initial investment, electric cars are inexpensive to own because of low maintenance costs (for instance, no oil changes!), the relatively cheap price of electricity, and the fact that electric motors are inherently more energy efficient than internal-combustion engines (read How Much Does It Cost to Power an Electric Car? from the article Why Electric Cars Are Cleaner).

Charging an Electric Vehicle

Instead of gassing up, drivers will plug their cars into a charger located at home, the office or public car charging stations. Most wall-mounted garage chargers are 240 volts and take about four to eight hours to fill an empty battery, depending on the vehicle.

Most charging will take place at home, because for-profit public charging is likely to be more expensive. A public option is 480-volt DC “fast charging,” which takes just half an hour and may soon be an option for electric car drivers at gas stations. Most people will plug in when they come home from work, but, where applicable, the cars can use built-in timers that ensure they charge during “off-peak” late-night hours when many utilities offer reduced rates. Some critics with doubts about electric cars argue that if too many people start using EVs, the electricity grid will become overwhelmed or even “crash,” but by charging during off-peak times, the electricity grid will not be negatively affected.



Still in its infancy is wireless “inductive” charging, which can automatically transfer power from a unit built into the garage floor or parking space.

With no help from a gas engine, the battery pack offers about 100 miles of range. Worry about running out of charge has created a state of mind known as “range anxiety.” Are people right to be worried? Maybe not. According to the Sierra Club and other sources, most Americans drive fewer than 35 miles a day. It may be that range anxiety will fade as public charging options increase.

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