The rapid rise of electric cars

Introduced more than 100 years ago, electric cars are seeing a rise in popularity today for many of the same reasons that they were first popular. Electric vehicles (EVs) are very efficient and consume much less energy, making them one of the most environmentally friendly automobiles.


According to International Energy Agency’s report Global EV Outlook 2017, the sale of electric cars globally, primarily comprised of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), surpassed 2 million units in 2016. This was up 60% from 2015, indicating rapid market evolution.

With the ever-increasing fuel problems potential of electric cars seems to be higher now than ever before. Traditional automakers including General Motors, Volkswagen, Daimler AG, and others are all investing heavily in electric vehicles. And Tesla, of course, has built its entire business off of battery powered cars.

There are three main types of EVs, classed by the degree that electricity is used as their energy source:

  • Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), powered by both gasoline and electricity
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)
  • Battery electric vehicles (BEVs)

An electric car is a car powered by an electric motor rather than an internal combustion engine, which in turn gets power from the rechargeable batteries installed inside the car. The same batteries are also used for the functioning of wipers and lights. From the outside, they look like normal vehicles. But from the inside, there are a lot of differences between internal combustion engine-powered cars and electric cars, including the following: 

  • An electric motor gets its power from a controller.
  • The controller in an electric car gets its power from an array of rechargeable batteries.
  • There is no exhaust system in an electric car.

 An electric car is the combination of:

  • The electric motor
  • The motor’s controller
  • And the batteries

The motor takes power from the controller which in turn is powered from the batteries. The accelerator pedal hooks to a pair of potentiometers (variable resistors), and these potentiometers provide the signal that tells the controller how much power it is supposed to deliver. The controller can deliver zero power (e.g., when the car is stopped), full power (e.g., when the driver floors the accelerator pedal), or any power level in between.

Curious about electric vehicles’ main counterpart? Check out our Engine Fundamentals course on internal combustion engines.


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