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What you need to know about electric cars

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The tipping point for electric car mass adoption has been passed in many countries. Many major carmakers are beginning to phase out petrol-powered vehicle production to meet pledges to go 100% electric. 

With drivers benefitting from reduced energy and maintenance costs and lower air and noise pollution, it was only a matter of time before electric vehicles attracted the masses.

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But despite the appeal of electric cars, some drivers still have reservations. 

The sticking points are the same as 15 years ago when electric vehicles began resurging: where to chargea car’s range, and uncertainty about the unknown. 

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Misconceptions keep many drivers from switching, and clear information is needed to help the transition. That’s why we’ve created this guide, filled with the information you need. 

What is an electric car?

An electric car uses electricity as its source of power. Instead of a traditional fuel tank and engine, electric motors generate propulsion from the electrical power stored in the battery. 

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Types of electric vehicle

‘Electric vehicle’ is an umbrella term for different types of battery-powered vehicles.

There are 2 types of zero-emission 100% electric cars and 2 types of hybrids.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) 

Battery electric vehicles run entirely on electricity stored in rechargeable batteries. This type of electric vehicle doesn’t need petrol to run, so it doesn’t produce tailpipe emissions.

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs)

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) generate electricity by combining hydrogen (stored in a fuel tank) with oxygen from the air through a process known as electrochemical conversion in the fuel cell.

Moving onto hybrids — these are sometimes categorised as EVs, but electrified vehicles are a better term.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrid vehicles provide both petrol and electric driving. Housing a small battery and a conventional internal combustion engine, plug-in hybrid vehicles can run on electricity until the electric range is depleted (30–88 km) before switching to fuel. 

PHEVs have a bigger battery than HEVs and can be recharged with a plug — hence the longer electric range. 

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs)

Hybrid electric vehicles combine an internal combustion engine with an electric-powered motor. The vehicle switches between the 2 as a way of improving fuel economy. For example, when the vehicle’s idle, the electric motor helps before the petrol-powered engine starts up.

Hybrid electric vehicles can’t be charged at an external charging station. Instead, they refuel their battery power using energy from the engine and through energy recuperation during deceleration and braking.  

How do electric cars work?

With fewer pieces to the puzzle, electric vehicles are less complex than their petrol-powered counterparts.

The battery is the largest and most important component, and this is where the electrical energy needed to power the car is stored. To power the battery, a charging plug is inserted into the car’s port, from which electricity is fed into the batteries from the electric grid.

Once the battery’s charged, electrical powertrains convert the stored energy into mechanical energy, which turns the motor, rotating the wheels when the accelerator is pressed. When the car brakes, the car decelerates, and the motor is reversed to generate power and send it back to the battery.

With very little noise compared to a petrol engine, you’ll notice that electric cars run virtually silent! As an added benefit, fully electric vehicles are efficient — around 4 times as much as petrol vehicles. 1

Advantages of electric cars

Better for the environment

Perhaps the primary benefit of electric vehicles is their environmental superiority. EVs produce zero tailpipe greenhouse emissions because they run solely on a battery-powered motor and don’t require fossil fuels. This leads to a cleaner and better-for-the-environment performance than traditional petrol-powered vehicles. 

Now, you might say, “What about the mining needed to make EVs and the electricity generation needed to run the vehicles? Wouldn’t the life-cycle emissions of a fully electric vehicle be higher?” 

Study after study shows that EVs have lower emissions compared to fossil fuel-powered cars when considering the total life-cycle emissions.

Reduced ongoing costs

As electric cars don’t have the complex components of a petrol engine, regular maintenance costs such as oil changes, spark plug changes, and tune-ups are a thing of the past. Over the course of an EV’s lifespan, the fewer moving parts lead to maintenance savings.

Drivers also save money on refuelling. Electric car drivers typically spend around 60% less each year compared to those with petrol-powered cars, but this can vary depending on the price of fuel and electricity in your area.4

Higher performance

When electric cars were first launched, many belittled their comparatively low speed and performance. But most electric automobiles now outperform petrol-powered cars in acceleration, torque, and overall handling.5

The range of EVs has also grown — mid-size models now provide a range of 300–500 km on a single charge. This sufficiently covers most daily (or even monthly) driving needs.

Downsides of electric cars

Battery production emissions

It’s well known that the battery production of electric vehicles (EVs) accounts for a sizeable chunk of the total manufacturing carbon emissions. Despite these intense production emissions, electric vehicles drive much cleaner and create fewer carbon emissions than petrol-powered vehicles throughout their lifetime.

Additionally, advancements are being made in the recycling of electric car batteries. In years to come, EVs could be built with recycled metals, mitigating the need for excessive mining for rare earth elements.

Electrical grids still using fossil fuels

Electric vehicles are only as clean as the power used to charge them. Since many areas of the world still rely on fossil fuels to power electrical grids, the electricity used to charge EVs isn’t always the cleanest. 

The true sustainable potential of electric vehicles can only be realised once the electricity powering them derives from renewable energy such as wind power, solar power, hydropower, or nuclear energy. 

So it’s good news that electricity generation is getting cleaner by the year. According to the International Energy Agency, the share of renewables in the global power generation mix is forecast to rise from 29% in 2022 to 35% in 2025. Regions such as the European Union (EU) plan to reach nearly 70% of renewables in their electricity mix by 2030.

EV facts

Recharging times

Filling up a petrol vehicle doesn’t take much longer than a couple of minutes. And since drivers are accustomed to these speeds, they can be left frustrated by the comparatively slower refuelling time of EVs.

Charging times vary depending on the power of the charger. A slower at-home charger can take up to 8 hours, depending on the grid connection type and the battery’s size. A public rapid charging station can take as little as 30 minutes.

However, with 300–500 km ranges, it’s unlikely the average vehicle would need charging every day. And cars can be comfortably charged overnight with the added benefit of lower electricity prices.

Electric vehicle charging infrastructure and range

The most common concern for newcomers to electric automobiles is range anxiety. This is the fear that a vehicle will run out of power mid-journey with the driver stuck and without access to a charging point. 

In the early days of electric cars, this fear was somewhat justified. Few available charging stations and a maximum range of no more than 100 km set real limits. It meant drivers had to diligently plan every outing to avoid running out of battery power.

But things are different today. 

Global charging station infrastructure continues to accelerate with demand. In the EU, there are now over half a million public charging points, and in the UK, charging stations outnumber petrol stations! 6, 7

Access to an extensive network of charging stations means that drivers have little concern about running out of battery, unless in rural areas. 

The range of electric cars has also improved. New models now comfortably sit above the 300 km range, and some, such as the Tesla Model 3, have a range of 500 km and above (bearing in mind the real-world range can be lower than official figures, depending on weather conditions and driving behaviour). 

If range anxiety is still a concern despite these improvements, it’s worth remembering that the average EU driver travels 32.9 km daily — far below the range capabilities of modern electric cars.8

Range and charging frequency are also important to those looking to make money driving. Occasional ride-hailing drivers can manage with a basic electric vehicle, but active drivers covering 200+ km daily often need mid-level models that provide more range.

Incentives for electric car uptake

In a bid to support EV adoption, governments worldwide are pledging a range of incentives. These include subsidising vehicle costs, reducing parking fees, and lowering or eliminating road taxes.

Here are some examples of electric car incentives

Electric car manufacturers

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a car manufacturer that hasn’t yet got a range of electric automobiles available or, at the very least, has models in the pipeline. 

Electric car sales are skyrocketing year-on-year, and car manufacturers are keen to keep pace with this transition. 

As new models continue to hit the market, it’s hard to keep tabs on which are the best.  

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

Charging time depends upon the vehicle’s battery capacity and the charging station’s power.

Charging stations in Europe are divided into 4 levels:

  • Slow chargers are power outlets suitable for homes and offices that can charge your car (but take 7–16 hours).  
  • Normal chargers are 3 times as powerful (11–22 kW) than slow chargers (3–7 kW). With this, you can expect a full charge between 2 and 4 hours. 
  • Fast chargers are more common on highways and main road networks. These high-powered (50–100 kW) chargers can fully charge a car in 30–40 minutes. 
  • Ultra-fast chargers have a power output of over 100 kW and can get you back on the road in under 20 minutes.

It’s worth remembering that most drivers only use a fraction of a battery’s capacity on a typical day’s driving. So there’s often no need to wait for a full charge. 

What’s the range of an electric car?

The range of fully electric vehicles has come a long way since their inception. Today, even an entry-level electric car can travel over 200 km on a single charge. And as you climb up the ladder to luxury models, you’ll see the range grow to 500 km plus.

How many charging stations are there? 

Every month, the number of charging points increases to align with the uptake of EVs. By the end of 2022, the number of global public charging stations stood at 2.7 million — an increase of almost 1 million from the previous year. 

Pledges are being made around the world to continue this progress. For example, the EU aims to have 1 million public charging points by 2025 and 3 million by 2030.

Are there charging stations near me?

Apps like Plugshare house an interactive map of electric car charging stations around the world. Drivers can explore the charging station locations in their area and see if stations are currently available for charging. 

Charging map apps are ideal when planning a road trip or to see new additions in your local area. Take a look at the charging stations near you — you might be surprised! 

Are electric cars safe?

To ensure electric cars are fit for road use, they undergo the same rigorous testing as petrol-powered vehicles. 

All customary road safety features drivers are used to having (airbags, rear-view cameras, lane assist warnings) are found in electric cars, alongside advanced safety features, such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, and collision avoidance systems. 

It can be argued that these modern systems, which reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, make electric cars safer than petrol-powered ones.

As for the infamous fire risk, it’s now clear EVs are no more likely to catch fire than petrol cars.

Do you need to replace the electric car battery?

Batteries are designed to last the lifespan of the car, so it’s unlikely you’ll need to replace them. That said, EV batteries will degrade over time, affecting your total driving range.

How long does an EV battery last? 

An electric vehicle battery can last anywhere between 10 and 20 years. However, most manufacturers provide a warranty on the battery of around 8–10 years or 100,000 miles.

It’s possible to purchase a new battery for your vehicle as your existing one degrades, but such is the lifespan of the batteries, you might be considering a new vehicle by the time it comes around. 

Are electric cars more expensive? 

There’s no denying that an electric car has a steeper initial price tag than an equivalent petrol vehicle. However, the overall cost can be lower when you factor in financial incentives, lower maintenance costs, and cheaper fuelling.

What happens if my electric car runs out of charge?

As your car’s battery starts to reach its limit, you’ll get alerts to direct you to a nearby charging station. Additionally, the vehicle will enter low-power mode, which curtails non-essential functions to extend the range and give you more time to get where you’re going. 

If you ignore the alerts and the battery completely drains, it will stop running, and you’ll need to be towed home or to a nearby charging station

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