Guide to the Different Types of Electric Cars

There are numerous reasons for believing that electric cars are the vehicles of the future. They offer many benefits, such as being cheaper to run and kinder to the planet. Yet, many people still aren’t sure about the differences between the varied models that are currently available.

The following are the main models of electric car that you need to be aware of; plug-in hybrid vehicles, battery electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles. So what are they all about and how will you know which one is right for you?

1. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs or EVs)

These cars are all-electric, meaning that they have no petrol-powered engine at all. Instead, they have rechargeable batteries that store the energy that they need. The high-capacity battery is charged using an external power source whenever it runs low.

You can tell how fast one of these chargers work according to its classification. Level 1 charging of an EV’s battery is done using just a standard household outlet with 120v. In this way, it takes more than 8 hours to charge it up for a journey of up to 80 miles. This can be done at home or at work. The majority of chargers of this type work with most of the BEVs that are around just now.

When it comes to Level 2 charging, this is done with a power source that provides 240v energy. This means using a specialised charging station, usually at a public charging point. In this case, 4 hours or so of charging will allow the vehicle to run for up to 80 miles.

As for Level 3 charging, this is often called fast charging of DC fast charging. It is the quickest solution to get a battery-powered car up and running. These chargers are located at public charging stations and in 30 minutes they can charge the battery for a trip of up to 90 miles. Only certain vehicles can be charged on a Level 3 basis, including the likes of the BMWi3, Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric.

BEVs are incredibly clean, as they don’t cause any of the dangerous emissions that are associated with cars that have petrol engines. The Nissan Leaf is the highest selling of this sort around the world to date, followed by the Tesla Model S, BMW i and Renault Zoe. This type of green car is becoming increasingly sought after by drivers who want to make a difference to the environment.

2. Plug-in Hybrid (PHEVs)

This type of car has an internal combustion engine on board but can also run on electricity for a certain time by using its battery. You might also see it called an Extended Range Electric Vehicle (EREV), due to the fact that it can run for longer on electrical power than other types of hybrid car.

The distance that can be covered using the battery varies from one PHEV to another. Some models of PHEV can cover around 10 miles without using petrol, while others can run up to 40 miles or so before they need to be switched over to petrol.

When the time comes to recharge the battery, this is done by plugging it into an electrical outlet. Some models also use regenerative braking to recharge the battery while it is running, storing the energy that is created each time that the vehicle brakes. When it runs low on electrical energy, the petrol engine can then be used. Naturally, someone who only drives short distances each day might only have to switch to petrol power very rarely, if at all.

This type of electrical vehicle has been widely available since early in the 21st century, although the technology needed to make it happen has been around for a lot longer. Indeed, it could be argued that the famous Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid that was built at the end of the 19th century holds the title of the world’s first hybrid electric car.

Out of just over 5 million plug-in electric cars around the planet at the end of 2018, around 1.8 million of them are hybrid electrical vehicles. This figure includes both PHEVs and the HEVs that we will look at shortly. The US is currently the world’s biggest market for hybrid cars, with China and Japan the next countries on the list.

Cars that fall into this category include the Ford Fusion Energi, Mini Cooper SE Countryman, BMW i8 and Hyundai Sonata. Since this is a popular category of eco-friendly car, new models are released regularly in numerous countries, and many of them are highly successful with the public. It seems likely that they will continue to grow in popularity due to their versatility.

3. Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

This type of vehicle has some factors in common with the PHEVs that we looked at earlier. For a start, they both have a combination of electrical power and a petrol engine. This means that it is possible to switch between the two types of energy as necessary.

In terms of HEVs, they will switch over to the internal combustion engine at a certain speed or when the load is increased. This means they can’t be used on electrical basis for as long as a PHEV. The switch over to the petrol engine will be carried out by an on-board computer that works out when it is best to use each type of energy.

The idea is that switching between the different energy sources at the right time achieves the highest possible level of energy efficiency. However, this means that it isn’t as environmentally friendly as all-electric cars.

Having said that, the adaptability of having an electrical power source means that these vehicles don’t need to have particularly big petrol engines. Therefore, they are certainly greener than cars that only have a traditional engine in them.

The PHEVs that can be plugged in to recharge them can typically use electrical power for longer and at higher speeds than the HEVs, as they can’t be recharged in this way. They are charged by using regenerative braking to top up with the battery rather than using an external energy source to do the charging.

HEVs tend to have a form of idle-off feature that can be used to turn off the internal combustion engine when the car is stopped, for example at traffic lights. Battery power is used to run the air conditioner and other elements, and it will get the vehicle started again before switching over to the petrol engine as necessary once the car picks up speed.

A few of the most popular vehicles in this category include the Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Prius Civic and Toyota Camry Hybrid.

4. Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs)

This type of vehicle has only got an electric motor, with no petrol-powered energy source. However, that doesn’t mean that it is exactly the same as the BEVs that we looked at earlier. The main difference between these type kinds of car is in the way that the energy is stored.

Rather than using a battery that can be recharged, they have a tank that contains hydrogen gas in it. This is combined with oxygen that is taken from the air, in order to produce electricity. As with BEVs, cars that use this form of propulsion are very clean and don’t pollute the air with harmful emissions.

Yet, it is worth bearing in mind that not every way of producing hydrogen is equally clean. Some of the ways of doing this that are virtually emission-free include using solar power or biomass. If the hydrogen is produced from natural gas then the pollution that results from this is centralised at the site where the hydrogen is created.

As FCEVs don’t need to be charged, there is no need to take them to an electrical charging station or plug them in at home. Instead, they can simply be taken to a filling station, where refilling the tank with hydrogen only takes a matter of a few minutes to do.

At the time of writing, charging stations for FCEVs are somewhat lacking, with California being the place where they are most easily found.  The technology to create the fuel cell for this vehicle can be trade back to the early 19th century, but it is only in the last few years that they have become available to the public. The future success of FCEVs will presumably be heavily linked to the availability of refilling stations.

In recent years, a number of new models have appeared on the scene. Some of the FCEVs around just now are; Hyundai Tucson FCEV – which was the first vehicle of this type to be made commercially available, Mercedes Benz F-Cell, Honda FXC Clarity and Hyundai Nexo.

While these vehicles might all sound very similar at first, it is clear that there are some big differences between them that you need to know about. If you want to drive a greener car then it is a question of working out which one best suits your needs and is most practical for your lifestyle too.



  • Debbie Gillespie

    Debbie's journey in the EV (Electric Vehicle) industry spans over an impressive seven-year stretch, during which she has consistently demonstrated her passion and commitment to the fusion of cutting-edge technology and eco-friendly practices. What sets Debbie apart is not just her vast experience, but also her insatiable curiosity about the developments and innovations in the sector. Her dedication ensures she is invariably informed about the newest models, breakthroughs, and industry insights. Colleagues and peers often turn to her for guidance, valuing her comprehensive knowledge and objective perspective. Her enthusiasm for sustainability combined with her technical expertise makes her an invaluable asset in the EV landscape. Over the years, Debbie has attended numerous conferences, workshops, and seminars, further solidifying her status as a leading figure in the domain. Whether it's a discussion about the latest battery technology or debates on infrastructure challenges, Debbie is at the forefront, driving change and championing sustainability.

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