As electric car drive systems continue to advance by leaps and bounds, hybrid, plug-in, and battery-powered vehicles are moving into the mainstream.

Electric vehicles were once high-priced toys for rich environmentalists taking a jaunt around town. But now they’ve become far more commonplace. Major upgrades in range speed, reliability, and battery life have made these clean driving machines a viable option. Plus, they’ve also grown more affordable.

Electric drive systems are increasing in commercial vehicles such as delivery trucks and local bus routes in some communities.  Major vehicle manufacturers are all working on existing models and future development of cost-effective alternatives.

You can break down the different types of electric car drive systems into three main categories:

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and all-electric vehicles (EVs)—also called electric-drive vehicles collectively—use electricity either as their primary fuel or to improve the efficiency of conventional vehicle designs.

Types of Electric Car Drive Systems

The type of engine, or drive system, determines the classification of an electric car. A hybrid vehicle uses a combination of electric and internal combustion technology. An all-electric, or plug-in Hybrid, uses standard electricity for recharging. The range of an electric vehicle will vary depending on its design.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV)

A hybrid electric vehicle is a combination vehicle containing both an internal combustion engine and an electric drive system. There are additional classifications for “mild” and “full” hybrids. The battery power gets recharged through the internal combustion engine and regenerative braking. These vehicles do not need a special charging station and they don’t need to be plugged in.

Mild hybrids power the vehicle’s systems and offer the option of shutting down the engine during short stops. This aids in fuel economy. A mild hybrid cannot run solely on electrical power. Many newer vehicles currently come with this option.

Full hybrids are capable of powering the vehicle only with electrical power for short distances at lower speeds. They cost more than mild hybrids, but also provide better fuel economy.

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV)

Plug-in hybrid vehicles are similar to regular hybrids except that they can be plugged in for recharging. They can travel on all electric, or on all conventional fuels. As charging stations become more readily available, PHEVs become a more viable alternative. Want to travel longer distances using the fuel economy option? We’re almost there, but not quite.,, Though weve taken gret strides.

All-Electric Vehicles (EV)

All-electric vehicles are just that. They do not have an internal combustion engine. These must be plugged into a charging station for replenishment. All-electric systems have been used in industrial equipment such as forklifts for years. They are making the transition into automobiles because of improved battery capacity, range, and the increased availability of public charging stations.

This PowerPoint slide shows an EV drive system:

electric car drive systems

Electric Car Ranges

As with internal combustion engines, electric vehicles have limits on how far they can travel before needing a recharge. Gas stations are on every corner and almost every exit along major highways. It usually isn’t difficult to find a place to refill the tank when fuel runs low. Electric charging stations have not yet progressed into the mainstream yet. Yet many believe long-distance trips in electric vehicles are still a future wish.

Electric vehicle ratings reflect how far they can travel between charge cycles. This will vary depending on use of accessories. Driving with the air conditioning or heat and radio on can greatly reduce the range of an EV. Vehicles and their rated driving ranges also carry on to their price ranges for purchase.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Smart Fortwo ED are smaller vehicles. They can travel between 70-80 miles per charge and start in the $30,000 price range. The Tesla S 100D can travel over 350 miles between charges, but carries a steeper price of around $100,000. Fleetcarma provided an excellent reference comparison of the various models, their rated ranges, and dealer pricing.

electric car drive systems

Image via Fleetcarma

High Output Electric Motor

The most common electric motor in use in vehicles today is the Brushless DC (BLDC) motor. The BLDC has humble beginnings. This type of motor is commonly used to power accessories such as CD players, power windows, and windshield wipers.

Green car manufacturers often prefer BLDC motors over the alternatives because the peak point efficiency is higher and rotor cooling is simpler. The motors can also operate at “unity power factor,” meaning the drive can operate at its maximum efficiency levels.

The advantages of the BLDC include durability, simple maintenance, greater efficiency, lighter weight, more control and faster response at higher speeds. In addition, they have the ability to self-start and are less prone to failures common with brushed motors.

Electric Vehicle Drivetrain Components

In the simplest terms, stored battery power transmits from the electric motor through the transmission to the drive wheels. The basic components in an electric vehicle drivetrain are the battery, converter, electric motor, transmission, and the drive assembly. Stored energy first transfers from the battery through the converter to the transmission. This stored energy is then transmitted to the drive assembly.

The system in a hybrid electric vehicle differs slightly because the power supply is from either the battery side or the internal combustion side.

This illustration shows the various power systems and how they transmit energy to the drivetrain:

electric car drive systems

Final Thoughts

If you are in the market for an electric vehicle, there are several things you need to consider. Many of the questions covered in this article and in other articles on this site included. Some questions you might ask are:

  • Will you be converting your existing vehicle or buying a pre-made version?
  • Do you want a full hybrid?
  • Would a full electric be more to your liking?

The easiest way to start is listing the things that are important to you. Fuel economy, range, specific uses and who will drive the vehicle are some items to start with. Will you just be doing your local area grocery shopping? Will you be commuting to work? How much are you able to invest?

As research and development continues at lightning speed, more options will become available. As greater battery storage options develop, prices will probably drop. Incorporation of solar, so that even all-electric vehicles can charge on the go, will hopefully come soon. Staying informed will make your experience with an electric vehicle much more satisfying. Because knowing as much as you can always serve you well.

Featured image:  Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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