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What Is An EV And How Does It Work? All You Need To Know

With new electric cars coming out of their shells every other week, it’s important for us to know how these electric vehicles (EVs) work. Having some understanding about their inner workings will also prepare you before you make the jump to EVs.

Electric Car

While the number of EV models remain low, in terms of sales figures as well as models on sale, they’re rapidly gaining popularity and are on track to becoming mainstream in just a few years. But what exactly is an electric vehicle? How do they work? Find out answers to these questions and a whole lot more here.

What Are Electric Vehicles and How Do They Work?

An electric vehicle's components are actually pretty simple. At the heart of an electric vehicle is an electric motor. It typically draws current from a lithium-ion battery pack to turn the wheels. An EV with 4-wheel drive normally has two motors, one connected to the front wheels via the front axle and the other rotating the rear axle to drive the rear wheels.

AC synchronous electric motors are the most common type of EV motor. The motor receives electricity from the battery pack via a controller (or motors). Some electric cars use brushless DC motors, which are way more efficient due to lesser energy loss from the friction. The driver controls a pair of variable resistors that inform the controller how much voltage to give to the motor with the accelerator pedal.

Much like any other electrical device, the battery’s electrical energy depletes as we drive the car. In place of a standard fuel gauge, every electric car has components that estimate how many kilometres of range it has remaining. You must plug in your electric vehicle in your garage or at a charging station to recharge the battery.

Note: Check your Car EMI with our - Car EMI Calculator

Different Types Of Electric Vehicles (EVs)

Mild Hybrid: A mild-hybrid car is very similar to a hybrid car, albeit with a smaller battery and a smaller electric motor. Hence, it can’t drive on the electric motor alone but it adds some bottom-end torque to improve the drivability and take some load off the engine at lower RPMs. Even this minor load sharing greatly helps the cars drastically improve their efficiency figures, especially in city driving conditions. When coasting, the wheels turn the electric motor, which charges the battery. The battery discharges and helps the motor push some torque down on the ground and return the favour when the engine is under stress. Examples of mild hybrid cars include the Maruti Suzuki S-Cross, Ciaz, Ertiga and XL6.

Hybrid: Now imagine a mild hybrid car but with a bigger battery and a more powerful electric motor. Given that the battery is much bigger and so is the electric motor, in this case, the car can even shut off the engine when driving at relatively slower speed. So, if the battery is sufficiently charged and if we’re driving the car sedately, then it behaves exactly like an electric car. The engine kicks in when either the battery is running low or if we want more performance. To meet our performance needs, the engine can work along with the battery and motor. If the battery is low, then the engine can keep turning the electric motors and gradually charge the battery. A couple of notable examples of hybrid cars are the Toyota Camry and Prius.

PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle): A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a hybrid vehicle with a much larger battery pack and in most cases, a more powerful motor too. Unlike a hybrid, a PHEV can cover fairly long distances on electrical energy alone. You don’t have to rely on a running engine to charge the battery and you can plug it into a power socket to charge up the battery pack. Most PHEVs have a range of about 40 - 50km per charge. So, for shorter daily commutes, it’s very much possible that you may not even have to turn on the engine all year round and treat it totally like an electric car. Meanwhile, you retain the flexibility of taking it out on a long road trip without any range anxiety. It fills up liquid fuel like any other internal combustion car while the battery and engine also work in tandem like a typical hybrid car.

Examples of plug-in hybrid cars are Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid and Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid. We don't have any PHEV cars in India on sale but we did get the Volvo XC90 Excellence, which was also the first car in India to offer radar-based safety features.

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV): If you just remove the internal-combustion engine from a plug-in hybrid, and replace it with a larger battery with a more powerful electric motor for good measure, you end up with a Battery Electric Vehicle. Since these cars don’t run on petroleum-based fuels and can’t quickly fill up their tank like petrol or diesel cars or recharge on the go, EVs sometimes tend to give range anxiety when going on a long drive. Examples of electric cars include the Tesla Model S, Audi E-Tron, Porsche Taycan at the higher end to the Tata Tigor EV and Tata Nexon EV at the lower end. Cars like the Mini Cooper SE, MG ZS EV and Hyundai Kona EV sit somewhere in the middle in terms of price.

Electric Vehicles And Driving Range

The driving range of an electric car is the distance an electric vehicle can drive on a full charge before the battery runs out. Manufacturers often quote a considerably longer range than what you might end up getting during real-world usage. However, to save us from getting stranded, they usually also show a lower-than-remaining-range on the display. This pessimistic figure helps us plan our trip accordingly but even if the display shows that we’re out of battery, there’s still some power in the battery pack to chug along for a few kilometres and keep us from getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. The driving range depends on several factors, such as the weather, driving style, driving conditions, high-speed cruising, regeneration and load, wheel alignment and tyre pressure.

EVs with a range of more than 300km, such as the Tata Nexon EV crossover, are becoming more prevalent. Most Tesla models have a range of over 500km. Currently, the Audi E-Tron has the longest range of 484km among EVs available in India, followed by the I-Pace, which, according to Jaguar, can go for 470km on a full charge. Check out the claimed range of the most popular EVs sold in India below:

Model 

Claimed Range

Audi E-Tron

484km

Jaguar I-Pace

470km

Hyundai Kona

452km

MG ZS EV (Old model)

419km

Mercedes-Benz EQC

414km

Tata Nexon EV

312km

Tata Tigor EV

306km

Since they have less area allocated to their battery packs, PHEVs have smaller electric ranges than EVs. The Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid sold in the international markets, for example, has a 45km electric-only range whereas the Hyundai Ioniq Electric sedan has a 275km electric range.

Electric cars consume far less energy than even the most fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicles. Thanks to sin-goods-like taxes on liquid fuels in India on one hand and subsidised electricity on the other, electric cars also turn out to be far cheaper to run than petrol or diesel cars.

Note: You can use our Fuel Cost Calculator to see how any petrol, diesel or CNG car will cost to run based on the latest fuel price in your city.

Fuel Cost Calculator in India

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mahesh Yadav

Mahesh is a fan of compact, quirky and underrated vehicles that punch above their weight. Multix, Nano, Strom R3 and Navi are his favorites.

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