Electric Cars - The Complete Guide

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Electric Cars - The Complete Guide




An electric car is a consumer type of electric vehicle (EV) that makes use of one or more electric motors or traction motor as the force for it's propulsion. They rely on battery packs or similar stored power for their energy.

Electric cars first were first used in the mid 19th century when electricity was a prefered method for propulsion over the liquid fuel based cars of the time. This was brought about because of the ease of use and comfort that electric vehicles provided.

Eventually, partly due to very low pricing, oil based fuels became the dominant force with internal combustion engines, although electric vehicles remained widespread and prevalent in other vehicle types such as trains and trams.
In the last 20 or so years, concern regarding the environmental impact of petrolium based cars and the extensive infrastructure that supports them, have become more and more widespread, combined with the growing concern over peak oil and imminent decline in oil discovery and the repercussions that brings us, including ever increasing liquid fuel prices.

Electric cars cars can be fueled by power from a number of sources, including; fossil-fuel generated power, nuclear-generated power and clean energy (eg. renewable sources, such as; solar power, wind power and tidal power).

Electric cars also make use of what is called 'regenerative braking' and suspension which allows them to recover a lot of the energy normally lost through braking which is then re-stored back in the cars battery system.
The very first mass produced hybrid electric car (electric petrol hybrid) was introduced to the world in 2003 as the Toyota Prius.

Also, in 2009, GoinGreen launched their G-Wiz electric car in London (a quadricycle) to much world-wide success.

The first premium luxury electric cars were introduced by Tesla (Tesla Roadster) and Kisker (Fisker Karma).

In late 2010 the first battery electric car was produced Nissan, the Nissan Leaf.


1930 National City Lines (a partnership of General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil of California) set about purchasing many of the existing electric tram networks across the United States of America to dismantle them and replace them with GM buses.

The partnership was convicted of conspiring to monopolise the sale of equipment & supplies to their subsidiary companies, but were acquitted of conspiring to monopolise the provision of transportation services.


1990 General Motors (GM) unlveils its electric vehicle concept, the 'Impact' at a Los Angeles auto trade show. GM manufactured 1117 EV1's with 800 of them made available through 3-year-leases.

September that same year, the California Air Resources Board mandate that major auto-manufacturers sell electric vehicles, phasing in from 1998.

Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan and Chrysler manufactured small numbers of electric cars for California car buyers.


2003 GM EV1 licenses expire and GM then crushes those electric cars. [ see Who Killed the Electric Car ]

This decision has suggestively been attributed to; the industry's succesful federal court challenge to the mandate, regulation requiring GM to produce and maintain spare parts for those vehicles, as well as, the success that the oil industry and auto industry had with its media marketing inline with reducing public acceptance of electric vehicles.

Toyota, Nissan and Honda also reclaimed and crushed the majority of their electric vehicles. Toyota sold 200 of its RAV electric cars to the public, which now sell for more than their original price!


NOW Discovery of affordable new-oil reserves is coming to a world-wide stand-still.

Global environmental awarness is ever increasing regarding the impacts of oil consumption by fossil fuel engines. Affordable clean enegery becomes the preference.

Global Financial Crisis (GFC), considered by many, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930's, results in the collapse of large financial institutions and the bailouts of banks and other industry (including some auto manufacturers).

These considerations and many more.. lead to electric cars becoming part of the mainstream consciousness.

Major car manufacturers are now developing and producing electirc cars, including; Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Renault, Nissan, Mitsubish, Daimler, Peugot-Citroen and VW.


The first international (United Nations) regulation of electric safety requirements for both; fully electric and hybrid cars was agreed to in March 2010 in Geneva. That decision will allow the early introduction of safe electric cars onto the roads of at least 41 countries.

The regulation (regulation 100) was adopted at the World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations. The World Forum is a subsidiary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which develops vehicle regulations for the benefit of increasing vehicle safety and environmental performance.

It offers car makers the legal instrument to develop passenger and commercial electric vehicles with eco standards, reducing the costs and delays associated with multiple approvals in various countries.

Electric cars operate at very high voltages (in the range of 500 volts), so regulators say it is essential to require protection against the risk of electric shocks.

The revised UNECE Regulation 100 will ensure the safety of electric cars by setting out how users of these cars shall be protected from the high voltage parts of the cars.

For example, it prescribes a test procedure that uses a standardised "test finger" to check protection all over the car. The rules ensure that users do not accidentally come into contact with high voltage cables.


In comparison to combustion engines, electric car engines are far more efficient, even in the cases where the electric charge is derived from coal or gas fired power plants (CO2 emmitting sources), the resulting CO2 produced by using an electric car is typically in the range of one third to one half of that from a comparable internal combustion engine car.

Electric cars release practically zero air pollutants during operation. (Leading to suggestions that it would be easier to build pollution controls systems into existing power generation plants and use electric cars, than to retrofit them into the huge number of fossil-fueld cars.)

Electric cars also produce next to no sound (noise pollution) compared to their internal combustion ancestors.

Not all electricty is created equally however, thus your selection of power provider/s that you use to charge your car, will have an impact on your total environmental-footprint. Renewable energy being the best solution where possible.




All electric cars are technically different and electric car technology will essentially be ever evolving, but they generally use the same principals.

An electric car centres around an electric engine which draws its energy from a rechargable battery located within the vehicle.

An electric car consists of four main components:

Takes the current that arrives to it and sends it where it is required, generally either the engine or the battery but also the auxillery functions such as stereo, wipers and lights. Receives the power from the recharging supply (power socket / power station), adapts the current and recharges the battery. The current needs to be in a specific form to run all of the car components. The inverter converts the direct current into usable forms- 3 phase alternating current to power the electric engine or 12v power for lights and auxillery use. This is the electric motor that converts the electric energy into the vehicles motion via turning the wheels.


CHARGING the battery Plug in your 240v power source - at your home with your electric car battery charging unit or via an electric car recharge station. The charger adapts the power to a usable current for use by the car battery and charges the battery.


DISCHARGING the battery [ Driving ] You press the accelerator and current flows from the battery to the interconnecton box for the electric motor, before arriving at the motor however it must go through the inverter to convert it to 3 phase power which then engages the the motor and drives the wheels.


RECHARGING the battery The braking system in many electric cars also regenerates power to the battery (regenerative braking) by converting kinetic energy back into electrical energy to be channeled back into the inverter and into the battery (via the interconnecton box).



Hybrid electric cars are vehicles that can use more than one source of energy. Typical a hybrid electric car would be able to run the engine on electricity and liquid fossil fuel (internal combustion engine). The electric drive is used for better fuel efficiency and to reduce reliance upon oil and liquid based fuels.

Some examples of Hybrid electric cars include the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid which went on sale in U.S.A in 2011. The Volkswagen Jetta is also set to make an appearance in 2012. Volkswagen plan to make electric hybrids of several of their popular 2011 vehicles in 2012. Other hybrid electric vehicles include; the Lexus CT 200h, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the Kia Optima Hybrid and the Peugot 3008 Hybrid.

The Toyota Prius v (USA) or the Toyota Prius Alpha (Japan) launched in 2011. The europen version (Prius +) is set to launch mid 2012. The Prius Aqua launched in Japan at the end of 2011 and will be released as the Toyota Prius c in Australia early 2012.

The Toyota Yaris HSD concept was first displayed early 2011 and is expected to go on sale in europe this year.


Who Killed The Electric Car DVD With fuel prices skyrocketing combined with fossil fuel shortages, unrest in major oil producing regions around the world the message of Who Killed the Electric Car could not be more relevant.

Who Killed the Electric Car? is a 2006 documentary based upon the development and limited production and subsequent crushing of the electric car in the United States (most specificially the EV1 developed by General Motors) in the mid 1990s.

The film sets about enlightening the audience with the history, the technology, the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate and the limited commercialisation of electric cars in America and why their development was abandonded and the vehicles crushed.


The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006 and is now available on DVD by Sony Pictures Classics.

Response from General Motors:

General Motors responded via a blog post entitled Who Ignored the Facts About the Electric Car? by Dave Barthmuss of their communications department.

On June 15, 2006 (13 days before the film was released in the US) he states not to have seen the movie, but believes "there may be some information that the movie did not tell its viewers." and that, "despite the substantial investment of money and the enthusiastic fervor of a relatively small number of EV1 drivers — including the filmmaker — the EV1 proved far from a viable commercial success."

Responding to the documentary's harsh criticism for discontinuing the EV1, he outlines GM's reasons for doing so, implying that GM did so because of:

Poor consumer demand despite "significant sums (spent) on marketing and incentives develop a mass market for it,"
and inadequate support from parts suppliers, which would have made "future repair and safety of the vehicles difficult to nearly impossible."

He also expressed that, "no other major automotive manufacturer is producing a pure electric vehicle for use on public roads and highways."

Lastly, Barthmuss personally regretted the way the decision not to sell EV1s was handled, also saying that GM discontinued the vehicle because they would no longer be able to repair it or "guarantee it could be operated safely over the long term."

In March 2009, the outgoing CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner, said the biggest mistake he ever made as chief executive was killing the EV1 electric car, and failing to direct more resources to electrics and hybrids after such an early lead in this technology.  GM has since championed its electric car expertise as a key factor in development of its 2010, Chevrolet Volt, a fuel/electric hybrid.



Revenge of the Electric Car DVD Director Chris Paine followed up his 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? with the 2011 documentary, Revenge of the Electric Car.

The documentary follows the paths of four entrepreneurs from 2007 to the end of 2010 as they struggle to bring the electric car back to market in the middle of a global economic meltdown.

With a focus more on the people than the technology, they are; Bob Lutz (General Motors), Elon Musk (Tesla Motors), Carlos Ghosn (Nissan) and Greg Abbott, an independant electric car converter from California, USA.

The film features the birth of a new generation of electric cars including the Chevrelet Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster and opened on Earth day (April 22) in 2011. Revenge of the Electric Car will be available on DVD early 2012.




Many electric cars these days use lithium ion batteries for electricity storage and release because they are light and compact for the amount of energy they can store. The challenge no is for battery manufacturers to make electric car batteries that are; smaller, lighter and have a longer life while at the same time bring down the cost.

According to Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla Motors) there could soon be a change away from batteries to capacitors. Capacitors are already common in everyday electronics for storing and discharging electric charge in quick bursts, they can also be charged and discharged many more times than a battery without wearing the battery materials.

The CSIRO are already actively working on supercapacitor technology, and claim there are plenty of benefits for using them in electric and hybrid vehicles:

. They can be recharged very quickly (in a matter of seconds)
. When fitted alongside a battery can extend battery life by up to five times by ‘levelling out’ high power demands on the battery (load levelling)
. They can be manufactured in any size and shape
. They can be retrofitted onto existing designs
. The devices are generally made from low-toxicity materials.


Electric cars can be charged from conventional power outlets (with the charging device for your vehicle) or charging stations. Either way the charging process can take hours and can be done over night.

In some areas of the UK and Europe there are cities with electric vehicle networks that have charging stations where you can leave your vehicle parked at the charging station while you work.



In recent years an alternative way of replacing the electricity in your car has emerged whereby instead of re-charging the electric car battery in your car, you simply swap out the battery for another fully charged battery.

In this scenario you swap your electric car battery at a battery switch station which would eleviate the delay in charging your vehicles battery. This would be quite effective for travelling long distances.

In the U.S.A. where this sytem is already being trialled, battery swapping can take place in less than a minute, which is faster than refuelling a typing petrol car.

For this sytem to acheive wider adoption requires electric car manufacturers to design their cars for easy-swap of batteries, which means standardisation on battery access, attachment, location, dimention and type.

Benefits of battery swapping:

. Fast battery swapping of around (under a minute)
. Unlimited driving range where there are battery switch stations available
. The driver does not own the battery in the car, transferring the associated costs over the to the battery switch station company




Tesla motors and their leading founder, Elon Musk have been somewhat pioneers in the high performance electric car industry.

Tesla Motors is a Silicon Valley company that has designed, manufactured and sold electric cars worldwide. They originally developed and sold the Tesla Roadster (the only production zero-emission sports car at the time and the first to use lithium ion betteries) which accellerated from 0 to 60mph (97km/h) in 3.9 seconds!

Tesla now sell the Model S (2009) and more recently relased the Tesla Model X (2012).

Tesla Roadster Tesla Model S Tesla Model X

Elon Musk is primarily responsible for an overarching business strategy that aims to deliver affordable electric vehicles to mass-market consumers. His vision was to create the Tesla Roadster as a means to that end—a car aimed specifically at affluent early adopters, whose purchase of the sports car would subsidise the research and development costs of lower priced models of electric vehicles.

From the start of Tesla, Musk has been a champion of the Model S, a four-door family sedan with an anticipated base price of half that of the Roadster. Musk has also favoured building a sub-$30,000(USD) subcompact and building and selling electric vehicle powertrain components so that other automakers can produce electric vehicles at affordable prices without having to develop the products in house.


Holden revealed a left-hand-drive version of the Volt to its employees in a special event at its Melbourne headquarters in November, 2011.

Holden director of electrical engineering Paul Gibson said the left-hand-drive Volt has been adapted for Holden’s engineering team for initial vehicle evaluation studies, and has so far embarked on drives around Sydney and Canberra.

"The engineering department will use these validation exercises to ensure the electrical infrastructure around the country supports the Volt and that the recharging process is as seamless as possible for customers,” Mr Gibson said.

The Holden Volt will be a localised version of Chevrolet Volt, which has been on sale in the US for about a year.

In the US, the Volt has an official combined (electric and range-extended) range of 610km, although according to Holden, some Volt owners in the US have travelled up to 2300km before needed to refuel the petrol engine.

The standard 240V Volt charging kit allows you to plug into your everyday Australian power socket and fully charge your vehicle in around 6-8 hours (overnight).

The Holden Volt is expected to be released sometime in 2012 to the Australian market. Read more about the Holden Volt.



The popularity of electric cars is growing every day. More and more models are being designed, developed and sold by more and more manufacturers as they see the demand grow for these types of vehicles around the world.

A sampling of electric cars include; Mitsubish MiEV, Nissan Leaf, Smart ED, Wheego Whip Life, Dynsaty EV, My EV 118, BMW i3, CODA Sedan, Daimler Chrysler Smart Fortwo EV, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV, Hyundai BlueOn, Mass-EV, Chevrolet Spark EV, SIM-Drive, Saab 9-3 ePower, Toyota TV-EV and the Venturi Fetish.

For more information on electric car models in Australia see the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA) is a non-profit organisation founded in 1973, comprising of individuals and organisations with an interest in Electric Vehicles (EVs) and electric vehicle technology.


At this point in time the electric car revolution is just starting to take off. The electric car technology is at the point where it all works for manufacturers and for car buyers and will continue to improve as innovation in the field flows through to new production.

Electric cars are the way of the future for those wanting to get ahead of the curve in terms of peak oil production and its associated problems, however this relies heavily on the use of cleen green energy to make this vision of the environtmentally friendly future a reality.
Now that the vehicles are here, we're a lot closer to making it all happen.


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