What Is An Electric Car?

Electric cars (EVs) use electric motors instead of internal cobustion engines. There are 3 types of electric cars: Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), and Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs).

An electric car, also referred to as an electric vehicle or EV, is propelled by using electrical energy to power an electric motor. In contrast, traditional automobiles use gasoline to power an internal combustion engine. Electric cars are not a recent innovation with early prototypes dating back to the early 1800s. However, a recent surge has occurred in EV development and adoption over the past 10 years due to environmental concerns, enhanced performance offered by emerging electric motor and battery technology, and significantly reduced maintenance costs associated with electric vehicles. With most major automobile manufacturers currently selling one or more types of electric cars, and the number of at home and commercial charging stations increasing at an exponential rate, EVs are just now becoming “ready for prime-time” and are expected to comprise almost all of the automobile market within the next 20 years.

A Short History Of The Electric Car

This may come as a surprise to many, but electric cars are not a modern innovation. The first crude electric car prototypes were developed in 1832 by Scottish inventor Robert Anderson. In the United States, the first commercially successful electric car was produced by in 1890 by chemist William Morrison in Iowa. Although little more than an electric wagon with a top-speed barely reaching 14 mph, its success sparked a surge in electric car development and adoption through the end of the 19th century. Thomas Edison, believing electric cars to be a superior mode of transportation, contributed to the effort by working to develop a better battery. By 1910, 38% of all cars in the United States were electric, leading the automobile market in sales until 1912 when Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T made non-horse and buggy transportation available to the masses for only $650, nearly one-third the price of an electric vehicle at that time. Unable to compete with the economics of production, EVs would not be commercially successful again until 2000, when Toyota revived the market by releasing the world’s first mass-produced hybrid-electric vehicle, the Prius.

Electricity is the thing. There are no whirring and grinding gears with their numerous levers to confuse, no dangerous and evil-smelling gasoline and no noise.


Why Drive An Electric Car?

Good For The Environment

Electric vehicles hold great potential to assist with humanity’s quest to create a sustainable future. Driving an EV produces fewer climate-changing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, as well as smog-forming pollutants that are harmful to physical health. In fact, if we replaced all light duty gasoline-based vehicles with a reasonable mix of hybrid and plug-in EVs today, carbon pollution generated by the transportation sector would be reduced by ~20% … instantly. And, as more EV battery-charging energy is sourced from renewable technologies, such as solar and wind, the reduction in harmful emissions could easily be tripled to ~60%.

Enhanced Performance

Another reason to drive an EV is their superior performance compared to typical internal combustion vehicles. Electric motors are extremely responsive and provide great torque, making them very fast off the line. For example, a standard Tesla Model S goes from 0 to 60 mph in just 2.3 seconds. Just 10 years ago, only super-charged race cars could achieve such powerful acceleration. In addition, EVs tend to be more technologically advanced than conventional automobiles, offering a variety of on-board, and more recently on-phone, systems that enhance, modify, and monitor the driver’s experience.

Reduced Maintenance

Electric cars cost significantly less to maintain than their internal combustion counter-parts. This is because EVs eliminate more than two dozen mechanical components that traditionally require frequent and expensive servicing. For example, tune-ups, oil changes, transmission service, cooling system flushes, air filters, and spark plugs are no more. And, due to an EV’s regenerative braking process, brake pads and rotors need to be replaced much less frequently, if at all. Accordingly, the annual maintenance costs associated with maintaining your electric vehicle are roughly one-third that of a traditional automobile.

What Types Of Electric Cars Are Currently Available?

There are three main types of electric cars: Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV), and Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV). They are classified by how they use electricity, as opposed to gasoline, as their primary means of propulsion. In terms of being good for the planet, Battery Electric Vehicles are the most environmentally friendly cars, Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles are second, Hybrid Electric Vehicles third, and gasoline-powered vehicles … well, you know how they rate.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

Battery Electric Vehicles, also called BEVs, are fully-electric vehicles that do not rely on a gasoline engine for propulsion. They store electricity onboard in high-capacity battery packs, which in turn power one ore more electric motors. A discussed above, range and recharging are major considerations when choosing a BEV.

Generally, BEVs have no gasoline engine at all. However, there are certain exceptions such as the BMW i3 with Range Extender (REx). The i3 is a fully-electric BEV without a gasoline driven powertrain. Yet, interestingly, it offers a Range Extender option that provides a small integrated gasoline-powered .6 liter engine that does nothing more than generate electricity to recharge the i3’s batteries. The REx is not connected to the powertrain itself and does not in any way help physically propel the car. It simply activates and generates electricity for the batteries when their charge drops below a certain level.

2020 Tesla Model S
2020 Tesla Model S (BEV)

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles, also called PHEVs, are gasoline powered vehicles that augment their powertrain with at least one electric motor. Sometimes the electric motor is propelling the PHEV, sometimes the gas engine, and sometimes they are working together. Electricity to power the electric motor is both generated internally, via regenerative braking, and delivered externally via Level 1 chargers or Level 2 charging stations. Although not as good for the environment as fully-electric BEVs, PHEVs do not suffer from range issues as their gasoline engines can be refueled at any standard service station. Whereas standard hybrids typically travel only a few miles before the gasoline engine kicks in, PHEVs can travel up to 40 miles in fully-electric mode.

2020 Audi A3 e-Tron PHEV
2020 Audi A3 e-Tron (PHEV)

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

Hybrid Electric Vehicles, also called HEVs, are powered by both gasoline and electricity, but have no plug-in option like PHEVs. Instead, HEVs’ batteries are recharged solely through regenerative breaking.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid HEV
2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid (HEV)

How Do I Charge An Electric Car?

BEV and PHEV battery packs are charged using external EV chargers which are divided into three classifications according to how quickly they recharge your electric car’s battery pack. The classifications are known as Level 1 (the slowest), Level 2, and Level 3 (the fastest).

Level 1 EV Charging

Level 1 EV charging uses a standard household electrical outlet to deliver 1.4 kW of power at 120V to your EV’s battery pack. Level one is the slowest recharging method and typically takes 8 hours to receive enough energy to drive approximately 75 miles. This is usually done either at home or at work.

Level 2 EV Charging

Level 2 EV charging uses a specialized station that provides approximately 5 kW at 240V to recharge your EV’s battery pack more quickly. Level 2 cuts Level 1 charging time in half and takes approximately 4 hours to provide 75 miles worth of charge. This is can be accomplished at home if you have specialized equipment installed or at a commercial or public charging station, of which there are many.

Level 3 EV Charging

Level 3, also known as DC fast charging, uses an ultra high-powered charging station and delivers up to 50 kW of power at 480V and is currently the fastest EV charging solution available. Level 3 charging can replenish your EV’s battery pack to 80% in as little as 30 minutes. Level 3 is typically your first choice, if available, but must be done at a specially designed commercial or public charging station. There are significantly fewer Level 3 charging stations available, maybe 1/10th as many as Level 2. But, when you find them, they are fast!

Tesla EV Charging

Tesla electric cars use their own proprietary charging technology, although they can also use the standardized Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 chargers discussed above with an adapter. A typical Tesla charging station provides up to 140 kW of power at 480V and delivers 170 miles of range in just 30 minutes. Quite a step up from traditional charging solutions.

How Much Does It Cost To Charge An Electric Car?

The average cost to charge an electric car in the United States is approximately $4.50 per 100 miles. This is calculated as: (~30 kWH per 100 miles) x (~0.15 cents per kWh) = $4.50. However, the cost to power an electric car depends upon many factors including your electricity rates, whether you charge your EV during peak hours or at night, what type of EV charger you use, and how far you drive. Accordingly, it can cost up to 3 times as much if you use a level 1 charger during peak hours in a state with expensive electricity. In contrast, the average gasoline powered automobile that gets 25 mpg costs approximately $15 per 100 miles to drive.

Who Makes Electric Cars?

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) Manufacturers And Models

The following manufacturers offer fully-electric Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs):

Models: BMW i3, BMW i4
Chevrolet LogoChevrolet
Models: Chevy Bolt, Chevy Leaf
Ford LogoFord
Model: Ford Focus Electric
Hyundai LogoHyundai
Model: Hyundai Ioniq
Karma LogoKarma
Model: Karma Revera
Kia LogoKia
Model: Kia Soul
Mitsubishi LogoMitsubishi
Model: Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Nissan LogoNissan
Model: Nissan LEAF
Tesla LogoTesla
Models: Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model S, Tesla X
Toyota LogoToyota
Model: Toyota Rav4
Volkswagen LogoVolkswagen
Model: Volkswagen e-Golf

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Manufacturers And Models

The following manufacturers offer Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs):

Audi LogoAudi
Model: Audi A3 E-Tron
Models: BMW 330e, BMW i8, BMW X5 xdrive40e
Chevrolet LogoChevrolet
Model: Chevy Volt
Chrysler LogoChrysler
Model: Chrysler Pacifica
Fiat LogoFiat
Model: Fiat 500e
Ford LogoFord
Models: Ford C-Max Energi, Ford Fusion Energi
Hyundai LogoHyundai
Model: Hyundai Sonata
Kia LogoKIA
Model: Kia Optima
Mercedes LogoMercedes
Models: Mercedes C350e, Mercedes S550e, Mercedes GLE550e
Mini Cooper LogoMini Cooper
Model: Mini Cooper SE Countryman
Porsche LogoPorsche
Models: Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
Toyota LogoToyota
Model: Toyota Prius
Volvo LogoVolvo
Model: Volvo XC90 T8

Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Manufacturers And Models

The following manufacturers offer Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs):

Honda LogoHonda
Model: Civic Hybrid
Toyota LogoToyota
Models: Camry Hybrid, Corolla Hybrid, Prius Hybrid

What Type Of Electric Car Should I Buy?

Picking the best electric car to suit your needs generally boils down to two major considerations: range and recharging. Of course EV price, aesthetics, rebates, and a many other issues come into play. However, before you can begin to address those, you need to understand and consider your electric car’s limited range and recharging requirements.

If you pick an EV with a 300+ mile range and plan on installing a Level 2 charging station in your garage, range is not much of an issue unless you plan to embark on a significant road-trip. However, if you pick an electric car that only delivers 125 miles when fully-charged and will rely on a Level 1 household slow-charger, range can be an issue even with your regular day-to-day commute. Therefore, it is important to consider how far you plan to drive your EV and how you plan to recharge its battery pack. BEVs, being all electric, are great for the environment but can’t be quickly refueled at a standard gas station. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are not suited for long range travel … you just need to be willing to put in the work.


Electric cars, popularized during the 19th century, have seen a remarkable resurgence over the past 10 years. This rebirth in EV development and adoption has been fueled primarily by environmental concerns, advancements in electric motor and battery technology, and skyrocketing maintenance costs associated with traditional automobiles. Most major automobile manufacturers currently offer least one electric car model and projections show that most new cars will be powered by renewable energy by the end of this decade. EVs are officially “ready for prime-time” and soon internal combustion engines will be a thing of the past.

Electric Cars In The News

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A Tesla Solar Roof has been installed in just 4 days by Weddle & Sons Roofing in Auburn, Kansas. The installation included removing the existing roof, laying down a weatherproof…


Manufacturers: Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, Karma, Kia, Mercedes, Mini Cooper, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo

Colin is the Editor-In-Chief at Electric Guide and writes about electric mobility.  With a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from SDSU, Colin presents a unique point of view in his articles, offering both technical expertise and extensive user experience with electric vehicles. Colin also writes for our sister publication Wear.guide. Send tips and story ideas to Colin at: colin@electric.guide