Electric Vehicle, a very old technology
Electric cars have been around for a very long time, the first EV was invented in the first part of the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that electric cars outsold all other types of cars (steam and gasoline).
For several reasons, including the need for longer range vehicles, the decrease of gasoline price, and the mass production of internal combustion engine that lowered the price of gasoline powered cars, electric vehicles disappeared by 1935. It was not until the sixties that new attempts to manufacture electric vehicles occurred.
Thanks to several legislative initiatives, the electric car was revived in the nineties; however, EVs were still too expensive and did not offer the same performance as regular gasoline-powered vehicles, and consequently, manufacturers produced very few units.
Today, we are witnessing a renewed interest for electric and hybrid vehicles, probably due to the steady rise of oil prices. Additionally, the technology seems to be there, making electric cars more attractive to consumers, both in performance and price.
Electric and hybrid cars today
When it comes to green technology and cars, electric and hybrid vehicles have, by far, the most beneficial impact on the environment. In fact, electric motors produce zero tailpipe emission and are extremely efficient, making the technology much more cost effective than any other alternative fuel.
Hybrids are vehicles that combine two or more different power source, usually an internal combustion engine powered with gasoline and an electric motor. There are many types of hybrid technologies (see this page for more info), however, typically hybrid vehicles fall into two distinct categories: HEVs (hybrid electric vehicles) and PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles).
Hybrid electric vehicles rely mostly on their regular internal combustion engine, and the electric motors provide additional power when needed. The “full hybrids” rely on electric power alone for low speed driving, which provide a better fuel efficiency when used in a city. Usually, hybrids have a couple of miles of autonomy using the sole electric motor, and there is no need to plug them to recharge: the electric motor converts energy from regenerative braking and stores it in the battery. HEVs get more miles per gallon than most gasoline powered cars and produce minimal emissions.
In plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, the electric motor acts as the primary source of power and the internal combustion engine is used as back-up when the battery is depleted. PHEVs need to be recharged from the grid but offers much more range than HEVs running on battery power alone. For short commute they are able to only rely on electricity, and as such, produce lower emissions than HEVs and get a higher MPG (miles per gallon). Some plug-in hybrid cars can go up to 35 miles running only on electricity, which is a good range for most people’s daily commute.
According to John Gartner, Research Director, smart transportation practice, Pike Research, there are more hybrid vehicles sold than electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. The challenge of EVs and PHEVs is the charging infrastructure that is not sufficiently deployed yet, because public authorities are reluctant to spend money if only a few people will use the equipment. Unlike EVs, plug-in hybrids do not need to rely on public charging stations, so the one at home is sufficient in that case. Additionally, the US government is eager to promote EVs and PHEVs, so “a year from now, 18,000 charging stations will be installed across the U.S.”.
Other green technologies
Fuel efficiency is the most researched field when it comes to design greener cars, technologies such as fuel injection, smaller fuel injected engine and turbo charging are used to improve the mileage per gallon. Manufacturers tend to use lighter weight materials, replacing metal with carbon, for example. Recycled materials are also used in the foam padding, the cover of the seats and the plastic of the bumpers.
What will be the future of the green car?
According to John Gartner, Research Director, smart transportation practice, Pike Research, the Stop/Start technology currently used in hybrids is going to be widely deployed in regular cars to improve fuel efficiency in the near future. The implementation has already started in Europe where millions of vehicles are equipped, saving up to 10% on gas. Basically, it saves energy by shutting off the engine when the car is not moving, and automatically re-starting it when the gas pedal is activated.
The key for the future mass adoption of the electric vehicle is the enhancement of the battery technology: the industry needs to develop smaller, cheaper and more efficient batteries. As soon as EVs will be able to compete in range and performance for a similar price point, consumers will buy them on a larger scale.