The day will come when there are no longer any cars on the road that run on gasoline. Fossil fuels are finite, and the planet’s ability to withstand their operation and continue to support human life is also limited. To address the problem of greenhouse gases and ensure that their market shares are secure for the next era, car companies have developed fully electric cars.
These cars have finally broken into the mainstream, and early adopters are already putting them through their paces. Like it or not, electric cars are in humanity’s future, and even the big-name car companies have joined in on the movement.
What an Electric Car Is
As the name suggests, an electric car is powered by an electric motor. The same kind of motor that you might find on a fan or in a remote-controlled toy. The electric motor transforms electrical energy into mechanical energy. Think of it as a reverse electric generator. Plug it in, and it turns itself as well as anything connected to it, like a drivetrain.
An electric car is charged either by plugging it in at home or a charging station somewhere in the world, or by replacing the battery with a freshly charged one. There are cars powered by onboard solar panels, but these are experimental oddities and not (yet) meant for wide commercial use.
An electric motor creates zero emissions because it is not burning anything inside. Electricity powers every part of the car. You could lock yourself in a room with a running electric car and all your boredom would be your only worry. Of course, electric cars by themselves also do not contribute to greenhouse gasses.
Beyond the environmental benefits, electric cars have perks for owners as well. The average electric car has around 20 or so moving parts, whereas an internal combustion engine has more than 2,000.
We’ve had electric motors for over a hundred years, why are we just now getting electric cars? Well traditionally, oil and big car manufacturers opposed electric car development because selling gas makes a lot of money and internal combustion engines are cheaper to produce. But with the rise of oil prices and encroaching climate change, interest was renewed.
Electric cars have been possible for as long as internal combustion cars have been possible, but the lack of interest and active repression were not enough to prevent mass use. It has only been recently that researchers have developed the mechanisms and materials needed to create an electric car that performed as well or nearly as well as its gas-powered counterpart.
Advancements in motor technology, rechargeable batteries and charging infrastructure have made mass adoption of electric cars a possibility instead of a pipe dream.
What an Electric Car Isn’t
Electric cars aren’t the only vehicles coming out that seek to address the fossil fuel problem. There are other technologies out there with similar goals but different methods and systems. Here are a few other types of cars that you may have heard associated with electric cars but are in fact not the same.
- Hybrid Cars: A hybrid car is similar to an electric car, but still has roots in internal combustion. It still uses fossil fuels, but it also has an internal electric motor for power. The internal combustion engine powers the car but also charges a battery while it operates. The battery takes over sometimes to use electric power to drive the motor when available. This system still gives off emissions, but significantly less than standard cars.
- Fuel Cell Cars: A fuel cell car does burn fuel like an internal combustion car, but the difference is in what it consumes. Instead of fossil fuels, the fuel cell burns hydrogen to power an electric motor similar to that of an electric car. The only emissions that hydrogen fuel cells give off are water and residual heat. They are environmentally friendly, but the production and transportation of Hydrogen fuel are not at the same level as the car.
- Alternative Fuel Cars: Some inventors have tried to tackle the problem of greenhouse gasses not by changing the car, but by changing the fuel it burns. There have been cars created that run on all sorts of fuels, including vegetable oil, which have much less environmental impact than fossil fuels. While a promising option to protect the environment, these methods suffer from infrastructure problems that prevent widespread use.
Who Is in On Electric Cars
Car companies are not blind. They see the trend of falling electric car prices. They know that electric cars can cost up to 100 times less to maintain and look more attractive every time gas prices rise. Even the staunchest old-guard vehicle manufacturers have dipped their toes into the electric car market to secure their place in the future. Here are some of the big names who make some of the best electric cars out there.
Ford electric cars are somewhat new on the scene. They might not be as cutting edge like some others, but they have pledged billions to invest in their electric future. Ford Motor Company has a lot of history and brand power, and if they can make the switch, they will continue that way.
Their investment will see many new electric models including trucks, but at the moment their options are limited. Their lone fully electric car is the Ford Focus Electric, a mid-size sedan. Ford has some plug-in hybrid cars, but these of course still use gasoline.
If you are looking for a sleeker, more performance-based electric car, it’s time to travel across the pond. BMW designed electric cars with electric motors in mind instead of just swapping engines with gas powered cars. They have adopted a bit earlier than most car companies and have two fully electric models alongside their hybrids.
The i3 is a two-door car that is best suited for city living. It’s small and agile while not being too flashy. However, if flashy is what you want (and it probably is if you are buying a BMW), then you want to look at the i8.
This electric car was built with performance in mind. It’s a sports car that endeavors to break the stereotype that battery powered cars are underpowered and oversized toys by having better torque and acceleration than many of its competitors. A good choice for luxury electric, but if cutting edge is what you’re looking for then…
The company that made people believe that we could all make the switch someday from gas to electric. No other company has done more to popularize the idea of electric cars or create an infrastructure conducive to them. Elon Musk, the Bond villain himself, has made it his mission to drag us kicking and screaming into the future with Tesla electric cars that outperform and out-style their competition all while making the Earth a cleaner place.
Their Model X is the most widely available electric SUV, and their Tesla Roadster is the quickest car in the world, going from 0-60 mph in under 2 seconds. Their crown jewel is the Model S however, which is literally the best car ever made. If Tesla doesn’t end up being the future of cars everywhere, it can at least rest easy in the knowledge that they made it possible.
The Drawbacks of Electric Cars
Electric cars at this point may sound too good to be true, and they are, a bit. They are still set to someday work wonders for consumers and the planet, but they still have problems that manufacturers and governments need to address before we can hail them as saviors of the atmosphere.
- Power Supply: Yes, the electric cars run on electricity which gives off zero emissions, but where does that energy come from? Depending on where you live, your electricity could come from coal or diesel, which have a similar if not worse effect on the environment. Electric cars will still contribute less to greenhouse gases than internal combustion cars, but until renewable energy is available everywhere, they can’t be considered truly zero emissions.
- Batteries: The metals and chemicals that go into making all batteries are harmful to the environment and toxic. Electric car batteries are some of the biggest you are likely to own so by increasing demand for these batteries you might just be harming the environment in a different way. There are safe ways to dispose of these batteries, but they require a lot of energy, so renewable energy once again is needed to offset electric cars’ potential harm to the environment.
The Future Approaches
Electric cars are not set to take over the world, at least not yet. However, people are getting wise to the idea that driving an electric car will soon provide benefits that far outweigh the drawbacks. And where the consumer goes, the companies will be close behind with something to sell to fill that demand.