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HomeTechHow Electric Cars Work - CNET

How Electric Cars Work – CNET

This story is a part of Plugged In, CNET’s hub for all issues EV and the way forward for electrified mobility. From car critiques to useful hints and the newest trade information, we have you coated.

There’s loads of hype round EVs, however has anybody defined to you ways they work? Listed below are the fundamentals for individuals who simply wish to know what they’re shopping for and never geek out.

When it comes to getting round there are 5 main elements that separate an electrical automotive from one which burns gasoline:

  • Battery Charger
  • Battery
  • Energy Management Unit
  • Motor(s)
  • Gear(s) 

Battery charger

Opposite to widespread perception, the factor in your storage wall or on a pole on the procuring heart is not the charger, it is Electrical Automobile Service Gear that gives energy to the charger which is constructed into your EV. That charger converts the AC energy the ESVE delivers into DC energy that the battery can retailer. That may be achieved by way of both a sluggish Degree I cost when the automotive is related to a 120-volt EVSE or a quicker Degree II cost when it is tapping into 240 volts.

Nope, these aren’t EV chargers, not strictly talking, anyway. These are energy connectors that feed electrical energy to the charger that is constructed into the electrical automotive.

ChargePoint/Dcbel/United Chargers/Wallbox

Exception: If you use a quick charger, like a Tesla Supercharger, that is a DC energy connection. It is at far greater ranges of present than your private home can present, which is the way it costs your automotive a lot quicker. 


The battery is the guts of any EV. It considerably determines a automotive’s extremely scrutinized vary, sometimes greater price and a lot better weight. It is each the magic and a curse.

The battery is normally laid out as an enormous flat panel below the stomach of the automotive, within that are smaller modules containing many even smaller cells. Some automobiles eschew the belly-pan type battery and form it extra like a bit of baggage tucked away in cavities of the automotive physique. However the form and site of the battery is of little significance to the common purchaser. All that issues is the vary the entire automotive delivers.

Tesla Model 3 battery

There’s loads of room below a Tesla Mannequin 3 for an enormous, flat battery pack. This “skateboard” format is most popular throughout the auto trade however is not the one solution to orient an EV battery.


Batteries retailer DC energy, whether or not they’re in a flashlight, cellphone or a automotive. That is why the charger has to transform AC to DC to recharge the battery and that is additionally one of many important jobs of the following element, although in reverse.

Energy management unit

The facility management unit is an meeting that goes by numerous names and isn’t one thing carmakers sometimes promote, nevertheless it’s necessary. Its most crucial job is to transform the DC energy saved within the battery again into AC that the majority EV motors use. That is achieved with a element known as an inverter, a model of which you’ll already use to energy your laptop computer or different home present gadget from the 12-volt port in your automotive’s sprint.


What appears to be like like slightly four-cylinder engine below the hood is definitely the ability management module for the lithium ion battery pack and electrical motor. Beneath it sits an 80-kilowatt motor that turns the entrance wheels.

Josh Miller/CNET

The facility management unit additionally interfaces the drivetrain to the accelerator pedal, begin button and drive mode controller. And, crucially, it oversees regeneration which is how an EV places energy again into its personal battery when coasting or braking.

A lot of Tesla’s success has been its capability to optimize the assorted energy flows and conversions that happen in its EVs, testomony to the significance of the least-touted element in an EV.


The motor is, in fact, what turns the wheels however not like a combustion automotive you might need one motor or a number of in an EV. Extra motors could make an EV quicker, imbue it with refined all-wheel drive, or each. However do not elevate the hood anticipating to gaze upon an impressive-looking motor as you may a traditional automotive’s engine. They’re sometimes compact and never a lot to take a look at, usually buried out of sight.


Not almost as spectacular to take a look at as a gasoline engine, every of those Tesla electrical motors produces 248 horsepower and may push a Tesla Roadster as much as a ruled 125mph, and make 60mph from a cease in 3.9 seconds.

CBS Interactive

It is absolutely legitimate to check horsepower and torque between a gasoline and electrical automotive. Notice how excessive the torque spec is on any EV you think about, a part of the character of electrical motors and making EVs a kick to drive past what their horsepower score may counsel. And electrical automobiles can ship most of their torque beginning at low RPMs, whereas gas-engine automobiles have to be revved as much as ship most acceleration. Motors are simply totally different from engines, which you will observe the primary time you drive any EV.


Not a lot to say right here since electrical motors do not actually need a transmission. The character of their operation makes them environment friendly and highly effective throughout a a lot wider vary of RPMs than combustion engines, so they do not want six, seven and even 10 gears as crutches to assist them accommodate totally different car speeds or masses.

Having no typical transmission an EV has a drive mode selector as an alternative of a PRNDL. Federal laws require that any automotive offered within the US adjust to sure conventions together with putting Park on the finish of the drive controller’s journey and Reverse adjoining to that. However EV drive controllers usually take some unconventional shapes and should add an unfamiliar place that places the automotive into a better mode of the regeneration whereas driving, as described earlier.

2021 Toyota Prius shifter

This fairly odd shifter portrays the distinction in an EV powertrain in comparison with the many-geared transmissions of combustion engine automobiles.


It is easy

This record could look like so much however EVs have easier drivetrains that use 70% to 90% fewer components than a gas-engined automotive. That assortment of fewer components nonetheless sometimes prices greater than a gasoline engine automotive however as scale drives down EV price, their inherent simplicity ought to solely turbocharge that curve.

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