Hybrid & Electric Car Leasing Hub
If you're wanting to find out more about leasing an electric car, or have questions around charging, our comprehensive guides have everything you need to know.
Are All Electric Cars Automatic?
Electric cars, also known as Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), are rapidly gaining traction in the UK. Significant financial savings on fuel and road tax, combined with environmental benefits, advances in battery technology and improved charging infrastructure, mean there are now around 850,000 all-electric cars on British roads, along with an additional 530,000 Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs).
Unlike cars powered by traditional internal combustion engines (ICEs), electric cars have zero tailpipe emissions. This is thanks to the electric motor, which also eliminates the need for gears.
Want to know more about what’s under the hood of EVs? In this article. We'll take a closer look at EVs and their transmission systems, answering frequently asked questions like “why do electric cars only have one gear?” and “are all hybrid cars automatic?”.
Do electric cars have gears?
Instead of an internal combustion engine, EVs are powered by an electric motor. A battery is used to power the motor and propel the vehicle. The technology eliminates the need for a multi-speed gearbox and means most EVs operate using a single-speed transmission.
Also known as a direct-drive system, single-speed transmissions use only one gear ratio. This allows EVs to operate at a wide range of speeds without switching gears.
Why do electric cars only have one gear?
Single-speed transmissions offer a unique set of benefits for EVs. This is why most EV manufacturers choose automatic transmissions over traditional internal combustion engines. We take a close look at some of the benefits below:
Complements the torque characteristics of electric motors
Electric motors have unique torque characteristics and can generate a high level of rotational force almost instantaneously. This torque can be maintained across a wide range of speeds, which allows EVs to run efficiently on a single gear.
What is torque? For EVs, torque describes the rotational force generated by the electric motor. It’s an important performance metric used to determine how capable the car is when it comes to accelerating.
Unlike internal combustion engines which need to build up speed and power, electric motors deliver instant torque. This makes EVs especially suited for urban driving, where speed and responsiveness can make a big difference. Electric motors also offer excellent torque at low speeds, another feature that makes electric car leasing well-suited for city drivers.
Of course, EVs aren’t just for the city. The latest models like the Mercedes EQS boast an impressive all-electric range of more than 450 miles, making them more than capable of tackling road trips, long commutes and motorway driving.
Simple, lightweight design
Multi-speed gearboxes are complex and feature a lot of moving parts. In contrast, single-speed transmissions are far simpler and complement the streamlined look and feel of electric motors making maintenance much more simple.
Single-speed transmissions are also significantly lighter than multi-speed gearboxes. This reduces the overall weight of the car and helps maximise power, range and efficiency in EVs.
EVs are coveted for their smooth acceleration. This is largely thanks to the use of single-speed transmissions, which eliminate the need for clunky gear changes and ensure power delivery is smooth and constant.
Lack of friction and moving parts means single-speed transmissions don’t suffer the same energy loss characteristics as multi-speed gearboxes. This makes them a great solution for EVs, where maximising range and efficiency is a top priority.
Single-speed transmissions have fewer moving parts than multi-speed gearboxes. This translates to reduced wear and tear on the transmission and lower maintenance costs for EV owners. For example, EVs with single-speed transmissions don’t face issues like burnt-out clutches.
Supports regenerative braking
Many electric cars use regenerative braking technology to capture energy and direct it back to electric car batteries. The process can be far more efficient when used with a single-speed transmission.
Coordination between the electric motor and braking system is simplified, which maximises the amount of energy captured and helps to recharge electric car batteries at a faster rate.
Are there any electric manual cars?
Most electric cars feature automatic transmissions, for the reasons listed above. There are a few exceptions, though in general manual electric cars are rare and not mass-produced.
So why are electric manual cars so rare? There are a few different reasons, which we explore in more detail below:
- EVs are designed with simplicity in mind. Automatic transmissions align with this philosophy and keep the mechanical components of electric cars as simple as possible. This minimises the overall weight of EVs and keeps maintenance straightforward
- Electric engines deliver instant torque, which eliminates the need for manual transmissions designed to slowly build up power and speed. Instead, automatic transmissions keep acceleration smooth across a wide range of speeds
- Energy loss associated with manual transmissions makes the technology unsuitable for EVs. Range is front of mind for EV engineers and anything that compromises performance is vetoed during the design process. The mechanical simplicity of single-speed gearboxes makes them a much better option for EVs
What are the benefits of automatic cars?
Automatic transmissions aren’t just popular in EVs. They’re also widely used in petrol and diesel vehicles.
Here’s a look at some of the advantages automatic transmissions offer over manual gearboxes:
Great for city driving
Automatic cars are simple and easy to operate. Drivers don’t need to manually shift gears, making automatic cars ideal for city driving.
For commuters facing heavy traffic and ‘stop-and-go’ conditions, automatic cars can be a much better option.
Gear shifts in cars with automatic transmissions are smooth and seamless. This translates to a more comfortable experience in the cabin, for both drivers and passengers.
Reduced driver fatigue
Manually changing gears can increase driver fatigue, especially during long journeys and when traffic slows to a crawl.
Instead of constantly shifting gears, cars with automatic transmissions allow drivers to focus on the road. This can make automatic cars a much safer choice.
Support nervous drivers
Many British motorists suffer from driving anxiety. Some cases are mild and others are more serious.
Cars with automatic transmissions can be an easy way to streamline the driving experience and make getting behind the wheel as stress-free as possible. Instead of worrying about gear changes, nervous drivers are free to focus exclusively on the road and driving conditions.
While manual gearboxes are popular across Europe, they’re less common in countries like Canada and the United States, as well as other parts of the world. There’s virtually zero learning curve for cars with automatic transmissions – simply accelerate, steer and brake.
This makes automatic transmissions popular with auto manufacturers looking to appeal to a global audience.
Do automatic cars have a clutch?
Unlike cars with manual transmissions, automatic vehicles aren’t equipped with a clutch. Instead, a torque converter is used to transfer power between the engine and transmission.
The torque converter can seamlessly engage and disengage power generated from the engine, which allows the car to smoothly transition through speeds without jerking or stalling. In place of a manual clutch, a hydraulic system operated by an internal computer is used to control the torque converter and manage gear changes.
Are hybrid cars automatic?
Like EVs, hybrid cars typically use automatic transmissions. This helps coordinate the dual power sources – the internal combustion engine and the electric motor.
The use of an automatic transmission allows hybrid cars to switch seamlessly between all-electric mode, ICE mode and dual-power mode, depending on factors like battery charge, availability of petrol, road conditions and driver preferences. Automatic transmissions also support regenerative braking, a process that harnesses energy created during braking and directs it back to electric car batteries.
Is an electric car right for me?
Ultimately, whether electric car leasing is right for you will depend on factors like your personal preferences and driving habits. Many motorists love the environmental and financial benefits of EVs while others prefer the familiarity of cars with internal combustion engines.
Whatever your preferences, personalised finance from Leasing Options can help get you behind the wheel of your dream car faster.
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