Everything You Need to Know About the Electric Car Revolution

By David J. Smith, Director and Senior Partner at The Joule Group

What is EV technology?

Electric Vehicle (EV) technology simply replaces a gasoline or diesel engine in your vehicle with a battery and an electric motor. The fundamental technology is not new. In fact, 38% of the cars in US in 1900 were EVs, and only 22% were gasoline powered. Unfortunately, EVs suffered a decline until the launch of the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrid gasoline EVs in 1997 and 1999, respectively. 

Hybrid vehicles use a gasoline (or diesel) engine as their primary source of power, backed up by a relatively small battery. The battery is charged during normal operation. While hybrid technology is used mainly to improve fuel economy, the electric motor operating in parallel with the gasoline engine can improve acceleration.

Even Formula 1 added a hybrid EV system to their design requirements in 2009, and significantly enhanced this system in 2014, demonstrating that this technology is here to stay. 

What are the EV options?

There are three different types of EVs on the road: 

1. Hybrid EV: The Toyota Prius was the first hybrid on the market, but there are now many other hybrid options. Some manufacturers have used hybrid technology to create a performance-oriented luxury vehicle, such as Lexus GS450h, while others have focused exclusively on improved fuel efficiency, forfeiting performance. The hybrid is a great option for the consumer who lacks access to charging facilities at home.

Toyota Prius

2. Plug-in Hybrid EV: The Chevrolet Volt was the first plug-in hybrid vehicle to be available in Canada and the US. It operates as a pure EV until the battery is depleted, and then acts like a traditional hybrid. Toyota, Ford, Porsche, Cadillac, and Fisker have also introduced plug-in hybrids with varying degrees of success. The consumer who can plug in a hybrid EV at home gains the best of both worlds: reduced gasoline usage while retaining an option to refuel on the road. Lifetime average fuel consumption can range from 1L/100km to 5L/100km, depending on typical daily mileage.

The Chevrolet Volt 

3. Pure Electric Vehicles: The Tesla Roadster was launched in 2009, followed by the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, and others, offering several choices on the EV market. These vehicles do not use gasoline at all and need to be plugged in overnight to achieve a maximum daily range. Tesla builds cars with large batteries for high performance and long range. Other manufacturers have focused on building cars for urban driving that are cheaper. They have smaller batteries, so they can’t reach the high speeds and won’t go as far on a charge.

Tesla Roadster

What is the range?

Hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles have ranges similar to gasoline-only cars since they are refilled at any gas station. Pure EVs can get over 400km on a single charge, making range a non-issue most days. When you need to drive further, you plan your trip around available charging stations.

Where do I charge?

It’s possible to drive a Tesla Roadster or Model S sedan across Canada because there are already well over 1,000 publicly available charging stations throughout the country. Sun Country Highway has deployed a coast-to-coast network of charging stations and they intend to deploy over 5,000 more EV chargers across Canada by 2015. Higher-powered stations, such as the Tesla SuperCharger station, will be coming to Canada soon.

Aren’t EVs slow?

Absolutely not. The Tesla Model S P85 (Performance Edition) is as fast as a BMW M5 and can reach 100km/hr in 4.2 seconds. However, driving more conservatively results in better energy efficiency, just as it does in a gasoline-powered car.

EVs are expensive, right?

There is a range of price points, and you can probably find one to suit your budget. While there are cheaper gasoline-only cars available, hybrids and pure EVs are comparable to similar vehicles on the market. At the low end, a Toyota Prius c starts at just over $20,000. In the mid-range of the market, a Nissan Leaf EV starts at about $32,000, and a Chevrolet Volt starts at $35,000. At the high end, the Tesla Model S starts at just under $80,000. Though there are also some significant government rebates available for purchases of plug-in hybrid and pure EVs…

How much will I pay for electricity?

An EV can cost less than $2.50 in electricity to drive 100km. In comparison, it could cost about $10 to drive a typical mid-size, gasoline-only car the same distance.

Are EVs expensive to repair?

Hybrids and EVs tend to have low regular maintenance costs. Batteries can be expensive, but are very reliable. Repair costs are low because:

– Pure EVs have fewer moving parts than traditional gasoline vehicles.

– The energy recovery systems used in hybrids and EVs during braking significantly extend the life of brake pads.

– Pure EVs do not require oil changes.

– Plug-in hybrid vehicles need oil changes infrequently, perhaps only every two years.

– A powerful EV motor in hybrids reduces strain on the vehicle.

The Future 

The range of EV options will expand over the next few years. While pure EVs will play a significant role, hybrid EVs and plug-in hybrids are too important to ignore. Just as Formula 1 racing has discovered, this technology can improve both fuel efficiency and performance. And it’s definitely a winning formula.

About the author:

David J. Smith has been driving hybrid and electric vehicles since 2008. He has driven over 200,000 kilometres in hybrid and plug-in hybrids, and over 100,000 kilometres in pure electric vehicles. His collection has included the following vehicles: Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, Tesla Roadster and the Tesla Model S.


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