It’s no secret that electric cars are the future. At least, the very near future. Almost every single car manufacturer is now making one. They are populating our streets like never before and continue to grow. Not only that, but they are getting more powerful. They are slowly shedding all the problems that they initially had. Many now compete with the power of the gas guzzling cousins.

An alternative to petrol and diesel is necessary. There is very little dispute over the fact that burning fossil fuels has caused global warming. It is doing untold and irreversible damage to our planet. Of course, there are many offenders here, but car fuel consumption is certainly high on the list. This has led to a mad race to find an alternative automotive solution. The best alternative (right now) appears to be electric or hybrid vehicles.

We can’t stumble across any car website these days without reading about them. However, we don’t always understand them fully. How exactly do they work? Are they really any more efficient than the gas guzzlers? And can’t they only drive around the corner before running out of charge? These are all valid questions that are getting lost in the depths of new technology announcements. So, we’re here to cut through all that and shed some light on electric cars.

Image via flickr

Henry Ford actually tried to make one back in 1914

Electric engines have always held promise. Even Henry Ford saw the potential for a cleaner, more efficient and simpler system. He made many attempts to produce a functional electric car. However, the problem lay in the battery. Batteries at the time simply weren’t powerful enough. In the end, he turned his attention back to gas cars. Electric cars stayed away from the mainstream public for another 80 years. The Toyota Prius was the first major electric car on the market, though the Honda Insight was the first in the US. Now, you can find a hybrid in most models. Kia are even unveiling a hybrid SUV.

Electric cars are better in nearly every way

In terms of build quality, efficiency and cost they are superior cars all around. The engine system and internal mechanics are far simpler than the complex combustion engine. With a combustion engine there are all sorts of extra components. Transmission and cooling are all complex systems that feed the engine. They require expert mechanics to build and maintain. Electric car systems are infinitely more simple. It runs on a battery which supplies charge to the necessary components.

Naturally, they are more efficient on the road. There is significantly lower emissions and you get more to the mile. Once we can make the move away from hybrids to pure electric cars, the emissions will be zero.

The downside in current electric cars is, unfortunately, the main component: the battery.

The battery

In electric cars, the batteries take most of the strain. They are lithium ion batteries and they are big, heavy and expensive. The batteries add significant weight to the cars which takes its toll. They are currently very expensive to produce, hence the relative high prices of the models. On the other hand, the rest of the electric car and system is significantly cheaper to produce. If a balance could be struck, electric cars could be produced at a fraction of the price.

The batteries are difficult to service. You can’t just drive into your local Hilton Garage and have it fixed, they require specialists. The batteries have also caused controversy because they are difficult to get rid of. They can’t be recycled or reused. Whilst electric cars are touted as green and eco-friendly, you can’t actually recycle their main part.

How do they work?

Every electric car on the market today makes use of regenerative braking. This means recovering power from braking and feeding it back into the engine. Braking generates a lot of energy through friction and this can be harnessed. Electric cars harness unused energy from across the car’s functionality. However, braking generates the most.

The engines

There are different types of electric engines on the market. Each model uses a slightly different system and that has perhaps led to the confusion. Essentially, most electrics cars on the market are hybrid cars. That means they have a traditional combustion engine and an electric motor. However, different models use the two components differently.

Some cars are gas powered but harness the power of an electric motor in connection with it. Essentially, the two work together to power the cars. The big example of this car is the Honda Insight - the first electric car released in America.

The second main example is the fully electric cars that use a gas engine to recharge the battery. These cars are powered entirely by the electric battery and motor. However, the charge is drained quickly and we are not always near a charging station. This is combated by the petrol engine working to keep the battery charged.

Finally, there are the plugins. The Toyota Prius is the famous example here. You have a charging system installed in your home and charge the car up overnight. These type of cars average around 40 miles on a 5 hour charge. They will go further with a complete charge, but we don’t always have the luxury of this. Charging stations can provide a supercharge. This typically refills the battery to half-full in 20 minutes. However, these stations are still few and far between at the moment.

Any other downsides?

Well, the biggest argument against hybrids and electric cars is that they still use power from the electric grid. Every time you charge your car you are sucking electricity. In most cases this electricity is powered by burning coal. In a roundabout way you are still burning fossil fuels to power your car. On top of this, the Toyota Prius, for example, flies in specific parts from all over the world. it’s carbon footprint is actually quite large.


Electric cars are better cars. Plain and simple. They are more efficient, simpler and just as powerful. They make the best mpg around the city. For that purpose, they cannot be beaten. They are not yet designed for long journeys and highways. But, they will be. We are at the start, and electric cars will dominate the future. Their flaws will slowly be ironed out. The future will be simpler, greener and much quieter!