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Ready to plug into an electric car?

Imagine driving past petrol pumps day after day and never stopping. At night you recharge your car at home. This is not just a dream anymore. If you are one of the thousands of owners of an electric car, this is an everyday occurrence.

An electric vehicle, or EV, is propelled by one or more electric motors, making use of electrical energy that is stored in batteries. It is also sometimes referred to as a BEV, a battery electrical vehicle, as it has a battery pack on board. An electric car is specifically a car for road use. It looks exactly like a traditional petrol-propelled car and most handle in the same way.

Electric cars have been around since the 1890s but petrol cars became much more efficient, longer-ranging and faster and the idea was shelved. In the 1980s, the petrol price rise prompted a temporary renewed interest in electric vehicles. But it is only once it became certain that fossil fuels are running out and that pollution is becoming a serious problem that companies started designing and testing electric cars in earnest.

Advantages of Electric Vehicles

There are many advantages to cars run on battery power. They create far less pollution than petrol-powered cars, so are environmentally friendly or "green". The reduction in greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide could be as much as 40%. Even taking into consideration emissions at the manufacturing plants where the cars and batteries are made, these vehicles make sense. Their use means that the air in cities will be far cleaner, especially in industrialised countries and much healthier for people. More importantly, they do not burn fossil fuels. This means that the country's economy is no longer dependent on expensive imports from oil-rich countries or on the fluctuating prices of this oil.

Electric vehicles are much quieter than traditional petrol-powered vehicles, thus reducing noise pollution. The downside of this is that visually impaired people, who rely on the sound of approaching vehicles, often cannot hear an electric vehicle approaching. Some manufacturers have now designed electric cars that have a louder sound so they can be heard further away.

Gearless or single-gear electric motors eliminate the need for gear changes and are therefore much smoother when they accelerate. They have much higher torque than internal-combustion cars and therefore have good acceleration – some models are even comparable to, or faster than, traditional petrol cars.

Electric cars are generally much heavier than traditional cars, because of the weight of the battery packs. But this makes them safer - a heavier car sustains less damage in a collision than a lighter car and gives the occupants more protection. This could mean lower premiums for insurance.

Petrol or diesel engines are much less efficient at making use of available energy than electric vehicles. These are up to four times more efficient because much of the energy of an internal-combustion engine is lost as heat. An electric vehicle also makes use of regenerative braking - much of the energy produced during braking is recaptured and stored for reuse.

Most electric vehicles have a range of about 200 to 300 kilometres before the batteries need to be recharged, They are therefore more suitable for driving in cities and less so for long-distance travel. More and more countries are erecting recharging docks in their major cities, where the electricity is sometimes free of charge. Many governments are also paying incentive subsidies to encourage consumers to buy electric cars.

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