Buying an Electric Car? Have a look at Specification Terminology and understand what works for you.
Looking at the specifications of electric cars, one will come across many terms that are different from conventional ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. Though we find many similar terms like Body Type (hatchback, sedan, crossover, SUV), length, weight, drivetrain (AWD, FWD etc), Top Speed, Cargo/storage, SAE level etc, there are some important additional specifications that make the list for an electric car.
Here’s a list of all main specifications one should consider while analysing the feature set of an electric car. Understanding the terminology will help you make a more informed and assured decision about your car purchase. For specifications of an electric two-wheeler, please read Specs to Consider while buying an electric two-wheeler.
Type of EV – BEV or PHEV
Once you have made up your mind to go electric, this is the first decision you need to make to narrow down your choices. Do you want to go all electric (BEV – Battery Electric Vehicle) or opt for a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) that comes with an additional ICE powered engine? PHEVs offer the advantage of going an extended distance on a single charge but are not as environment-friendly as BEVs. A subset of PHEVs is an EREV (Extended Range EV) that houses an ICE engine that only acts as a generator for charging the battery and does not directly drive the wheels.
This decision depends on a variety of factors including your driving needs and charging infrastructure in your area. To learn more about the type of EVs, read Electric Vehicles 101.
Range of an EV is the distance it can cover on a full charge before the battery is fully discharged and this is one of the most carefully sought after parameters while analysing a car’s specifications. Most EVs nowadays offer a driving range of more than 100 miles or 160 kms, with latest BEVs going up to 300 miles or 480 kms on a single charge. Agencies like EPA (Environmental Protection Agency of the US), WLTP in Europe and ARAI in India carry out the range tests as per standardised procedures.
The time taken by the car to achieve a speed of 60mph (or 62 mph / 100 kmph in some parts of the world) from start is a great measure of acceleration and pick up. Electric Vehicles easily win this contest vis a vis their similarly powered ICE counterparts by leveraging instant torque produced by electric motors. In fact, the fastest car in the world is Pininfarina Battista – all electric.
In case of an EV, the automakers are required to offer an additional warranty on its most expensive component i.e. the battery pack, that typically makes around a third of car cost. Battery warranties are described in terms of the amount of time and distance driven. Warranties also specify the minimum charge capacity the battery won’t degrade below during the warranty period.
For example, Chevrolet Bolt offers a battery warranty of 8 years / 100,000 miles with a percentage guarantee of 60%. This means if its full charge battery capacity ever drops below 60% of the original battery capacity before eight years of ownership or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first), you can get your EV battery replaced and serviced for free. In other words, this warranty ensures that if your original EV range is 100 miles, you will get a minimum range of 60 miles till 8 years or 100,000 miles of driving.
All electric cars can be charged with Level 1 (Standard) and Level 2 (Fast) charging set up. Level 3 chargers (Rapid) – also called DC fast chargers can charge a car much faster (up to 80% charge in 30 mins) but not all EVs have fast charging capability.
It is important to check the power rating, connector type, max AC and DC charging power, charging time for Level 1, 2 and 3, cabling requirements for the EVs you are considering. While checking the charging capabilities of the vehicles, also check the charging option recommended by the manufacturer. e.g. BMW i3 allows all three charging levels but the company recommends to use Level 2 charging. It is important to analyse the charging specifications keeping in mind your charging preferences i.e. if you want to regularly charge the car at home, workplace or a public charging station. Level 1 charging can be done at home with no additional setup. However, Level 2 and Level 3 charging requires additional equipment and is typically done at workplaces and public charging stations.
Also, many automakers now offer free charging up to a threshold kWh at select charging stations e.g. in the US, Audi e-tron offers its buyers up to 1000 kWh of free charging. Look for those offers to arrive at a better calculation of your total cost of ownership.
Battery Type and Capacity
Type – The most popular battery type of EVs is a Lithium-ion battery. However, Nickel Metal Hydride batteries are sometimes used for PHEVs.
Capacity – A battery’s storage capacity is measured in kWh (kilowatt-hours) and represents the amount to charge it can store. Small capacity batteries in the range of 4-15 kWh are used in PHEVs. Moderate capacity batteries are used in both PHEVs and BEVs and have storage capacity in the range of 16-40 kWh. There are bigger batteries from 40-100 kWh that are used in bigger EVs like BMW i3 models (42 kWh) and Tesla S models (100 kWh).
Though the driving range is a function of myriad vehicle parameters and driving conditions, typically a battery with higher storage capacity will offer a better driving range than a vehicle with lower battery capacity.
Peak Power and Torque
Peak power of the electric motor in an EV indicates the amount of maximum mechanical output it can deliver when electrical energy input is provided. Output mechanical energy is used to drive the vehicle and it can be measured in hp or kW. Automakers generally indicate the peak power output of the motor as kW@rpm.
Peak Torque (turning force) specification gives you an indication of acceleration offered by your car and is measured in lb-ft @ rpm or Nm (Newton meters)@rpm.
In case of PHEVs, one should also consider the peak power and torque provided by the internal combustion engine to get a complete picture of vehicle specifications.
Energy consumption parameters –
When it comes to purchasing an electric car, we like to understand the efficiency parameters and compare them to the same for ICE vehicles to get a better sense of those numbers. Here’s a list of terms most frequently used to denote energy consumption of an EV:
kWh/mile – This parameter provides a measure of energy consumption of an EV and denotes how much electricity is required to run the vehicle for a mile. When combined with the electricity rate (per kWh) in your area, you can easily calculate the running expense for your EV.
MPGe – MPGe stands for Miles Per Gallon equivalent and allows for an EV’s efficiency comparison with an ICE vehicle’s mpg (miles per gallon) parameter. It denotes the number of miles an EV can go using electricity that delivers the same amount of energy as one gallon of gasoline. A more efficient EV will cost you less to recharge. Official MPGe figures can be found on the US Department of Energy website. MPGe is also used to calculate the emissions rating for electric vehicles taking into account how the electricity required to run your EV was produced and distributed.
eGallon – This is a calculation provided by the US Department of Energy that allows you to compare the cost of driving an EV vs cost of driving a comparable ICE vehicle for the same distance. This calculation is based on three factors, namely, the average fuel economy of a comparable ICE vehicle, average kWh/mile of 5 similar EVs and the average electricity price per kWh in your area.
Above energy parameters and more EV specifications can be found on fuel economy stickers produced by the US Department of Energy.
For a comparative representation of specifications of electric cars available in India, visit Tigor EV Extended Range – Comparison with other EVs
Let us know in comments if you have feedback or questions about any other terms or specs related to electric vehicles.
To know more about EV powertrain components, visit EV Powertrain Components.