Let’s Take A Close Look At How An Electric Car Works

Tesla Model 3 dual motor chassis

NOV 14 2018 BY EVANNEX 11


There are many reasons why Tesla has taken the automotive world by storm. Of course, one big reason is that Elon Musk decided to make his car company an electric car company. And electric cars have inherent advantages over their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts.

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Matt Pressman. The opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs.

Above: A look at the ludicrously-quick Tesla Model S P100D (Image: Tesla)

Electric cars not only create less pollution than gas-powered cars, but they often outperform ICE cars off the line. For example, a Tesla Model S P100DL has a mind-blowing 0 to 60 MPH time of 2.28 seconds, arguably the quickest production car available for sale today.

That said, do you know the basics of how an EV works? If not, don’t fret — The Zebra has you covered. The auto insurance experts examined how electric cars work and note, “When Nikola Tesla invented the alternating current motor in 1887, he paved the way for the [advent] of the electric vehicle more than a century later.”

Above: The BMW i3 at a public charger (Source: The Zebra)

Fast forward and EVs could make gas- and diesel-powered vehicles obsolete by the year 2025, “effectively ending the reign of the internal combustion engine.” Gaining traction, “acceptance of electric vehicles into car culture has already begun, with the Tesla Model S winning the Motor Trend Car of the Year in 2013.” Then, in 2017, the all-electric Chevy Bolt went on to win Motor Trend Car of the Year.

Furthermore, “Understanding how an electric vehicle works is actually much simpler than understanding how a gas- or diesel-powered car works.” From learning the difference between alternating and direct current to making sense of regenerative braking — this animated infographic can be a handy tool to gain insight into how an electric car works…


Electric Car


Source: The Zebra via Learn EngineeringAddOhmsFleetcarma

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers, free of charge. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX. Check out the site here.

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11 Comments on "Let’s Take A Close Look At How An Electric Car Works"

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Level 2 AC home charging with the Tesla HPWC puts 40-42mi of charge/h on my M3D using 240v @ 48A (max the M3 can take). That’s about 12KW charge rate.

Right. But every other non-Tesla vehicle is pretty much limited by the roughly 6.6kW on-board chargers. Perhaps future will change that, but for now that is what majority of EV owners get, so I would not blame them sticking to the usual L2 EVSE charge rate.

If they are going to say an EV battery pack is made up of “7,000 common lithium batteries” – a model that is unique to Tesla – they might as well go ahead and use the charge rates that are also unique to Tesla.

I’m curious, why is the current converted from DC to AC? In other words, why don’t use DC engines.
I know there’s a good reason. I’m just curious.

Many EVs do use DC motors. One reason to use AC motors is that DC motors require rare Earth metals that can be expensive and are only mined in a few places.

No – none of the commercial electric vehicles such as the I3, ev1,
any Tesla,, any GM product, or basically any modern vehicle has used a dc motor, other than home made conversions which DO tend to be mainly DC motors, but these are small motors generally.

Every rotary motor (even so called ‘DC’ motors) ever made is an ‘alternating current motor’. A DC motor is called such because it will run on direct current. But the motor itself (usually by a mechanical inverter called a ‘commutator), reverses the current through the windings. It HAS to do this because if you take a loop of wire and spin it 180 degrees, the ends of the wire are now reversed to what they were 1/2 turn ago. To make the motor continue turning you have to ‘invert’ the direction of the current through the loop. Alternating current motors are so described since they do not have an internal synchronous mechanical inverter and depend on the changing current to be supplied by means external to the motor – these days with an electronic inverter. More and more accessory motors, such as air conditioner compressors in hybrid and plug in cars, are also AC motors – in that case because they can be immersed in refrigerant and continue to function – the advantage being there is no danger of a refrigerant leak through a mechanical shaft seal since there is no EXTERNAL shaft.

Actually Guillaume, the picture of how an AC induction motor works is wrong. It is not the alternating current which makes the motor turn. This is why the Tesla Roadster, when charging, could ONLY use one set of alternating current to charge the battery, since the current went THROUGH THE MOTOR while the battery was charging. This could only happen, since only one set of ac currents produces ZERO TORQUE (turning force).

AC motors turn due to the confluence of 2 or more currents providing a resultant of a constantly rotating magnetic field.

Single phase motors , such as an old pedestal sump pump with a starter switch are very complicated as to the reason WHY they spin and were in fact developed after standard polyphase motors. I’ll describe that if there is interest, but it doesn’t apply to electric cars – other than to prove that the Tesla Roadster Drive motor, even though there was plenty of electricity running through the motor while charging, remained absolutely stationary since single-phase motors produce zero torque.

DC motors are very simple motors typically used for constant speed / constant power situations such as electric windows or windshield wipers. Toy cars also tend to use them (for cost).
They are inefficient when running outside of their specified operating range, and their torque tends to be choppy.

For your main traction motor, you want something that is more suitable for varying speed and which runs more smoothly, especially knowing that these motors handle a lot of torque and power. This is why all manufacturers choose AC motors.

I think you’ll admit that is a simplification since there are plenty of types of DC motors. The last BIG DC motor I saw was a HUGE 500 horsepower DC motor in a converted Mustang showcased here a year ago in IEVs.

The practical issue with them is you have to do commutator and brush maintenance, and of course the motor must be shielded from rain, snow, sleet, sand, and salt.

This is very Tesla centric.