Are Electric Cars Manual or Automatic?
Currently, around 1% of the vehicles on UK roads are electric. However, this number is expected to rise significantly as we move towards banning new vehicles that run on fossil fuels by 2035. That means in less than two decades, driving electric vehicles will be the norm.
But for now, you may not understand how an electric vehicle works, whether it has gears and if you can choose from an automatic or manual gearbox. Read on to find out more about how electric vehicles work.
The rise of electric vehicles
While electric cars currently account for a small proportion of overall car sales in the UK, growth rates are high, and investors are flocking to forward-thinking brands in this space. Since the beginning of the year, the electric car company Tesla’s stock has soared by over 100%, with the company beating expectations and recording a 46% year-on-year increase in deliveries of its Model 3 vehicles.
The 2035 deadline has hastened the need for automotive giants to design and launch cars with alternative fuel sources. Not only that, but there are planned installments of charging points across the UK to increase the ease of using an electric vehicle.
Electric vehicles play an important role in meeting global goals on climate change. Although they don’t produce any emissions, they do run on electricity that is, in large part, still produced from fossil fuels around the world. As the UK produces more electricity from renewable sources, the environmental impact of electric cars will reduce even further.
Are electric cars automatic?
Driving an electric car does require a degree of adjustment if you’re used to a petrol or diesel model. As soon as you slip into the driver’s seat, you may notice that electric cars don’t have a traditional gear style leaver or selector...
Most electric cars are automatic, which means there’s no clutch and no possibility of stalling like a manual vehicle. A manual vehicle requires a clutch to be pressed when coming to a complete stop to prevent the engine from stalling. However, with an automatic, the car changes gears automatically as you accelerate or slow down. That said, there is one further difference with electric automatics…
Do electric cars have gears?
Even if you’re familiar with automatic cars, you may be surprised to find that electric cars don’t even shift through the gears as they accelerate and slow down. It’s just a smooth, linear drive from cruising speeds to a standstill. Because electric vehicles don’t have a clutch or a gearbox with different speeds like a conventional diesel or petrol vehicle, they get away with only a single gear (drive) and a reverse.
The main reason why electric cars don’t have a manual gearbox is simply that they don’t need one. Electric motors have 100% torque, whatever the power. Put simply, the faster the electric motor spins, the faster the wheels are spinning. That contrasts with a combustion engine, which reaches peak torque at a certain point in the rev range and requires gearing to compensate for the lack of torque.
An electric car can achieve higher revs than a standard combustion engine, around 20,000 revs per minute (rpm), whereas a conventional car reaches around 4,000 – 6,000 rpm. Because of this, electric vehicles can change speeds easily without the need to adjust gears to keep the engine happy. That allows for much faster acceleration. The Tesla Model S, for example, can do 0–60 mph in just 3.2 seconds, making it a family saloon that’s faster to accelerate than most sportscars.
While almost all electric cars are automatic, the industry is aware that there are some drivers still very attached to their manual transmissions. In 2019, Ford showcased a one-off electric version of its famous Mustang with a six-speed manual gearbox. There isn’t a clear reason why an electric car can’t have a manual transmission, so this could be a sign of things to come.
Electric vehicles also have the ability to top up the battery charge level by the means of regenerative braking. The electric motor spins in one direction to propel the vehicle forwards. When the driver needs to slow down or brake, rather than using the brakes to slow the vehicle down, the electric motor is used to slow the vehicle, by switching its direction of spinning. The forward motion of the vehicle (kinetic energy) fights against the motor’s resistance, turning it into a dynamo and creating power.
This system has been used in F1 and Endurance Racing for a number of years, and slowly trickled down to consumer use. The level of regeneration is selectable on some vehicles, from being very mild, where the brake pedal is still used, to a more complete regenerative one-pedal driving experience. For the latter, drivers only need to touch the brake pedal in emergencies
How does an electric car battery work?
The technology for car batteries is constantly changing as manufacturers look for new and inventive ways to extend the life of charge time. Currently, electric vehicles use electricity stored in a battery pack to power an electric motor which turns the wheels. When depleted, the batteries must be recharged using grid electricity, from a wall socket or a dedicated charging unit for example.
As well as electric cars, there is a range of hybrids that run off a combination of electricity and fuel. The dominant battery found in both electric and hybrid vehicles is lithium-ion, manufactured in China, Japan, and South Korea. However, these can also be modified with NMC cathodes – combining nickel, manganese, and cobalt – which were commercialised in 2008.
While NMC batteries offer lower energy density than a standard lithium-ion battery, they have a high-current boost on acceleration, improved driving range and are much safer with a low self-heating rate. With that in mind, it’s no surprise they have become the most popular battery type for electric car manufacturers, including Kia, Hyundai, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.