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EVs Explained range no text
EVs Explained

The secret to electric car range estimates—and why Tesla always scores big

Welcome to yet another lesson on what’s perhaps the biggest selling point on today’s crop of electric cars: EV range. Yes, everyone would love to have an EV that can keep pace with, if not outlast, their gasser companions on the open road, but what some may not know is that those big ol’ range numbers people use in their games of Top Trumps come from tests. Different tests. Not every EV is held to the same standard and, therefore, can produce wildly varying range numbers in real-world scenarios, oftentimes as a bid to earn the bigger number just to say they can.

Gasp! You mean an automaker can willingly choose a method of range testing if it means being able to advertise that they can wave a bigger stick, even if the product doesn’t necessarily yield the same results in practice? That’s obscene! They would never choose a less honest route just to fluff up their brand image, would they?

Ha! Well, yes. Yes, they can. And they have. Many electric cars have been recorded not to hit their original estimates, and only a few are noted to match or exceed. Tesla and, recently, Lucid have been accused of being the worst offenders in magazine range comparisons, and there’s angst out there regarding it. Enough for me to pen up this EVs Explained piece just to tell you all about the wonderfully riveting world of EV range testing. Don’t get too restless. Like an old compliance car, I won’t take you too far.

A white 2023 Kia Niro EV is seen driving through the city.
Image credit: Kia

One size fits some

Varying EV range tests have been a thing for some time. Such methodologies include America’s EPA, Europe’s Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP), Europe’s now-obsolete and unrealistically optimistic New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), and the controversially unrealistic China Light Duty Vehicle Test Cycle (CLTC).

On a recent press launch, I had the opportunity to discuss such varying test methods with Edmunds test editor, Reese Counts, who commented on his Mach-E long-term loaner’s range. And although it didn’t quite hit its EPA estimates, as he commented that almost no electric car does, he does enjoy that it was a very “real” range estimate and didn’t leave him feeling as though a buyer would be conned. As a youngin’ in this field, I asked him what he meant.

Each agency has slightly different testing practices, which already yield different numbers on just the window stickers alone. In America, automakers have a choice of two routes within the EPA’s own set of rules. Because of this, it’s become a clear trend for certain cars from certain brands to come closer to their estimates than others, while others are seemingly blatant lies, except they’re not actual lies. They’re just tested under optimal conditions that favor them. Frequently, it seems these test results can be too optimistic, as seen in some of these big-name magazine range tests, where some cars consistently leave egregious gaps, sometimes as big as 100 miles or more, between their as-tested range and their advertised estimate, like the Tesla Model 3 or Lucid Air in Motor Trend’s recent test.

Mustang Mach E in the snow
Image credit: Ford

“They don’t bullshit you,” summarizes Counts regarding automakers with comparatively uninspired range claims for cars that can at least come close in the hands of normal drivers on real roads. Then he recounts cars that willingly choose alternate tests to bolster the range numbers as yet another example of “overselling but underdelivering.”

“Their numbers rarely line up with each other and can also differ from real-world ranges because each organization has its own specific test procedures,” explains Jeremy Laukkonen in a tech explainer for Lifewire. Enough content exists on the internet to explain at least some of those in greater detail, but I’ll summarize them with key highlights as best as I can.

EPA vs. WLTP vs. CLTC range testing

Basically, all EV range tests involve strapping a car down to a dynamometer or dyno, a “rolling road” as they’re sometimes referred to and basically function as a treadmill for cars. The vehicles are then charged to full, left overnight, and run through various cycles to simulate city and highway driving until the batteries can’t power the car. The vehicle is then recharged and run again and again for many tests. EPA and WLTP function similarly but have a few slight twists to them to make their estimates vary.

There’s enough nuance and small details to spin each agency’s test methods off into their own article… which we may actually do at some point. But for now, here are quick, digestible breakdowns of each one.

For greater detail, please consult your doctor (this breakdown by InsideEVs) to see which EV range testing method is right for you (less of a load of crap, in your opinion).

EPA

EPA gives the automakers a choice of a “two-cycle” or “five-cycle” range test, which essentially just dictates how many times the car goes through testing cycles. More on those cycles in a bit, as those are what give us the bigger and smaller gaps in real-world range numbers. City test cycles are conducted for a hair over 11 minutes at a time with a top speed of 56 mph and an average speed of just over 21 mph. Highway test cycles are run for a bit over 10 minutes at an average speed of 48 mpg and a top speed of 60 mph. The combined range figure is estimated by weighing together the city and highway numbers, with city driving accounting for 55% of the score and highway driving for 45%. To further simulate the range-dropping factors of real-world environments, the range is then multiplied by 0.7 to lower it.

In 2008, the EPA added three more cycles an automaker can test for that would better indicate range in real-world conditions, including a 95-degree hot weather test with air-conditioning on, a 20-degree cold weather test, and a high-speed test. Again, the results of using these extra cycles are detailed in a section below, but first, let’s see how they do things across the pond.

WLTP

Like EPA, WLTP uses cycles to test vehicles, but they’re also broken down further into classes based on max speed and power-to-weight ratios. The higher the vehicle’s performance, the higher the test speeds, hence why a Model S Plaid won’t be held to entirely the same standard as, say, a Renault Twizy. A WLTP test will be broken down into Low, Medium, High, and Extra High sub-cycles and run for 30 minutes over 14.4 miles at an average speed of 31 mph and a top speed of over 81.

Unlike the EPA range tests, the lab temperature is static at 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and they do not add the 0.7 real-world multiplier to lower the final range numbers. This is partly why EPA numbers are typically lower than their WLTP counterparts. For instance, the combined range of the most frugal Mustang Mach-E in America is rated at 300 miles. Compare that European Mach-E estimates of up to 372. Want another? The refreshed Tesla Model 3 Highland Long Range has a range of 305 to 341 miles, depending on wheel choice, but WLTP estimates peg it between 390 and 421.

Ah yes, the Long Range’s range is indeed long.

CLTC

This is a China-exclusive measure that isn’t necessarily relevant to Western EV buyers unless you enjoy speculating and eyebrow-raising. Criticized as “pushing an EV down a hill in a vacuum,” this methodology has been panned for the same reason as the now-defunct NEDC by producing highly optimistic range figures that may not be anywhere near indicative of what a real-world owner may experience. Unless they apparently push their car down a hill in a vacuum.

This CLTC test is conducted at a constant cruise of 25 mph until the battery goes kaput and is then adjusted for weather, terrain, and other factors via data compiled from real Chinese drivers across its many regions. While yes, this very much plays into an electric car’s inherent lows-speed efficiency and is not quite representative of what Western-driven cars will see, it’s important to remember that this is a Chinese test for Chinese market cars, so EVs are held to a different standard for their own driving environments, which are often dense, slow, and without too much intercity travel on massive high-speed highways.

Two-cycle vs five-cycle range testing

EPA test cycles
Image credit: fueleconomy.gov

Okay. So, different regions in the world conduct varying range tests and score different figures. Alrighty then, but what about the rampant talk of some brands like Tesla and even Lucid having massive disparities between lab-brewed estimates and real-world numbers?

As Counts explained to me when talking Mach-E numbers, this widdles down to the number of test cycles an automaker chooses to use.

As mentioned, the EPA offers a simple way to test for city and highway ranges with a city and highway cycle. Most automakers opt for this two-cycle test, while a few, particularly smaller startups, opt for the five-cycle test, which, as you can imagine, tests the car over more cycles. As detailed in another InsideEVs piece, it’s not that these companies are conning anyone or cheating a system. They’re just using the options available to them to gain an advantage. Such an advantage yields them a higher number that, therefore, looks better to the press and consumers and puts these startups or anyone else who uses the five-cyle option on a pedestal.

Why is this? Simple.

More cycles let EV makers take advantage of a car’s low-speed efficiency since they’re obviously exerting less energy to move at slower speeds and are bolstered by goodies like regenerative braking. The additional test cycles reportedly also include “high-speed” or aggressive driving, hot weather with air conditioning, and cold weather tests, all of which are done at a low enough speed to work in an electric car’s favor. Cool beans, except when magazines and owners conduct their own independent tests, typically on highways and at far higher speeds than the EPA’s lab experiments. This means the range disparity is, well, to say “noticeable” would be an understatement. Still, this practice of extra low-speed tests is allowed by the EPA and is totally legal, even if it’s not exactly aligned with other automakers’ decisions and doesn’t perfectly convey real-world range results on American roads.

“Such variance. Much wow.”

In case this article, its more detailed source material, and the embedded videos haven’t engrained this into your head by now, there is a mindboggling, brain-jerking, head-spinning array of variance and inconsistencies involved in EV range testing and, by extension, MPGe testing. Not only do global agencies use different methods, but there are also different cycles and sub-cycles within these methods that all yield different results for different cars. On top of that, it doesn’t help that electric vehicles are politically and societally forced to be one of the fastest evolving niches of cars on the road today, with vehicles from several years ago being nearly unrecognizable from a technical perspective from electric cars produced today.

“EVs are one of the fastest-changing areas that we deal with in our laboratory just in terms of how fast this technology is moving,” says engineer, Jarrod Brown, in CNBC’s look at EPA EV testing. “If you look at a vehicle that we had in here even five years ago, a 2016 or 2017 electric vehicle looks almost completely different internally from what we’re seeing in vehicles coming in 2024.”

When testing for range and efficiency, automakers have different ways of recording data for certification, and their cars can all use power differently. One car may not allocate the same energy to running HVAC systems as another, or they may intake and exert electricity to propel the car differently, and so on.

“Every manufacturer kind of has their own way of reporting data on where the power is coming into and going out of the vehicle,” Brown continues regarding the complexity of EV power distribution. “How it’s moving around between the motors and the batteries, or if it’s doing things like regenerative braking, or strategies about how power goes to the heating and cooling system versus how to keep the battery at the right temperature.”

The EPA system, with its many cycles, strives and often succeeds to at least come closest to what consumers can see on their commutes. But this level of added complexity and nonstop evolution may have the current ways of lining up their rulers all tripped up and out of spec. Many critics agree that modern EVs have well outgrown their archaic methods and that a new wave of standardization must come in order to bring realism and uniformity to electric car efficient measuring.

And if the word is true, change is indeed coming. One popular suggested method is providing city and highway range estimates like how the EPA already does for MPG and MPGe instead of weighing together the two for an average number. That way, consumers know what their best and worst-case scenarios are and don’t take a singular number as the definitive range their cars will always achieve.

Class dismissed

Did I lose you yet? Summary time!

The world has its many ways to measure range, all of which controversially lack a resemblance to real-world range tests, an issue which can be attributed to a variety of reasons, such as different test lengths and speeds, varying methods of averaging out final numbers, or even a lack of air resistance being in a lab strapped to a giant automotive treadmill. Europe currently has WLTP, China has CLTC, and America has the EPA, the latter of which offers a two and five-cycle test for automakers to run their EVs through.

Tesla EVs Explained range
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

A two-cycle test is a fairly basic test with cycles to simulate city and highway driving. The longer optional five-cycle test introduces high-speed, air-con, and cold tests conducted at fairly low-ish speeds, which works in favor of EV manufacturers since electric cars are incredibly efficient in urban use and deliver the best mileage at slower speeds. This, along with a final range number that favors 55% city and 45% highway driving, makes the five-cycle incredibly alluring to startups like Tesla and Lucid, who claim the biggest numbers in the game yet tend to show the biggest disparity in real-world range come independent tests, which are often done at higher speeds over mostly highway. And while it doesn’t deliver the prettiest, most headline-worthy figures, other automakers opt for the simpler two-cycle test as it yields the more realistic final number that is then more likely to be met by actual owners or at least have come close to.

So go forth and stay educated! And remember this one big takeaway: Like gas mileage, EV range can vary greatly. Everything from weather, road conditions, speed, and HVAC usage can affect your range, and, like these many different magazines, your own electric car’s range may be different from what any agency or even another owner gets. Your driving style may yield a 10-mile range disparity or a 100-mile one. Who knows? Just know that whatever car you buy, whether from some big-name legacy automaker or a fancy-schmancy startup, take those window sticker estimates with a grain of salt.

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Teslas in winter
EVs ExplainedFeatures

Electric cars and winter: A guide to EV winter survival and how to drive in the winter

It’s cold. So cold. But life doesn’t stop in the cold, and neither does your EV. Winter weather can present unique obstacles for your electric vehicle that don’t often affect gas-engined ones, and you must know how to tackle them. So we compiled everything there is to know about EV winter survival!

Unlike combustion engines, batteries are indeed negatively affected by winter, or at least to a significantly greater extent. You also need to consider your charging habits and where you park your vehicle. And traction is something every car lover must understand when the roads get slippery. We’re not necessarily debunking EV myths here; we’re only providing straight facts on electric car performance (as well as general driving and car ownership tips) during winter. So, let’s dive in and ensure your EV is winter-ready!

Tesla model S winter
Image credit: Tesla

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Maximizing range in cold weather

At temperatures below 32°F (freezing), battery chemistry functions all slow down, reducing how fast your battery can charge and discharge. Some battery compositions are more susceptible to degraded performance than others. At extremely low temperatures, the electrolyte can freeze, and your battery might be unable to discharge. Charging at low temperatures can also reduce your battery’s life span.

It’s important to note that battery pre-heating is common in electric vehicles, and most will not let you charge before the battery has heated sufficiently. Batteries also generate their heat when you drive. However, note that range may still take a hit as your energy consumption may rise with your reliance on climate controls and heating.

You will lose range. As little as 3% but can be as drastic as 25% to 30%. Whether you’re driving a Tesla or Audi E-Tron, any lithium battery loses range in weather below freezing. The degradation in performance should you find yourself with a nickel-metal battery or perhaps a dinosaur with a lead-acid one.

EV battery winter solutions

Some positive news is that there are solutions to improve your winter battery performance.

  •  Precondition your EV (arguably the most important thing!): Although your car will probably do this before charging, it can help to precondition your EV before this. You can do this using your vehicle’s app, smart home system, or even the car’s infotainment.
  • Park in a garage: Removing your electric car from complete cold weather exposure does help. Parking in a heated garage is an even better option. 
  •  Use a winter car cover: Parking outside is the only option for many people. If that’s you, a winter car cover is your best bet. Yes, more high-tech solutions are coming, but this can prevent your vehicle from freezing over and further reducing battery temperatures.
  •  Warm your EV while charging: Heating your seats and cabin is essential. Warm up while charging is the best way to do this without reducing range.

Winter tires (duh!)

Tesla side view tires
Image credit: Tesla

All-season vs all-weather tires

Winter tires are necessary for those in colder states, but there’s more to tires than just the rubber that meets the road.

All-season tires offer traction in light snow, and some top-tier offerings can fare far better than others, but they’re generally not usable for especially deep snow, ice, and below-freezing weather. Anything below 45°F means it’s time to switch to a more effective tire. 

All-weather tires are better than all-season tires if you live in states with freezing temperatures. Think of them as all-seasons with a marginally broader spread of talents. A more aggressive tread pattern means you get excellent traction in snow and no hydroplaning in melting conditions. The caveat is that these tires are noisier and don’t offer equal performance compared to summer tires. They’re also still not as good as snow tires in winter, and tread life is worse than all-season tires.

Studded vs. non-studded snow tires 

Let’s talk about the real deal. Snow tires are the ultimate winter tire for snow, ice, rain, and temperatures below freezing. The main issue is that these tires are unusable in hotter conditions, so you must switch them out in the summer.

Studded snow tires offer extra traction in icy conditions. The metal studs dig into the ice, are generally the safest option when the roads are icy, and can withstand extremely harsh winter conditions. Non-studded snow tires are just as usable for winter as studded snow tires, albeit with reduced traction when ice is on the road. Not all states allow studded snow tires, and some only allow rubber studs.

Winter tire maintenance

Not all winter tires are the same. On average, electric vehicles weigh more than gas cars, increasing tire wear, specifically during winter. Choose an extra load (XL) winter tire for your EV to prevent this.

Make sure to check your winter tire tread before setting off. A great way to do this is by using a quarter; it’s time to replace the tire If you see the top of George Washington’s head. Regularly checking your tire pressure in the winter is also vital because the air is denser, which lowers pressure. 

Mustang Mach E in the snow
Image credit: Ford

All-wheel drive

Power to the car, people. The basis of all-wheel drive is that it powers all four wheels. Four-wheel drive functions similarly with a different mechanism, but the gist is that you get more traction on slippery surfaces. Winter tires will improve the safety of your vehicle in the colder months; all-wheel drive is that additional step for surviving winter.

It’s important to note the power of AWD systems is significantly reduced without winter tires. Many AWD cars will not help you escape a jam if your vehicle gets stuck, nor will it help you stop and turn since there’s no traction from the ill-equipped tires. That is not to say it is entirely useless in winter, but don’t go out and buy an AWD car if you don’t already have one; winter tires will do just fine.

However! Should you fancy the extra driven wheels, consider the viable options below. Heck, we have pictures and videos of them doing this exact kind of driving.

No winter tires — no problem

Winter is coming! But sometimes, life happens, and winter tires are not an option. Thankfully, there are alternatives to help you get by if you can’t score a set of winter rubber or all-weathers, ones that can be totally transformative and still save your skin when it gets really nasty outside. Some of your options are:

Autosock snow socks are the perfect winter traction tool for sports cars and emergencies. These textile wheel covers pull over your wheels just like a sock. Super quick, super traction!

Snow chains are metal chains that attach to your wheels. It’s a tried and true solution; you can buy these as a fixed set instead of buying them yourself. Even though these are an effective solution for winter traction, snow chains can be quite challenging to install.

Anti-skid tendons are similar to snow chains but forgo the old-school metal for plastic. You could also opt for long-cable ties as they perform the same function.

How to drive in winter

So you’ve put your winter tires on and are ready to take off in your super quiet EV. Another critical point about driving in winter is the driving part. Winter brings a significant loss of tire traction, which is the resistance between your rubber and the road. Too much resistance and you lose speed; too little, you start to slide and lose control of the vehicle.

Here are some extra winter driving tips:

  • Keep your headlights on for improved visibility and to spot black ice easily.
  • Keep your wipers elevated when parked so they don’t freeze to the glass
  •  Increase your following distance to a minimum of five seconds.
  •  Brake more gradually and accelerate gently.
  •  If you hit black ice, take your foot off the gas pedal, steer toward the spin until you regain traction, and do not slam on the brakes. If you find your EV’s brake regen to be quite aggressive, consider dialing it to a Medium or Low setting if it’s adjustable.
Hyundai Ioniq 5 N winter driving
Image credit: Hyundai

Surviving a winter emergency

Let’s discuss what you should keep in your emergency kit and what to do if you get stuck. And this goes for all of you, EV or ICE powertrains!

Don’t leave your car. The worst thing you can do is stumble into a winter storm and become stuck outside your vehicle. Run your car every ten minutes for heat, but (and here’s one for the ICE car owners we know are still reading this) crack the window for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Check for any snow that can clog your vehicle’s exhaust.

Keep a kit for emergencies. The National Weather Service recommends these items:

  • Flashlight and Extra Batteries
  •  Blankets/Sleeping Bag
  •  Extra Clothing
  •  First Aid Kit
  •  Non-perishable food like granola bars
  •  Kitty Litter for traction
  •  Snow Shovel
  •  Bottled Water
  •  Cell Phone & Charger
  •  Ice Scraper
  •  with Brush
  •  Booster Cables
  •  Flares/Triangles

Acceleramota recommends staying at home

Image credit: Toyota

The safest place during winter is your house. There are those situations where you have to venture out into the icy depths, but if you don’t need to travel, don’t go out! Winter expeditions are risky even if you take the correct precautions and drive safely. So stay inside where possible and cozy up for more Acceleramota!

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2023 BMW i4 M50 EV
EVs ExplainedFeatures

Five EV myths debunked (and five downsides to buying one)

Buying an EV might be the most talked-about subject in car ownership of the past several years. We have a whole features section dedicated to explaining the darn things. And it makes sense: Between automakers introducing new models seemingly every day, legislation pushing hard for a zero-emission future, and all corners of society weighing in across the greater internet, it’ll definitely be a high-up heading in history books that describe the early 2020s.

When it comes to how we transport ourselves around our vast planet, there’s a lot to be excited for in EV ownership, as well as growing EV ownership across the greater populace. Then, there may be some preconceived notions about EVs that should be addressed. 

But there are still some actual downsides that we certainly can’t overlook. So let’s discuss it all: here are five myths about EVs, debunked, as well as five actual downsides. Depending on how these affect your own lifestyle could either sway you towards EV ownership or keep you away. What’s most important, however, is to have the knowledge to make the right choice. Let’s get into it.

BMW i40 M50 charging
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Myth: EVs take too long to charge

Let’s start the list off with an easy one. Or, tricky one, depending on how you look at it. There are basically three charging levels that affect charging speed: Level 1 (120V), Level 2 (240V), and Level 3, also known as DC-fast charging. The higher the level, the faster the charge, and the exact charging speed varies quite a bit depending on each EV’s factory specifications—some charge at Level 2 faster than others, some make full use of a DC-fast charger’s rates while others don’t—so comparing and contrasting these on your list of potential EV purchases is important.

But let’s focus on DC-fast charging, as that’s what guarantees the quickest charging time. So far, technology’s achieved the ability to charge at as many as 350 kW, which, if fully taken advantage of, could add 200 miles of range to a modern EV in as little as 15 minutes

Key part of that claim: If fully taken advantage of—DC-fast charging is limited by the vehicle’s own charging system. If its maximum charging rate is 100 kW, that’s the ceiling—energy is flowing at less than a third of the charging station’s capability, so it’ll take longer than a quarter of an hour. We’ll discuss more about this in a future, separate post, but 100 kW is generally considered low for modern EVs as most charge at 200 kW or more. As technology progresses, the floor will rise, and we may soon reach a point where 15 minutes is considered awfully long.

Then, if 15 to 30 minutes for charging seems like a long time, it doesn’t necessarily have to have a major impact on one’s lifestyle. With new charging stations cropping up all over, it could be a matter of regaining a couple days’ worth of range while paying a visit to the grocery store or running any other normal, everyday errand.

Myth: EVs don’t have enough range to cover my daily travel

According to the Department of Transportation, most American households travel under 100 miles per day. Most EVs can go at least 200 miles in between charging, with more and more exceeding 300 miles hitting dealership lots what seems like every month—it’s easier than ever to accommodate EV ownership into one’s daily life.

If your household doesn’t have charging at home, such as in an apartment or house without the appropriate electrical service, making some changes to your daily schedule may not be that bad. Sure, anyone who doesn’t have at-home charging will be faced with an “Oh shoot, I’ve only got 20 miles of range left and need way more than that for tomorrow” type of scenario, but a little preparation could go a long way.

Image credit: Ford

Myth: EVs aren’t fun to drive

As an avowed performance driving and motorsports enthusiast, it’s indeed quite hard to beat an internal combustion engine with an entertaining torque curve and awesome soundtrack. 

But here’s the thing: Almost all EVs have their weight down low in the chassis and in between the front and rear axles, which bodes quite well for overall handling dynamics. Electric motors produce instant torque, too, so they’re inherently quite fast off the line and fun to wring out in many different scenarios. These make ripping around in EVs quite fun indeed.

Then, manufacturers are coming up with clever ways to simulate conventional drivetrains and the driving characteristics that they can achieve, such as the 2024 Audi SQ8 e-tron being driftable. Or, utilizing regen to simulate downshifts. Then, Hyundai utilizing a fake soundtrack in its Ioniq 5 N may sound cheesy, but you can’t fault the brand’s willingness to try—I bet it’s more fun than you think.

LA Auto Show Ioniq 5 N
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Myth: EV manufacturing negates the positive environmental impacts of driving an EV

This one is a little complicated, and everyone loves to quote Jeremy Clarkson’s bit about the Toyota Prius from, like, 15 years ago. And yes, modern mining and shipping practices made battery production bad. Like, really bad. From excess emissions and fumes to the copious use of water in places that, uh, didn’t quite have a lot to begin with. But technology’s made good headway since then. Only way to go is up, right?

While the manufacturing of EV components—particularly the battery—does have its own greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to factor in, the EPA details that between the lifecycle of an ICE car and an EV with at least 300 miles of battery range, the former has far higher GHG emissions.

We’ll save the geopolitical aspects of mining rare earth metals for electric motor production for another post. Generally, meaningful progress has been made in reducing these, such as manufacturers pivoting away from certain rare metals, as well as sourcing the other main ingredient, lithium, from domestic sources. Heck, one of our planet’s possibly largest lithium reserves is just a bit east of San Diego.

Image credit: Tesla

Myth: Charging EVs will put too much stress on America’s power grid

This is definitely a valid concern. But it’s important to keep in mind—once again, according to the EPA—that charging can happen at off-peak hours at home. Meaning, you’ve just gotten home for the night and plugged in your Fiat 500e to your home’s 240V service to charge overnight.

Not only that, but the EPA even sources Scientific American to say that California’s more than one million EVs account for less than one percent of the grid’s load during peak energy hours. Our nation’s energy grid is constantly being upgraded, too, so hopefully, energy blackouts will become a thing of the past if the government is smart about it (so far, it seems like it’s generally on the right track).

In short, while the details of this point can be a bit complicated, the answer is yes, EVs will be just fine on the American power grid, and industry employees are optimistic about their capabilities to ensure that.

Downside: EVs aren’t the funnest to drive

This is certainly subjective, but I know I’m not alone: EVs are fun to hoon around, but they still don’t hold a candle to an ICE vehicle. Especially if its engine is sporting some enthusiastic tuning, forced induction or not.

I won’t wax poetic too hard, but there truly is something special about the theatrical soundtrack of internal combustion in fun scenarios, such as a fun, curvy road or ripping laps on the track. Or, launching it off the line when the conditions are right. I mean, it’s one of the main reasons why I got into this industry, as well as why my list of next cars is chock-full of vivacious, big-smile-inducing sports cars.

It’s really cool that automakers are starting to synthesize some of this and integrate it into EVs, but they sure have a long way to go.

Image credit: Chevrolet

Downside: Charging infrastructure can really suck

If charging infrastructure just isn’t all that great where you live, and you aren’t able to charge at home, it may indeed be a good idea to pass on EV ownership until it improves. It’s more important to safely and reliably transport you and/or your family, get to and from work, go about your daily life, etc. than stretch your schedule and work a little too hard to make EV ownership work. It’s all about balance, and sacrificing what you deem to be too much will only make life more inconvenient in the end.

It’s tough for many folks just dealing with a lengthy commute to and from work every day. Why tack on an additional 15 minutes to an hour—assuming there’s an open, functioning charger waiting for you—when all you want to do is not be in a car anymore?

Charging infrastructure can suck in other ways, too, like broken/out-of-order chargers, inconsiderate jerks hogging charging spots when they aren’t charging, dealing with, like, twenty different charging companies’ apps, and more.

Downside: EVs are heavy

This is a byproduct of our current lithium battery technology, and it doesn’t bode well for handling, tire wear, brake wear, and our poor crumbling infrastructure. As well as our parking garages. It doesn’t help that SUVs and trucks are very much en vogue, either.

Hopefully, as battery technology progresses, this quickly becomes a thing of the past. Go, solid-state, go!

Image credit: Mercedes-Benz

Downside: EVs are still expensive

According to Kelley Blue Book by way of Cox Automotive, the average new car price is right around $48,000, which is awfully expensive. Combine that with US News and World Reports’ reporting that EVs are on average $12,000 higher in price than their ICE counterparts, and things aren’t looking great for greater EV affordability.

But thanks to various federal, state, and local tax incentives for both new and used models, the price starts to tumble a tad.

In addition to some upfront relief, technology is always evolving, and technology-heavy EVs are no exception; As new tech becomes more and more common, prices will go down. Especially when it comes to the cost of manufacturing batteries. Then, we have to keep in mind that EVs’ running costs are overall cheaper, which helps ease financial pain after any initial sticker shock.

Downside: What about OBD II?

OBD II (not ODB II, which you could say is actually YDB) stands for Onboard Diagnostics II, the standardized system used by all automakers to help troubleshoot a vehicle’s issues. Meaning, the check engine light comes on, you use an OBD II scanner to see why, and the ECU tells you a diagnostic trouble code (DTC)—or a massive list of ‘em—to help you pinpoint what’s wrong.

Currently, not all EVs possess a system like OBD II; after all, according to this story over at Ars Technica, a lot of the reason why it was originally developed was to monitor and reduce tailpipe emissions, which EVs don’t have. Still, onboard diagnostics cover a lot more than that, and a new system dubbed Advanced Clean Cars II by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will require a new standardized system for EVs, PHEVs, and hydrogen-fueled cars by 2026, which could end up being adopted at the federal level.

Pun very much intended, there are positives and negatives to battery-powered car ownership. While some may require a little (or a lot) of adaptation, one thing’s for certain: As EV technology moves forth, the myths will be more extinguished from our greater society’s psyche, and some (or all) of the downsides will no longer be downsides.

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EVs ExplainedFeatures

EVs Explained: Breaking down the five levels of autonomous driving technology

Hello again! No need for the triple-shot espresso and the phonebook-sized notepad, as today’s chapter of EVs Explained will be far more straightforward – I hope. Today’s field trip is through the ascending levels of autonomous driving and what goes into these purported self-driving cars. Let’s talk about what really defines each level of vehicle autonomy, what tech goes into them, and what examples of modern cars use such new-age technology.

Love or hate it, we’re entering a bold new world of strong independent vehicles that “don’t need no damn human,” and we’re peeking at what makes them tick. Or rather drive. 

Not so autonomous, not always electric.

Disclaimers before we kick off this first segment!

Take the use of “self-driving” and “autonomous cars” with a grain of salt, and treat them as umbrella terms. Oftentimes, such words just describe safety assists that aid in hustling you from Point A to Point B safely and conveniently. Many instances of what are considered levels of vehicle autonomy aren’t all that autonomous but more like watchful eyes, with the ratio of human-to-machine intervention shifting as we climb the ladder and add copious amounts of gadgets

Also, note that autonomous driving doesn’t solely encompass EVs. In fact, much of the tech used in self-driving cars debuted in ICE cars. But it’s becoming the more prominent medium through which automakers unveil these crown achievements because nothing says future more than everything-by-wire, spaceship noises, and range anxiety. 

Image credit: SAE International

Level 1: Driver assistance

The first stage in achieving autonomy is clearing that Level 1 hurdle, defined as semi-autonomous driver assistance that merely shares control with the driver and only to a mild extent. The electronic doo-dads exist as extra hands on deck, but you are still the ship’s captain. They’re helpers, guides, and advisors but ultimately cannot take full command. Examples include adaptive cruise control, parallel park, lane keep assist, and other useful gizmos along those lines, typically things that function off relatively basic camera and sensor-based systems.

Such gadgets have become commonplace in ordinary econoboxes over the past several years. For example, my dad’s mid-trim 2017 Toyota Tacoma had lane keep and adaptive cruise. And to be honest, they worked pretty damn well! Today, brands like Toyota and Subaru pride themselves on standard or easily available Level 1 systems like Safety Sense and Eyesight, respectively. More than a sales pitch, these systems are rapidly entering normality, now touted in just about anything, from top-shelf Mercedes and BMWs to Ford Mustangs and Subaru BRZs

Image credit: Toyota

Level 2: Partial automation

The next step sees improved competence with acceleration, steering, and braking based on integrated safety systems. Level 2 cars can follow lanes, come to complete stops, and accelerate to fairly lofty highway speeds. As such, Level 2 is informally dubbed a “hands-free” system. However, it’s important to know you shouldn’t take that literally, and company disclaimers will advise that drivers keep their hands on the wheel or at least be ready to resume control like a responsible adult. For instance, although the Acura Integra Type-S and MDX Type-S I previously sampled were not Level 2 cars, they did have self-lane-centering tech that almost felt as though the car could drive itself, but it’d always flash a warning at the driver every several seconds or so to return your hands to the wheel.

Oftentimes, these systems won’t take highway exits or traverse parking garages on your behalf, although some cars may be programmed to try some of those actions under your supervision. Many will at least initiate lane changes to pass slower traffic, which is kind of them. Helping guide Level 2 cars is a task that can call upon an assortment of visual cameras, radars, and other sensors to help navigate.

Original image credit: Storyset, Freepik

By SAE and NHTSA standards, Tesla’s Autopilot is a prime example of Level 2, as is GM Super Cruise and Ford BlueCruise. Cars such as the F-150 Lightning made BlueCruise famous following that truck’s expansive media coverage, as did the Cadillac CT6, Escalade, and Chevrolet Silverado for Super Cruise. Both Detroit-born systems have exponentially enhanced steering, braking, and adaptive cruise abilities beyond plain adaptive cruise control, arguably trumping Tesla Autopilot thanks to the added use of lidar, a.k.a. laser-based ranging, and GPS data. However, Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot (a feature of Enhanced Autopilot but not Full Self-Driving) isn’t as restricted and can be activated in many off-highway locations, far outside the reach of Ford and GM, even taking highway exits should the system find it feasible at the moment.

However, engineers place parameters to encourage driver intervention in the name of occupant safety and avoiding lawsuits. That first point is totally more important to the corporate suits, by the way. Such parameters often include geofencing and cameras that trace your head and eye positions to determine driver attentiveness. 

Or, when all else fails, they can just blame it on you. Sounds like my parents.

Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Level 3: Conditional automation

Behold the goalpost where many automakers strive to land, but only a few have hit the mark. NHTSA defines Level 3 as real self-driving, the point where the driving aid systems can take complete control of the vehicle. This fabled new height in technology expands upon the car’s newfound ability to steer, brake, and accelerate but does so across more environments and with more liberty, theoretically allowing these cars to embark on complete journeys independently. Of course, “independently” for Level 3 still means laying watchful eyes and being ready to shut down any robot-uprising nonsense.

Although many debate the true abilities of Tesla’s Full-Self Driving, I argue it could be touted as Level 3 autonomy, expanding heavily upon Autopilot. It certainly scoots from place to place, even if it has a taste for mortal blood, and tends to sail into its fellow machines from time to time. But alas, as of late December of 2023, it’s not SAE-certified as such. Being the first certified Level 3 autonomous cars in any U.S. state is an honor bestowed to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS and their Drive Pilot system, even if it’s only in limited locations.

Impressive! But once again, I iterate that automakers necessitate driver overwatch, and the mighty Three-Pointed Star is no exception, even after earning its Good Noodle Star over its peers.

Image credit: Mercedes-Benz

Level 4: High automation

Careful, Icarus. Now we’re really flying high.

NHTSA defines Level 4 as a system where the car can command all aspects of driving to a point where human intervention is not always necessitated. The overarching Achilles’ heel connecting Level 4 to Level 2 and Level 3 is that they’re all limited to operating within certain boundaries, unable to drive on all roads or in all weather conditions without human backup. A Level 4 system can be geofenced or kept from activating in certain situations akin to lower-tier systems such as Super Cruise or BlueCruise, but it stands taller with greater control and refinement.

In essence, it can do more within a larger playpen and even correct mistakes without our help instead of self-canceling. That latter point is a major differentiator and why some companies opt to dive straight into Level 4 development rather than work on Level 3.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

So those pesky Germans may have beaten Elon’s fleet to Level 3 certification. But certainly, Level 4 is in the bag. Or so they’d think. Or so anyone would think, as Level 4 stands as the next big power play, with no current production cars certified for such technology. However, there being no certified vehicles doesn’t mean they’re not testing. And with all the work automakers put in to barely attain Level 2 and Level 3 certs, they’re being quite frank in saying it’d be a while until they set anything in stone. Mercedes claims the technology is “doable” by 2030, and Hyundai is currently testing Level 4 with Ioniq 5 mules.

Technically, if we’re counting any company and not just legacy automakers, Google’s Waymo project, now partnered with Uber, operates off what’s technically Level 4 autonomy. Their vehicles have been testing and operating as robo taxis in select cities for some time, seeing their fair share of successes and disasters in the process.

Level 5: Full automation

‘Tis the king of the hill that all auto manufacturers strive for, the stuff of video game fever dreams and sci-fi movie fantasies. Queue our inner Doug DeMuro voice.

THIS… is a true, fully self-driving car. “

Level 5 is defined as full automation or, as NHTSA paraphrases, “–system drives, you ride.” Here lies uninhibited vehicle autonomy with the most liberal use of self-driving functions, intended to be the ultimate riding experience for occupants. Manual controls are redundant, and driver attention monitors are banished to irrelevancy. The lack of restrictions, such as geofencing, separates Level 5 from the overprotective mom, called Level 4. This highest tier of autonomous vehicles leaves the nest to achieve true self-driving in nearly any condition and on any road. Human intervention is no longer necessary.

As you can imagine, nothing outside of Cyberpunk or Watch Dogs is certified as Level 5 autonomous, and reaching this realm will take a great deal of testing, refinement, and failsafe after failsafe. Those sci-fi visions of cars navigating gridlock without steering wheels or pedals are utopian examples of what a Level 5 car can be, and programming such cars to properly respond to every little variable in real-world driving will be a hell of a feat. But an engineer can dream. And should technology press on at the rate it’s going, it’s not a far-fetched delusion to believe Level 5 will be within our grasp. But I’ll give it until 2077. 

Image credit: Daniel Ramirez, Wikimedia Commons

Gather our eggs into one robo taxi.

Let’s take it from the top. Or rather, the bottom.

Level 1 is just boujee driver assistance. It’s a fairly basic and common system nowadays, imbuing many new cars with helpful nannies, including parking assist, adaptive cruise, lane keeping, and more. To learn more, please pester your local Toyota salesman. No, seriously. 

Level 2 refers to additional driver assistance by way of enhanced control over acceleration, braking, and steering. Not unrestricted, but it can take a huge load off your commute when under your watch. Many major car companies have introduced or have started introducing such systems, with Tesla’s Autopilot perhaps being the most famous (or infamous) of them all.

Level 3 equates to conditional automation, meaning the car can control itself to an even greater extent. Highway traversing or some urban jaunts are a non-issue for Level 3, so long as the driver is always at the ready to take back the helm when needed. Few cars taut Level 3, and even fewer are SAE-certified for it. 

Level 4 cars can almost care for themselves within reason and operate under a fairly strict set of parameters and in select environments. As such, drivers are optional but unnecessary, but manual control is always there as a safety net. Manufacturer testers and robo-taxi companies are currently fielding such tech.

Level 5 stands as the magnum opus autonomous vehicle engineers seek to create, a fully self-driving car with no limitations as to where it can go, completely writing the driver out of the equation. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

It makes your head spin to think how far we’ve come, huh? From parking sensors to self-driving taxis parading the streets of major cities. Yes, as I’m sure you can infer by my subtle jabs, there’s no denying this is highly controversial and dangerous tech and certainly an injury lawyer’s dream come true. And sure, some manufacturers are far better at testing than others. But it’s admirable how all strive to tame this riveting new frontier, the stuff of childhood curiosity. The skepticism it sparked is well-deserved, but witnessing how this technology evolves as we lean deeper into the automotive industry’s most polarizing era incites just as much excitement.

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EVs Explained Tax Credits feature photo
EVs ExplainedFeatures

How does the EV federal tax credit work and which cars qualify now and in 2024?

Hello, and welcome back to your regular dose of EVs Explained! Many altruistic reasons exist to switch over from a gas guzzler to an electric vehicle, like keeping hush for the neighbors or allegedly doing your part to help God’s green earth and all. But today’s topic is a little more self-interested, and that’s okay. Here. Have some EV tax credits. On Uncle Sam. But what are they?

Well, hey. You know how Tesla has been raving on about how their Model 3s are now sub-30-grand cars? Well, technically, they are and they aren’t. They’re forty-grand cars that Tesla is advertising as less by factoring in potential gas savings plus a handy little pick-me-up from the feds just for opting for an electric vehicle over a baby seal-clubbing Sonata (to Tesla-stans and Hyundai fans, that’s a joke). That’s the oh-so-desirable tax credits, my friends.

That’s correct. Right now, you can get a cool chunk of cash when purchasing an EV. And in this explainer, we’ll be going over what an EV tax credit is, what you need to qualify, and how it will change looking forward. No tech lessons today. Right now, it’s all about the moolah!

Tesla Model 3 Highland Pair
Image: Tesla

Tax liability and the EV tax credit

Last summer, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was passed into law by Congress. The bill includes revisions to the credit for qualified plug-in EVs and fuel cell electric vehicles purchased from 2023 to 2032. Purchasers of this type of vehicle may now be eligible for a tax credit of up to $7,500 for new EVs and up to $4,000 for used EVs (limited to 30% of the sale price). This would lower your tax liability for whatever you qualify for up to that amount. 

It is important to note this is a nonrefundable tax credit. You need to have enough tax liability if you want to capture the full amount that the vehicle you’re purchasing is qualifying for. In layman’s terms, what that means is that you have already exceeded your allowable. You will not see any overage as a refund during the approaching tax season and you cannot apply excess credit to the following tax year.

“Wait, stop. What exactly is tax liability?”

Simply put, it’s just the total amount of money owed at the end of the tax year. If you are a general W-2 employee, every paycheck you receive from your company already has taxes taken out automatically. That goes to your tax liability throughout the year. At the end of the year, when filing your tax return, this is the time when you add in any credits and deductions that you qualify for. Once applied, that number you’ve arrived at is now your adjusted tax liability. If you paid more if you’re W-2, you get a refund. If you didn’t pay enough to cover, well, you owe the IRS money. Tax liability is the total, not the difference between what was owed and what was paid.

Phew.

Image credit: Joe Tilleli

“But Mister, can you use ‘tax credits’ in a sentence?”

So a qualifying vehicle such as a Chevy Bolt purchased today (assuming you qualify for the full amount) will let you realize $7,500 toward your tax liability come April of 2024 when you file your taxes. You will use Form 8936 when filing your federal income taxes. Conversely, if you started with a daily low tax liability and have already lowered it through other credits, such as claiming dependents, it’s possible that there isn’t enough liability left to receive the full $7,500. You only realize what you have remaining in your tax liability.

The bill allows for one credit per vehicle. You can claim a tax credit for every qualified vehicle you purchase. However, there are still income limits to be mindful of, and since your tax liability can only be so much, the tax credits you’d be eligible for will also only be so much.

Sorry. No infinite money glitch for flipping a bunch of EVs. You can’t Forza Auction House hack your way out of this one.

Chevrolet Bolt on the beach
Image: Chevrolet

What vehicles qualify?

Many new EVs are eligible for the full amount of  $7,500 though there are exceptions. It’s best to think of the tax credit in two different components — the battery requirement and the critical minerals requirement. Each is responsible for a partial credit of $3,750, each adding up to half of the new tax credit.

For the battery requirement, a certain percentage of the vehicle’s battery must be assembled or manufactured in North America. Over the next ten years when the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is in effect, the required percentage is going up for manufacturers. Those percentages are as follows:

  • 2023: 50%
  • 2024: 60%
  • 2025: 60%
  • 2026: 70%
  • 2027: 80%
  • 2028: 90%
  • 2029-2032: 100%
Lanzador at Pebble Beach
Image: Lamborghini

For the critical minerals requirement, we’re dealing with a similar story. A certain percentage (that will increase over the decade) of the minerals in the car’s battery must be extracted or processed within the United States or within a country that has a free-trade agreement with the U.S. Percentages are as follows:

  • 2023: 40%
  • 2024: 50%
  • 2025: 60%
  • 2026: 70%
  • 2027-2032: 80%

So while a vehicle like the Tesla Model 3 meets both the battery and critical minerals requirement (granting it eligibility for the full $7,500) a vehicle like the Nissan Leaf only meets the battery requirement. Thus, it is only eligible for $3,750.

A couple more stipulations exist as well such as restricting the sourcing of battery components or critical minerals from foreign countries of concern such as China. Those go into effect in 2024 and 2025, respectively. However, if you seek the tax credit amount for a specific EV vehicle, the most up-to-date information exists at fueleconomy.gov where you can look up eligible models and filter based on purchase scenario, model year, and vehicle type, among other stats like MPGe and total range.

How do you qualify?

Beyond the vehicle qualifications, you must also consider the personal qualifications. In order to qualify for the credit, the vehicle you are purchasing must be for your own use (not resale) and primarily driven in the United States.

Your tax filing status and modified adjusted gross income are also part of the picture. The following are the upper-income limits for each status:

  • $300,000 for married couples filing jointly 
  • $225,000 for heads of households
  • $150,000 for all other filers

2024 and onward

As stated in the earlier explanation, the tax credit is currently set up in which you claim the tax credit when filing your taxes. However, in 2024, a new option will allow a purchaser of a clean vehicle to transfer that credit to an eligible entity. What is an eligible entity? Well, the dealer that sold it to you.

Psst. It’s the car.

2024 Ford Lightning Platinum Black from rear angle view
Image source: Gabe Carey (Acceleramota)

This means you can fully realize the tax credit at the time of sale, turning it into an upfront discount applied toward your purchase. So if you were to purchase that Chevy Bolt in 2024, instead of paying the list price of $26,500, you could transfer that credit, getting the EV for $19,500 – provided you qualify. The option to transfer credit would be effective as of January 10, 2024.

The new system was announced Friday, October 6 , in a press release from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Within, the IRS expands on stipulations the dealer must follow (being registered with the IRS at time of sale, disclose to the taxpayer any other incentive available for the purchase of such vehicle, et cetera. et cetera.). You can find all the legal mumbo jumbo on the IRS website.

Last thoughts

With this tax credit in place, we expect to see a lot more EVs coming onto the road over the next decade. Sometimes, a little bonus is needed to push folks into going green. The tax credit is an excellent incentive for drivers to make the switch, but bear in mind that the process of qualifying and claiming said credit can be a bit overwhelming. Note that everything discussed above is meant to help demystify the EV tax credit and should not be interpreted as financial advice.

If you still have questions pertaining to your own situation, consider consulting a qualified tax professional. I’m just Joe.

This story was originally published by Joe Tilleli on 9/26/2022 and updated with new information on 10/26/2023.

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EVs ExplainedFeatures

EVs Explained: What is a kilowatt-hour, and while we’re on the subject, what is a kilowatt?

“Now presenting our brand-new (insert new EV here), with a 50-kWh battery pack and 300 kW motors,” exclaims some extravagant press release from yet another startup. While it’s quite nice of you to spill all the beans like that, I’m still left wondering what the heck some of these measurements mean, and I’m sure some of you are too.

Welcome to this blooming age in the automotive landscape, where electrified cars stand on as big a pedestal as traditional dinosaur-powered performance vehicles. So many newfangled machines. So much innovative tech. Yet, interestingly, there’s not much in the way of explanation behind some of the most basic terminology, and what few definitions do exist lie buried under mounds of glitzy press material and spec sheet drag racing.

We’ve all read the brochures and the magazine reviews, diving into the colorful world of fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids. They’ll toss around new terminology like it’s already in the common vernacular, ignoring the fact that this is still relatively fresh tech being drip-fed to the world. Therefore, many terms haven’t fully clicked in people’s minds. But hopefully, this new explainer series should clear the fog around these words that are becoming as household as “horsepower” or “miles per gallon.” 

Our inaugural lessons to kick off this series: what the heck even are “kilowatts,” how do they relate to electric cars, and how do they pair with the equally-tossed “kilowatt-hours?” Well, I’m glad I asked – and hopefully drove enough interest to entrap you here – because it’s time to get schooled in five minutes or less.

Rivian R1T Charging in the desert
Image credit: Rivian

What is a killowatt?

This frequently-spoken term is not exclusive to EVs or electricity and can trace its core components back to pretty much any of our high school science and math classes. Anyone who has ever stumbled across a German auto magazine will likely guess where this is going.

Kilowatts are merely a metric measurement of power output, just like horsepower. Plain and simple.

Renault Mitsubishi Alliance Exposed Motors
Image credit: Renault Group

A kilowatt (kW), which translates to 1,000 watts (W), is the alternate unit of measurement if you’re too cool for horsepower. If you want to click with your new friends from Frankfurt, talk about how many kilowatts the straight-six in their 1995 C36 AMG makes. There’s even a brainless, one-step formula for converting kilowatts into ponies. Simply multiply your kilowatts by 1.341. 

For instance, let’s say you stumble across aforeign auto magazine talking about how the E92 M3 GTS had a power output of 331 kW – again, metric, so 331,000 W if you wanted to break it down. Before you scroll another line down the spec sheet looking for a pre-calculated conversion, you can multiply that 331 by 1.341 to get 443.87, on par with the manufacturer-claimed 444 horsepower. 

Bingo! Easy, right?

Lucid Air Sapphire
Image credit: Lucid Motors

Shift over to electric cars. Just as horsepower has become the ubiquitous unit of power measurement for internal combustion engines, the kilowatt has achieved a similar status for electric motors and may be used to denote output before official horsepower and torque ratings are published. The methodology for translating power measurements remains unchanged from pistons and cylinders to stators and magnets. Imagine some gilded brochure for the Tesla Model S Plaid that states that its motors’ combined output equals 760 kW. Multiply that by 1.341, and bam! 1,019.16, in line with its 1,020 horsepower rating. 

Tracking? Heck yeah, you are!

But the way that kilowatts relate to EVs is only half the story. One must also understand their relation to battery packs.

What is a kilowatt-hour?

While electric motors measure power output by kilowatts, battery packs measure energy capacity by kilowatt-hours. If you’ve read this far and decided you can’t stand me, please consult this handy YouTube video below for its breakdown of what a watt hour is and how it’s calculated. However, should you despise video explainers more than my written words, then please bear with me, as there’s a bit more to it than what we’ve discussed so far.

“How battery capacity is measured and what is Wh? (Watt Hour)”

A kilowatt-hour (kWh) determines how much energy can be expended over a unit of time, which, in the context of EVs, directly relates to a vehicle’s maximum power output and range. While the kWh is now a standard unit for measuring EV battery capacity, it’s long been a common unit of measurement for energy consumption in homes and appliances.

Lucid Air Sapphire - Exposed Car Internals - Top View
Image credit: Lucid Motors

Back to the Model S Plaid, let’s say you’re flooring it down the highway at a perfectly legal speed. Your foot’s all the way down on the throttle, extracting every bit of that 760 kW output. Welp. Congrats. You’ve killed it. The car dies within seven to eight minutes or roughly 0.13 hours after starting with a full charge, as the Model S Plaid’s battery has a capacity of 100 kWh, meaning it can expel 100 kW of power over roughly an hour. 

Now, let’s switch things up and say you’re on your way home from doing Tesla owner things, such as hot yoga and overpaying for bread with avocado on it (this is satire, by the way, so relax.) You’re taking it easy and hypermiling every stretch of the way, probably only expending an average of 50 kW during your drive. You’ll likely see about two hours’ worth of use and be able to travel a significantly farther distance with that 100 kWh battery than if you were to demand maximum attack from the electric motors a majority of the time.

Humorously, if you build some Frankenstein bastard child of a project car using the Plaid motors hooked up to a base model Nissan Leaf’s 40 kWh battery and went flat out, the party would be over in less than three minutes. Do with that information as you will, project car YouTubers of the world. 

That’s perhaps the simplest way to explain its relevance to prospective consumers. Smaller battery packs with lower capacities will result in shorter overall ranges and limit how much power an EV can reasonably output, while larger battery packs flip the script, enabling longer distances and more kW of power.

Lucid Air Action Shot
Image credit: Lucid Motors

It’s why you often see the pricier, long-range variants of electric vehicles sport more powerful motor setups and longer overall ranges, thanks to their higher kWh rating. And it’s partly why some performance variants with even more powerful motors wired to the same batteries (or even slightly bigger) may have shorter ranges, as their elevated performance now demands more from the battery, in addition to other factors like stickier tires, thermal challenges, and aero changes.

“Watt do you mean it can’t charge any faster?”

Last tidbit! Before we go too deep down a rabbit hole that’d require another article, let’s discuss how kilowatts and kilowatt hours pertain to charging your EV. Yes, everyone’s least favorite part. 

Just as kilowatts measure the power coming out of your EV, kilowatts can very much be used to measure the power going back into your EV, hence why we also measure chargers’ outputs in kW.

For example, a 50 kW charger will theoretically fully replenish a 50 kWh battery from next to nada in roughly an hour. A 100 kWh “fast charger” should be able to do the deed on the same battery in approximately 30 minutes. Ever wonder how these fast chargers can get monstrous powerhouses like the Model S Plaid, Lucid Air, or Taycan Turbo S up and ready to rock in less than an hour? Because fast chargers can output anywhere between 150 to well over 300 kW.

Rivian R1S closeup
Image credit: Rivian

Note other limitations can hinder how quickly an electric car can charge, including the set kilowatts an EV can accept. For instance, the new Volvo EX30 only has a maximum charge rate of 153 kW, which is more than enough for its 64 kWh battery, but far behind the 350 kW max charge rate of a comparable Hyundai Ioniq 5.

Class dismissed… for now.

Of course, there are so many other smaller factors that feed into the performance, charging, and discharging of an electric vehicle, which we can spin into another piece. But that’s the basic jist of the relationship between the fat K-W and the new wave of electric chariots.

For now, remember that kilowatts measure the power the car uses and produces while kilowatt-hours represent the energy stored in the battery pack, which directly impacts the EV’s range and output. And to any prospective owners out there, I hope this lesson has better equipped you to shop with confidence – or at least read Euro auto mags without scratching your head at the power figures.

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