Is now the time to buy an electric car?
27th January 2022
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Electric car sales are certainly on the rise in the UK, but many may still be asking, is an electric car right for me?
In this blog, we’ll look at the types of electric vehicles available, the technology behind them, and the pros and cons of buying an electric car in 2021.
How does an electric car work?
Firstly, we’ll take a quick look under the bonnet to see how electric vehicles work.
Electric cars are powered by energy from batteries. This energy is converted into power by an electric motor, which is used to drive the wheels. An electric motor generates more torque than a traditional internal combustion engine, so, the power goes straight to the wheels for instant acceleration.
Types of Electric car engines
Unlike petrol or diesel vehicles, there seems to be several different types of electric vehicles to chose from, all offering slightly different features and benefits. These include:
If you’re considering an electric vehicle for the first time, you might be confused by the terminology and array of acronyms you’re faced with. A summary of the commercially available electric car types is as follows:
- Electric vehicle (EV)
- Battery electric vehicle (BEV)
- Hybrid (HEV)
- Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)
- Mild electric vehicle (MHEV)
- Range-extended electric vehicle (RE-EV)
- Hydrogen vehicle (FCEV)
Electronic vehicle (EV)
EV is simply an acronym for an electric vehicle. EVs are vehicles that are either partially or fully electronically powered. Electric vehicles have typically low running costs and maintenance costs, and are very environmentally friendly.
Battery Electric Vehicles
Battery electric vehicles (BEV), sometimes known as pure electric vehicles, only electric vehicles or all-electric vehicles are a type of electric vehicle that is powered exclusively by chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs. There is no need for additional sources of propulsion.
A hybrid is a car that uses an internal combustion engine (usually powered by petrol) backed up by a battery-powered electric motor. The electric motor runs in parallel with the internal combustion engine to give a performance boost when accelerating to help save fuel, and during slower speeds can run the car for short distances on electric power alone. There is no need to plug in a hybrid, as the battery is recharged using the internal combustion engines.
Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)
Pretty much exactly like it sounds, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) uses batteries to power an electric motor and another fuel, such as petrol, to power an internal combustion engine. PHEVs tend to have larger batteries than conventional hybrids, allowing them to run for longer but must be charged using specific electric charging points.
Mild electric vehicle (MHEV)
Mild electric vehicles are vehicles that are powered by an internal combustion engine equipped with an electric motor/generator in a parallel hybrid configuration. There is no electric-only mode for propulsion, but the electronic motor does allow for the engine to be turned off whenever the car is coasting, braking, or stopped, but will restart quickly when needed.
Range-extended electric vehicle (RE-EV)
A range-extended electric vehicle (REEV) is a battery electric vehicle that runs on electricity but includes an additional power unit known as a ‘range extender’. The range extender (usually an internal combustion engine) drives an electric generator that charges a battery that supplies the vehicle’s electric motor, it does not power the vehicle itself or drive the wheels. At present, there are no range-extended electric cars on sale in the UK, however, some taxis models are available, and vans and trucks with this technology will be coming soon, and it’s expected that the technology will be made available to traditional consumer cars.
Hydrogen vehicle (FCEV)
A Hydrogen vehicle is an electric vehicle that uses a fuel cell, in combination with a small battery or supercapacitor, to power its electric motor. The fuel cells generate electricity using oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen. Most fuel cell vehicles are zero-emissions vehicles that emit only water and heat.
Top Electric Models
Almost every car manufacturer is now offering at least one electronic model, meaning there is a car and a budget to suit almost everyone. They start at entry-level options ranging in price from £17,000 – £26,000 and go all the way up to top-end models, costing between £60,000 to £100,000.
Pros and Con’s of Electric Vehicles
Like any vehicle, electronic cars have their plus and negative points, and as a buyer, you’ll need to consider these carefully before you make up your mind.
A big plus point for electronic cars is emissions-free driving. When you’re driving, the car’s system is a ‘closed loop’, meaning that the battery drives the electric motor and powers all the onboard electrics, and doesn’t produce any waste material. This means electric cars are exempt (currently) from clean air charges in UK cities and enjoy lower tax rates.
Low running costs
After the initial buying price, electronic vehicles have relatively low running costs. If the vehicles are charged up overnight (and depending on your home energy tariff), the cost to “fuel” electronic cars can be as little as a few pounds.
If you like your cars fast, then an electronic vehicle could be right for you. Thanks to the instant torque delivery of an electric motor, electric cars can accelerate very quickly, giving you a thrill of a high-powered car.
While it’s thought that there are more than 42,000 charge point connectors in the UK, the majority of these are centered around towns and cities, meaning if you live or travel to more rural locations, you could find yourself without power or a charging point.
Additionally, most homes in the UK do not have electronic charging points. There is however good news on this front, with the government offering grants to help with installation charges.
The time it takes to charge an electric car can pose a problem. While it is possible to charge a battery in as little as 30 minutes, it can in some cases take more than 12 hours!
This charging time depends very much on the battery size and the speed of the charging point. A typical electric car (60kWh battery) takes just under 8 hours to charge from empty to full with a 7kW charging point.
This means electronic car drivers are going to have to plan when and where they need to charge their vehicles well in advance of any long journeys, otherwise they won’t be going anywhere fast.
Electronic vehicle batteries
As you can see from the above list, one of the most important parts of an electric car is its battery. Herein lies a little problem. While electronic cars are better for the environment, their batteries are presenting a challenge to their green credentials. These lithium-ion batteries contain several components including cobalt, nickel, and manganese. This makes the batteries expensive to produce, but also very difficult to recycle.
This is a problem for car and battery manufacturers who will in time need to address the potential recycling problem these batteries are going to cause.
Ready or not, the future of cars does seem to be electric, however as the technology and science behind electronic vehicles is constantly changing and upgrading, it’s creating a risk that older models will become obsolete very quickly and the residual value of older electronic cars will be extremely low, but the environmental benefits of electronic vehicles are certainly going to be a big driver in pushing mass adoption of the technology by consumers.
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