EV vs ICE: The Technicalities

Chances are, if you've made it to this blog post you already know the high-level benefits of driving electric. But what is the technical explanation behind EVs and their success, and why didn’t someone think of them sooner?

EVs have a rocky history which goes much further back than you might think. The first electric car was made in 1837, 71 years before the first production of the 1908 Ford Model T. Shortly after the initial success of the gas car, the first hybrid was put on the market in 1911. It failed quickly due to its difficulty to repair, but electric cars continued to be popular until the 1920s. It was at that time that road infrastructure improved, and people needed longer range and faster speeds than early EVs could provide.

With oil prices plummeting, EVs become obviated for years. They made a half-baked comeback in war-raged Europe during WWII. Various companies continued experimenting with electric vehicles throughout the late 1900s, and though the technology improved exponentially, they never gained market traction. The recent energy and environmental crisis has once again brought EVs to the limelight, and this time it seems like they’re here to stay.

Electric vehicles are on the road to becoming the norm, partly due to their lower associated costs. Almost all major car manufacturers are beginning to make some of their models fully electric. The next phase of land transportation is almost upon us. So how did it happen?

The answer: better technology. Let’s start with the engine, or, in the EV’s case, an induction motor. A gas car’s internal combustion engine (ICE) is much more prone to failure than an EV’s motor, and that’s not surprising considering ICEs have hundreds of moving parts. Induction motors, on the other hand, only have a handful of parts, making them much simpler and easier to repair. The vastly fewer parts in an EV motor make the vehicle more reliable, so the drivetrain has a much lower chance of failure.

After the engine, the force generated then goes through the rest of the transmission, starting with the clutch. The clutch exists in gas cars and allows it to change gears, which are housed in the gear box. Gas cars have anywhere from 6-10 gears to control the different speeds that drivers need to go. The gear box is necessary because ICEs have a very small band of peak efficiency. The RPM needs to be kept within that band for the car to run most efficiently, so the gears constantly have to shift up and down. This creates extra friction and a higher moment of inertia, which means more energy is required to keep everything spinning. Overall, these make gas vehicles much less efficient than EVs.

EVs, on the other hand, only have one driving gear (a step-down transmission) because an electric induction motor is efficient from 0 RPM all the way up to around 6,000 RPM (which a car will never need to go). The opposite of ICEs, induction motors generate the vast majority of their torque, which is needed for acceleration, at 0 RPM, and are most efficient at power generation at high RPM, which is needed for cruising. In a frictionless world, it would be helpful—but still not necessary—for an EV to have multiple gears, as fuller advantage could be taken of the motor’s peak efficiency. But for the foreseeable future, adding gears would only complicate a simple, reliable system.

When considering all the complexity and cost benefits of electric compared to gas vehicles, it’s clear why they are beginning to make waves again. And with the recent release of the Tesla Model 3, electric vehicles are about to skyrocket in popularity. And this time, they’re here to stay.