20 years into the 21st century, the concerns on climate change and the greenhouse effect are ever increasing. The rising cost of petroleum forces consumers to source for alternative energy sources with better efficiency and less impact on nature. The answer to this global problem lies in electricity. The emergence of electric vehicles provides a solution to address these concerns.
How The Internal Combustion Engine Started The Automotive Industry
Interestingly, the electric car is not a new invention. It made its debut around the 1890s when William Morrison, a chemist who lived in Des Moines, Iowa developed a self-powered four-wheeled horseless carriage, capable of a top speed of 14 miles per hour (23km/h). It quickly gained popularity and by 1912, 30,000 units of electric carriages were registered in the United States of America.
Sadly, the emergence of Henry Ford’s Model T (1908-1927), a petrol-powered car, put a stop to its demand. The worldwide discovery of large petroleum reserves had already made petroleum widely available at an affordable price by that time. As a result, petrol-powered cars gained an edge over electric cars. The mass production of Model T also helped to bring down the prices of cars, and indirectly the cost of car ownership. Since then, petrol-fuelled cars dominated over electric cars. In this article, we will look into why electric cars are making a comeback, and what consumers can expect from it.
The Rise Of Electric Cars
The introduction of Toyota Prius is what sparked the interest in electric cars in the early 21st century. In 1997, Japan released the model and became the world’s first mass-produced hybrid petrol-electric vehicle. The introduction of the nickel-metal hydride battery caught the eyes of consumers, as it was considered a ground-breaking technology. The car quickly gained popularity. Issues on rising fuel prices and growing concern about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere further propelled the sales of Prius. Over the next decade, it became the best-selling hybrid petrol-electric car worldwide.
Pure Electric Vehicles Making A Comeback
Fast forward to 2008, Tesla Motors made its mark in the electric vehicle market through the release of the pure electric Tesla Roadster. Unlike the Prius, the Roadster is a battery-electric sports car which uses lithium-ion battery cells. However, with a high price tag and two-seater configuration, it did not garner enough interest from the average car buyers. That did not deter them from moving on with their master plan, where Tesla released the Model S, an all-electric five-door liftback sedan in 2012. It received high praises from car critics and was even named Time Magazine’s Best 25 Inventions of the Year 2012. Consumers love the unique, luxurious and high-tech features that it offered. By 2015, Model S ranked as the third most-sold electric car in history.
Riding on the back of the success of these two models, conventional car manufacturers started to introduce electric vehicles, too. Consumers now have more choices than ever when it comes to buying electric vehicles. With interest picking up, we can bet that this trend will continue to rise.
What Is An Electric Vehicle Anyway?
A conventional car uses an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) which runs on fossil fuels. The ignition and combustion of the fuel release energy that moves the piston that turns and rotates the crankshaft. This reciprocating motion is what drives the vehicle’s wheels.
Battery electric vehicles (BEV), on the other hand, relies on an on-board battery that powers an electric motor to set the wheels in motion. It has no need for a clutch, a gearbox or an exhaust pipe. To make it move, the battery first needs to be charged either from a dedicated charging point or a wall socket. Generally, there are three types of charging speed:
1. Slow Charging
The most common type of charging point for at-home charging that uses a regular household wall plug, best used for overnight charging. Regular power outlets can’t supply power quickly. Hence it may take the whole night to fully charge the battery, depending on the battery’s capacity.
2. Fast Charging
Unlike slow charging that uses an AC (alternating current) charger, fast charging is a DC (direct current) charger. In AC charging, the onboard inverter converts power from AC to DC and then feeds it into the car’s battery. However, fast charging provides DC power directly to the battery. As a result, it increases the charging speed while significantly reducing the charging time.
3. Rapid Charging
Rapid charging is the fastest way to charge an EV. It is also a DC charger but provides higher power supply. Fast charging provides power from 7 kW to 22 kW range. On the other hand, a common rapid charging point runs at 50 kW and above.
A Hybrid Car Still Uses Petrol – Is It Still An EV?
To answer that question, let’s look into the three major types of non-ICE vehicles that are on the road today:
1. Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)
The HEV has both an ICE and electric motor. It runs mostly on fossil fuels, and the electric motor only kicks in when the car runs at low speed or accelerates. Interestingly, when the driver presses the brake pedal, the electric motor goes into reverse and act as a generator, charging the battery. This method of charging is called “regenerative braking”.
2. Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
A PHEV has the same ICE and electric motor as the HEV. The difference is you can now plug the car into a charging point to charge its battery directly. The battery’s capacity is generally larger than HEV’s. Hence on a short trip, the car can run solely on electric power. When the battery power runs out, the ICE takes over.
3. Battery-Electric Vehicle (BEV)
BEV is a pure electric car that is powered by electric motor alone. It does not have an ICE to fall back on when the battery is flat. It needs to be plugged in to be charged.
In the truest sense, neither HEV nor PHEV qualifies as an electric car. Both have a battery but burns fossil fuels primarily for power. The main attraction why electric cars made a comeback is because they are independent of fossil fuels. Hybrids fail in this category.
If we take into consideration other factors, hybrids still lag behind. Its ICE needs regular maintenance, which adds to its operational cost. The combustion of fuel still produces carbon emission that increases the greenhouse effect. Electric vehicles are not a contributing factor to global warming, making it a better choice.
There are also other types of EVs, such as Range Extender Electric Vehicle REEV (e.g. Chevy Bolt), Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle FCEV (e.g. Toyota Mirai) and Solar Assisted Electric Vehicle SAEV (e.g. Lightyear One), which we won’t elaborate here.
From A Petrolhead To An EV Advocate
Advertisers seem to focus too much on EVs fuel-saving benefits that they fail to mention that it has a lot more to offer. For one, it generates much more torque than conventional vehicles. It picks up speed quicker upon ignition as the motor power goes directly to the wheels. It also runs more smoothly and has fewer moving parts. These reasons should entice car buyers to choose an EV for their next purchase.
That attracted Shahrol Halmi into the realm of EVs. He is a car enthusiast who used to own seven units of Alfa Romeos, including Alfa Romeo 75, Alfa Romeo 33 and Alfa Romeo 147. Once, he even spent his summer holidays helping a friend to rebuild the engine of a late 1980’s Alfetta 2.0 sedan!
Going Electric For The Weekend
On one fateful weekend in 2015, he was offered to test drive a Tesla Model S 85. It was one of the two owned by Malaysia Greentech Corporation (MGTC) as part of their agenda to demonstrate that EVs are practical to use in Malaysia.
(*Disclaimer = The programme was suspended in 2017)
Driving it over that weekend had him falling in love with EV’s characteristics.
“The seamless, instant torque, silence and one-pedal driving were unique to EVs, and ICE cars felt primitive after living with the Tesla.”Shahrol Halmi – EV advocate and myEVOC founder
He is now a proud owner of a Tesla Model S 75. Shahrol is passionate about making the public understand that EVs are a joy to drive. The latest technology has made the battery lasts longer while improving the performance to be on par with, if not better than legacy vehicles.
Moving Towards The Future
Just recently, Deloitte predicted that by 2030, a third of all new cars sold globally will be electric. Better yet, charging stations coupled with solar PV systems with battery storage are now getting more common.
The progress that we see is moving us closer towards a system where cities, towns, and even houses act as their own mini power stations, independent of a centralised power station. What great technology awaits us in the future?
By then, we may have fully embraced The Electric Lifestyle, ditching fossil fuels for good. We are already seeing the increasing popularity of solar panels among homeowners. The installation process is simpler than what most people think. In the next article, we will walk you through the process of getting your home installed with solar panels. So stay tuned!