Electric vehicles have come a long way since market attempts in the late 1990s, which included the Toyota RAV 4 EV and Chrysler TEVan. Spurred on by Tesla’s success beginning around 2004, the newest generation of electric vehicles combines innovation and time-tested technology to deliver zero-emissions vehicles with enhanced power, range and safety.
The challenge issued to producers of internal combustion engine, or ICE, cars has not gone unanswered, with major vehicle manufacturers stepping up and delivering their own improvements and even new generations of popular, if exceptionally rare, early EV models. The tech created from this new EV arms race gives vehicle owners a wealth of options if they’re looking to build their own electric vehicles or pick from an ever-increasing selection of zero-emission options.
Early electric vehicles rarely cranked out the horsepower. The TEVan had a maximum output of 65 hp, and the first-generation RAV 4 EV only sported 67. With advancements in electric motors, including the ability to scale down size and weight for greater gains, modern electric vehicles often boast twice the amount of available horsepower.
Specially designed electric motors can even match or beat internal combustion engines of similar size when it comes to the horsepower race. The Venturi Fetish boasts a 295 hp engine, making it a powerful vehicle despite its top speed of only 100 mph. Electric cars designed, or tweaked, for drag racing can see output on par with top ICE supercars in the 1,000+ hp range. The Wrightspeed X1 is the only street-legal fully electric supercar in this range, with a 0 to 60 mph time of 2.9 seconds. It’s slightly bested by the Rimac Concept One, which clocks in at 2.8 seconds in a less legal configuration.
Range and ChargingTesla changed the game entirely with its 2004 lithium-ion battery configuration. Electric vehicles previously saw ranges capping out at 100 miles or less due to the weight of the batteries and the available capacity. The Tesla Roadster, first delivered in 2008, shattered this barrier with the ability to go 200 miles on a single charge with a street-legal vehicle. Since then, the bar has been raised again and again. The Rimac Concept One is the current leader in the range game, boasting an impressive 310 miles on one charge as of October 2017.
As battery range and configurations change, so do the charging stations required to power the vehicles. The petroleum-based infrastructure that grew up around ICE engines has been very slow to adopt charging stations, but many manufacturers design adapters for use with any 120- or 240-volt outlet. Early chargers, such as those used in the mid-1990s, took five to eight hours to fully recharge EV batteries. Now, modern quick chargers can restore power in as little as 30 minutes, giving drivers enough time to enjoy a meal while waiting. Tesla is also experimenting with swapping batteries at charging stations instead of waiting for recharges. A battery swap takes less than 90 seconds, as fast as a quick refuel on ICE vehicles. This mitigates many of the advantages of liquid fuels, and the Chevrolet EV savings calculator shows how electric vehicles can be much easier on the wallet over time.
Many of the safety features already available to modern ICE vehicles work well in electric cars. The new generation of ASE-certified electric car mechanics, many who have specializations in fully electric vehicles, are adept at identifying issues that may arise due to battery configurations or with electric motors. The quiet operation of electric vehicles has been addressed in both Japan and the US, requiring manufacturers to institute a minimum level of sound for safe operation to prevent accidents involving pedestrians unaware of approaching cars or trucks.
The safety history of the current generation of EV cars and trucks has been nothing short of spectacular. Engine fires due to runaway thermal problems with batteries are exceptionally rare, and batteries are designed to withstand impact damage at high speeds. Overcharging remains the most common source of safety concern, with special safeguards available in modern street-legal vehicles to prevent batteries from overheating.
As the first year of delivery for the Tesla Roadster came to a close, the company fought hard against the existing system of car dealerships to retain its ability to sell directly to consumers. The Tesla vs. New Jersey situation reached its peak when the state refused to allow a workaround of existing dealership laws following the first year of sales. The company continued deliveries unabated in other regions. The move of top manufacturers to enter the EV market has largely followed delivery of ICE vehicles, with availability limited to sale at specific dealerships in each state.
Battery designs continue to improve, and the addition of regenerative braking to most modern EV designs has further improved range and vehicle longevity. In the future, EV makers are likely to solve many battery and charging problems, reducing the time it takes to fully recharge vehicles and preventing overloads entirely. There is still room for growth on average power output for electric motors, and efficiency averages continue to improve regularly.
The gradual replacement of gas stations and the petroleum infrastructure, which drove ICE vehicles to popularity at the beginning of the last century, with charging stations at restaurants and shopping centers is sure to continue. With year-over-year fully electric vehicle sales growth at 47 percent, it seems unlikely that availability will be a limiting factor in the future. EV sales are poised to make a real run for control of the market over the next few decades, potentially even replacing ICE vehicles with zero-emissions options that deliver all of the power, safety and range drivers have come to expect. The infrastructure needed is likely to follow closely on the heels of the popularity and adoption of this shift in the market.