Electric Cars: Key Terms Explained

Published on November 15, 2019 in Technology/Autonomous Vehicles by Hugues Gonnot

You know what displacement, horsepower and L/100 km all mean. These automotive terms exist since, well, pretty much the invention of automobiles.

Electric cars are a different creature, however. They have their own unique features and a unique vocabulary.

A Few Definitions
Fossil fuels are out, electrons are in! Let’s start with a few important terms and their definitions to better understand electric cars.

Kilowatts indicate a capacity to transfer energy and kilowatts per hour indicate the amount of energy effectively transferred. It’s like water pipes: the bigger the pipe, the more water can flow through it. Energy refers to the amount of water that goes through the pipe for a given period of time.

What you need to remember especially is that kW and kWh are the most commonly used units of measurement when it comes to electric cars. Understanding the differences between the two is critical.

Electric Motors
Unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors are fairly simple. You don’t have to worry about displacement, cylinders, valves, turbochargers and whatnot. There’s not even a transmission (except in the case of the Porsche Taycan).

An electric motor’s output is measured in kilowatts. Companies that build electric cars continue to talk about horsepower because consumers are still more familiar with that type of unit. The equation is as simple as hp = kW x 1.369, so a 100-kW motor produces 136 horsepower.

Here are three more examples:

Torque, meanwhile, continues to be measured in pound-feet (lb-ft).

Batteries
As far as batteries are concerned, the key figure is the energy they can store. It’s like the size of a gas tank on conventional automobiles: the bigger the tank, the more range you have.

Battery capacity is expressed in kWh. The higher the number, the longer the battery will operate. In the case of the three cars listed above, the battery is rated as follows:

While fuel consumption (L/100 km) indicates a gas-powered car’s efficiency, range is the critical metric for their electric counterparts. There are various standards and protocols to determine range—NEDC in Europe prior to 2019, WLTP in Europe, India, Korea and Japan, and EPA in the U.S. The latter is the more realistic standard for us in North America. You can also check the website ot Natural Resources Canada.

Charging
You’ve never had to care about the size of a gas tank nozzle before, but with electric cars, not all charging solutions are created equal.

There are currently three levels of charging:

As for connectors, there are four different types in North America.

So there you go. Hopefully this will make your next electric car purchase easier!

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