Q: What is an Electric Car?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

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Are you curious about electric cars and wonder whether one will be parked in your driveway in the near future? When people talk about electric cars, they often mean different things. There are models powered only by electric batteries, recharged by plugging in at home or a public charging station. There are hybrid models that have both a gasoline engine and an electric motor. This article focuses only on an electric car with an electric motor.

An electric car is simply a car that is powered by an electric motor, rather than an internal-combustion engine. The power to the electric motor comes from onboard batteries. The batteries must be recharged, usually on a daily basis.

An electric car has some clear advantages over a car with the typical gasoline-powered engine that most of us are familiar with:

* It is much less expensive to operate than its gasoline-powered counterpart. An electric motor runs cleanly and quietly, and it never needs an oil change or a tune-up.

* It is very energy efficient. About 60 percent of the electrical energy transferred from the grid to the batteries is used to power the car. Gasoline-powered cars only convert about 25-30 percent of the energy stored in the fuel.

* It is earth friendly. An electric car produces no tailpipe emissions. If a non-polluting electricity source such as wind or solar is used to charge the batteries, the environmental impact is reduced even more.

Ongoing research in battery technology promises to improve driving range and decrease recharging time -- both common downsides to electric cars. Many communities are initiating projects to provide public charging stations. These changes will make the electric car even more appealing to car purchasers.

It may surprise you to know that in the 1890s, 90 percent of vehicles were electric. Limited availability of electricity outside of cities made it hard to compete against gasoline-powered cars, and electric vehicle manufacturers eventually disappeared. There was a small rebirth in electric vehicle production during the 1970s OPEC oil embargo, but the return of the easy availability of gasoline again killed the market.

In the 1990s, the U.S. government and some state governments pushed initiatives to reduce air pollution, and the electric vehicle started to make a comeback. A vehicle that started as a concept car might now be in full production at a major car company.

Is an electric car in your future? It is very practical for commuting to work and around the city. Your family's comfort will not be compromised, because current electric models match their gasoline-powered counterparts in many features. An electric car could be the ideal choice as your second family vehicle. You will save money on fuel and maintenance, while at the same time helping the environment.

Times have changed and electric cars are again attractive to car buyers. There are more electric cars on the road than ever before. Intrinsic environmental benefits and lower operating costs offset the higher purchase cost. As an environmentally-aware consumer, you will want to carefully examine the benefits an electric car offers you, your family and your environment.

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