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