A Primer on Electric Vehicle Technology
Nissan Leaf at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show. Source: Wikimedia commons.

Over the years, bulky motor car engines have been painstakingly engineered into modern-day engines, but this gain in mileage alone will not be enough to combat climate change long term. We still need to burn fuel to power our cars. Instead, if we could power most vehicles using electric motors, there would be no need for the tailpipes on our cars, because there would be no direct emissions.

The vehicle would be about as polluting as a household fan, a washing machine, or a refrigerator. We keep these things inside our house, and they produce no emissions whatsoever, right? Well, no. We will understand the trouble of emissions in electric vehicles in part 3 of this series. To power a vehicle via electricity, we must put something on board that can store electrical energy (or create it in real-time!). This would be fed to the motor via safe electrical cabling and power distribution, much like power is distributed in our homes. There are many ways to do this, and each technology forms its own category among electric vehicles.

Electric Vehicle Technology combines efficiency and convenience

An electric vehicle needs to store ample energy to run long distances. This means that batteries need to be bundled together into large packs, called battery packs. In fact, these battery packs may weigh 300 kilograms or more – a quarter of the weight of a regular car! Thankfully, it is possible to redesign cars such that a bulky battery pack goes underneath the seating area, much like a fuel tank.

In regular cars, a front bonnet is required for most effective use of space. Electric motors are very compact though. They can be placed in the front or in the rear, and in both cases, the extra space in the bonnet can instead be used as boot space (leg space, or for keeping luggage). Pretty convenient! Thus the overall design of electric vehicles is much more efficient and offers a lot more benefits than just the absence of the tailpipe.

Electric vehicles also have a distinctive visual appeal, given that they don’t need a bulky front grille. This allows EVs to be designed as sleek, futuristic, benevolent machines.

What is available in the market today?

There is an interesting middle ground too. Electric motors and engines can be used together to create hybrid vehicles that can sometimes give the best of both worlds. In such cases, the electric powertrain of the vehicle helps to reduce the inefficiencies of the engine. You may have heard of the Toyota Prius, one of the earliest modern hybrid electric vehicles to be sold commercially.

Tesla Motors is a major name in the electric vehicle industry, and their moves over the last several years have made major Indian manufacturers, including Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra, to lay more emphasis on EVs. In India, you can now find many EVs such as the Tata Nexon EV, Tata Tigor EV, Mahindra Verito EV, Mahindra e2O, and Hyundai Kona EV. On the other hand, two-wheelers and rickshaws are a domain of start-ups and local manufacturers.

We can extend the concept of electric motors to any type of vehicle. Especially the vehicle to benefit from electrification is the bus, because it is the mode of public conveyance that is most widely used in India. Buses, by their design, have fewer constraints on placing the battery pack and other components. Diesel buses contribute a lot of tailpipe emissions, and a fully electric bus fleet would be a highly sustainable mode choice.

The government provides distinctive green number plates to electric vehicles to distinguish them as sustainable vehicles. This is not just a simple visual cue, but also a strong point of pride for vehicle owners. Next time you step out, keep an eye out for an electric vehicle. If it passes you, serene and mostly noiseless, you’ll know it is an electric vehicle.

In the next article we will see how electric vehicles evolved since their invention in the last two centuries.

Sarang Deshpande

Sarang Deshpande is an engineer, founder [Flow Mobility; Cambio Motion], and writer. Besides spending time solving challenges in the urban mobility domain, he writes about cutting edge research across industries (science, tech, business) in his publication, World in Mind https://medium.com/world-in-mind.

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