Ultimate Beginners Guide to Owning Your First EV – Part 1: Range + Choices + Charging

OCT 31 2013 BY MARK HOVIS 30

Pride and Joy Tesla Model S

EVs Pride and Joy Tesla Model S

So the buzz over EVs has your attention. You begin your research and find yourself confused over the most basic of terms. The purpose of this article is not to argue the terminology, but simply assist in understanding what is available primarily in the electric driving experience.  The EV driving experience across the board is going to delight. No more ramping to an RPM level to achieve torque, its ready to deliver almost instantly! No more rough transmission shifts, and the distribution of mass brings yet another improvement to the driving experience.  

If It Has a Plug....It's an EV

If It Has a Plug….It’s an EV

So which EV is right for you? For starters, this site uses the term EV (electric vehicle) to encompass “any vehicle with a plug.”


The more specific term used to describe a pure electric vehicle is BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle).  If range, luxury, and performance are what you desire on pure electricity, then look no further than the Tesla Model S.  Seriously. For the rest of the available BEVs in the US market, you have the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus, Smart for Two ED, Mitsubishi i-MiEV,and 2014 BMW i3. Also in limited states the Fiat 500e, Chevy Spark, Honda Fit, and Toyota Rav4 EV.



2013 Nissan LEAF

Nissan Leaf

When buying a BEV, one first should know the length of your daily commute in order to calculate proper range. One first should consider two factors when calculating appropriate range. First is that over the life of the EV, the battery range will probably degrade by 20%. This will vary based on usage and climate. The degradation may be less in cooler climates, but cooler climate will also reduce your range by approximately 20%. This too is based on heating and driving practices . A good conservative rule of thumb is that the total  (i.e. round-trip) distance of your commute should be no more than 60% of the EPA rated range.  Keep in mind that if you have charging capabilities at your destination you very well could double your calculated range.   For the newcomer, the BEV ranges will look low (except Tesla). It is going to take awhile to accept that you start with a full tank of fuel every day therefore the need for 300 mile range generally is not necessary.

The BEV is generally the right choice if your commute fits within the calculated range, have a second vehicle for extended trips, or if the number of extended trips allow you to consider renting. If you just can’t come to grips with not having that extra range OR if it is your only vehicle, then there is still a wide range of EVs for you.


Prius Plug-In Hybrid

Prius Plug-In Hybrid

PHEV  (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle), also called PHV (Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle)  shares the characteristics of both a conventional HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle).  PHEVs have an electric motor as well as an  ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), but also with the addition of a plug to connect to the electric grid to improve their fuel economy even beyond the traditional HEV.

PHEVs are based on the same three basic powertrains found in HEVs

Parallel Hybrids,  can simultaneously transmit power to their drive wheels from both its electric  drive motor and ICE. Although most parallel hybrids incorporate an electric motor between the vehicle’s engine and transmission, parallel hybrids can use the electric motor at lower power demands as well as to substantially increase the power available to a smaller ICE.

Series Hybrids use an ICE to power a generator that supplies current to an electric motor, which provides propulsion.   What separates the series hybrid drive train is its ability to operate purely on electricity without use of its ICE.

Series-Parallel Hybrids have the flexibility to operate in either series or parallel mode. Hybrid power trains currently used in the Toyota Plug-in Prius can operate in both series and parallel mode at the same time.


2013 Ford Fusion Energi

Ford Fusion Energi

Powertrains have a lot to do with your driving experience. Unfortunately the terms themselves do little to aid the beginner in their understanding of the driving experiences currently available with PHEVs, so here are some examples.

The Toyota plug-in Prius will drive 11 miles on electric drive and then function like a normal Prius, provide great overall gas mileage, with modest performance.  A  great car for the person who drives a lot of 60+ miles per day with no charging opportunity during the day and/or with some small 10 mile trips or just wants to enjoy a few miles of the all EV driving experience.




BMW i3

BMW i3

The Ford Fusion and C-Max Energi do not use any gas in the first 21 miles of EPA test but depending on your driving  style, you may use gas during the EV mode. Ford has added both range and some performance as well as more of a sedan feel with the Fusion.

The Chevy Volt and soon to be released Cadillac ELR and BMW i3 provide full electric experience until the battery is depleted. If you desire the full EV experience every day yet only have one vehicle or just want to drive your EV on extended tips to EVangelize, then consider these choices.  The Chevy Volt, 2014 Cadillac ELR, 2014 BMW i3, and currently discontinued Fisker Karma will also deliver the most torque and best performance of all available EVs under the Tesla Model S.


Chevy Volt

Chevy Volt


The number one selling PHEV, the Chevy Volt, may add to your confusion by introducing yet another term, EREV (Extended Range Electric Vehicle). Most Volt owners prefer this terminology and here goes this author’s best attempt to describe it.

Wikipedia defines the Volt PHEV as a series hybrid which gives you a similar EV driving experience to a BEV.  The Volt is capable of entering series-parallel mode though rarely does which makes it difficult to categorize or explain its unique experience. For this  reason Chevrolet developed their own term, the EREV.  For the 45,000+ Volt owners, the term has stuck.



From a sheer terminology point of view it is hard to classify the Volt. Under certain conditions at higher speeds the Volt can incorporate the ICE. Some BEV fundamentalist fight the terminology adding to the confusion. Here is another comparison. The Ford Energis enter the blended mode for power and do so often. The Volt enters this blended mode only for efficiency at higher speeds and rarely does so thus giving you a purer electric experience. When you accelerate, the Volt can give you pure electric drive up to 100 mph. So one more time to calm this confusion.

Cadillac ELR

Cadillac ELR


Chevrolet coined the term EREV to describe this unique driving experience. Volt drivers equate this with the full electric driving experience and post a tracker displaying their all electric miles driven. Again, I do not wish to argue the terminology, simply help newcomers understand the different driving experiences. An EREV buyer typically is looking to

1)      Drive as many electric miles without the assistance of gas while

2)      Using the gas extender opposed to renting or driving a second gas vehicle for extended trips



There are some major differences when it comes to charging. PHEVs rarely use public chargers. In fact, it is proper EV etiquette for a PHEV to yield to a BEV for public charging since the PHEV always has a gas backup. Furthermore, most PHEVs use 110V to charge each day and do not require special charging equipment. Many simply plug in to an outlet in their garage. A dedicated outlet is preferred. PHEVs conversely generally can not “quick charge” which we will discuss in part 2.  The BMW i3 which can also be purchased with a range extender will be the exception to these with its increased range.

Ford's Guide To EV Etiquette

Ford’s Guide To EV Etiquette


The two top selling EVs, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt have proven there are two different EV market driving needs. The Nissan Leaf is the number one selling global EV. The Leaf is a BEV and globally, there are over 80,000+ Leafs with 320,000,000+ miles driven. The Chevy Volt is the number one selling US EV. The Volt is an EREV and has 45,000+ US sales and 300,000,000+ driven on electricity with 478,000,000+ total miles driven. What does this say? That buyers driving needs are quite different. The Volt driver needs more miles. Therefore both groups purchased the right EV for their application.

There are over 200 ICEs to choose from in the US market.  The US market has grown to fourteen EVs in only a couple of years to market. Start with your driving needs and find the EV flavor that fits you best. Still not convinced? Take a test drive. If you bring one home, chances are you will never go back to an ICE. Need a little more encouragement? Take out your current service folder and imagine life without the majority of those expenses. Happy Shopping!

Categories: BMW, Cadillac, Charging, Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, General, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel / Vauxhall, Smart, Tesla, Toyota

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30 Comments on "Ultimate Beginners Guide to Owning Your First EV – Part 1: Range + Choices + Charging"

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Wow, great opening shot to this series! Thanks!

You might want to add the BMW i3 to the list of EREVs too (besides as a BEV, which I suspect will actually be the less common purchase choice in America).

Also, perhaps at the end stipulate that the 14 models are only relevant in California and possibly Oregon. In the rest of the US, the BEV selection is quite limited (though slated to expand in 2014 thanks to the German invasion, Smart ED and BMW i3).

Heck, as I was shocked to learn, even the plug-in-Prius is offered by Toyota dealerships in only 12 states. Perhaps if customers start clamoring for more EV options in their states, automakers will listen? Well, perhaps not 😉

Thanks again!

Missed the Fisker Karma as an example of an EREV (or EVer as Fisker called it).

Also please do not get us started on the public charging “etiquette”. Because their lower EV range PHEVs and EREVs in fact use the L1/L2 charging infrastructure more often than BEVs. BEVs also have a backup, it’s called a rental or a tow truck. The way I see charging priority is this:

The refusal of BEV drivers to use a fuel-powered vehicle does not trump the refusal of EREV drivers to use fuel in theirs.

First come, first serve, the rest can wait their turn.

The Karma is not longer in production, it does not count

That does not mean it does not exist or it is not for sale (new or used).
It very much counts.

It was the best car, like EVer.

I think they are only listing current and upcoming EVs for sale.

PHEV drivers will dominate public level 2 charger usage until they have to pay more for the electricity than it costs to fuel the car with gas.

While I have yielded the one available charging slot to a friend with a BEV, I feel zero guilt at plugging in my PHEV Cmax at public charging stations. I bought the car partly because I knew that range-extending infra-structure was available, and as vdlv points out, just because you chose to limit yourself to electric fuel doesn’t mean I shouldn’t use infrastructure designed to work with my car. In fact, because I CAN’T carry as much charge, I need to recharge more often.

Besides, discouraging use of public charging stations is short-sighted if you want electric vehicles to catch on. Supply is linked to demand, and if only the BEVs use public charging, less of it will be built than if there are lots of Prius, energi, and Volt owners who want to use those stations, too.

The Volt ICE will only come on at high speeds if the battery is depleted. The wording makes it sound otherwise. There are four driving modes in the Volt. Sounds like you got the second electric motor coming on at some higher constant speeds with the ICE.

My Volt is instrumented so I can see when it goes into power link. If you don’t have your foot in it, it will go into power link at pretty low speed. I think I have seen speeds as low as 48 MPH or so in power link. If you put your foot in it it flips into series mode and will stay in series mode all the way 100 MPH (on the governor)

Yeah, the Volt isn’t really a series-hybrid. It is complicated mix that acts as an electric, a series-hybrid, or a parallel hybrid depending on the situation.

Nice crack at what doesn’t seem aimed for this crowd. Couple comments, if I may,

-Honda’s new 2014 Accord hybrid is being explained as a series configuration, not parallel
-Etiquitte, for multiple combative reasons. If you really think about it, you counter-sell all plug-ins when you bring up the lack of infrastructure. That is what the debate implies, as read by a prospective buyer.
-Beginners are concerned about charging rates, too. If you want to get down on PHEVs, this is a more legitimate place to do it, in my opinion.

No, having a plug does NOT make it an EV.

It depends on your driving needs. I even consider a Prius Plug In to be EV if your commute is only 5-10 miles. More if you can charge at work. The Volt is definitely an EV for the first 30-50 miles.

That’s true, it also needs to have a battery and an electric motor used for propulsion.

Diesel engines with block heaters have plugs. Cars with weak 12V battery such as collectibles may have plugs. Giant RVs or emergency response vehicles have plugs. Neither of them are EVs.

“PHEVs rarely use public chargers.” PHEVs public charging can often cost more than gas, while home charging can reduce per mile costs by 1/3 to 1/6 of gas.

Use of public charging is true for all EVs with 80-90% of charging occurring (overnight) at home. An often overlook point of view by beginners that results in concerns with public infrastructure and range anxiety. It is better to look at public infrastructure as range extension. The number of charging stations and speed of charging provide the greatest range extension capabilities.

public L2 as “range extension”, yes, but these chargers are generally free, in Boston. YMMV.

The Volt is NOT a series hybrid. It has 3 clutches that, when all are engaged, allows the vehicle’s ICE, along with the two motors, to drive the vehicle. The only true series hybrid left is the BMW i3. The Fisker Karma was one as well.

I would categorize the Volt in the Series/Parallel Hybrid category above. Most of the time it’s a series hybrid, but it has the capability of operating as a parallel hybrid — something the i3 cannot do at all.

Most of the time the Volt is a pure EV. The complexities of the hybrid mode, which by definition uses fuel as the energy source are not as relevant as this fact. Even over two thirds of the miles driven by the Volt fleet are EV miles, and for many Volts those miles are much higher. As such it is properly categorized as an EREV.

Mark, you need to reword the following, as it implies the opposite of what you intend:

“A good conservative rule of thumb is for the overall range of the BEV to be no more than 60% of the EPA rating for your commute. Keep in mind that if you have charging capabilities at your destination you very well could double your calculated range.”

What you’re trying to say is something like “A good conservative rule of thumb is that the total (i.e. round-trip) distance of your commute should be no more than 60% of the EPA rated range. Keep in mind that if you have charging capabilities at your destination” etc.

For your intended audience I feel it is a good article. You don’t want to bog people down with too much detail. Just tell them what they can expect to feel in each vehicle design so they can try and make the best choice. The majority of people don’t give a wit about our pretty arguments over the term EREV or PHEV.

“PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle), also called PHV (Plug-in Hybrid) shares the characteristics of both a conventional HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle).”

I think something got left out in this sentence. Can you guess what?

So, 80K+ LEAF has over 320Million+ EV miles today and 45K+ Volt has over 300 Million+ EV miles?

Well, here is the fact on how effective that Volt is an EV…

That is also why BMW i3 with REx will have more EV miles driven on daily basis than the LEAF…

If this is NOT range anxiety at play, what is?

leaf sucks ass