Different Types Of Electric Cars: A Short Guide

Lotus Evija All-Electric Hypercar

Electric Cars: The Basics

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No, One Does Not Need A Degree From The IIT To Understand The Different Types Of Electric Cars.  We At e-zoomed Have Made It Easy For You To Get To Know Electric Cars Easily!

What has so far been a topic confined to a few boardrooms (mostly in international markets), electric cars have now become a discussion point with a much wider audience, to include start-ups and different types of B2B and B2C consumers.  In India, we have in the past 18 months to 24 months witnessed an increase in the profile of the electric vehicle industry, as companies jostle to take leadership in this nascent market.  Moreover, with the Government of India (GoI) firmly committed to electric vehicles, the narrative has become far more serious and immediate.  Having said that, spotting electric cars in India is not quite as easy, as in leading international EV markets like Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom, where electric cars are fast becoming mainstream.   

As we progress to 2020 and beyond, expect the ‘noise’ around EVs in India to grown significantly, as international and local electric vehicle manufacturers push ahead to get a foot in one of the largest automotive markets in the world.  In 2019, we have seen global auto companies like Kia Motors, the South Korean auto company and MG Motor, an iconic British auto marque now owned by the Chinese, enter the Indian EV market. 

Kia e-Niro Electric Car
The Kia e-Niro All-Electric Car

Despite the vast differences between mature EV markets, like Europe and the more nascent markets like India, one thing remains in striking commonality between all markets — ‘confusion’.  Consumers in most markets are yet trying to get a better understanding of EV technology and in particular the different types of electric vehicles.  To some extent the EV industry is to blame for this confusion, as terms like PHEVs, BEVs and FCEVs are not the most ‘consumer friendly’.  

Having said that, like in all fast growing nascent innovative sectors, learning new acronyms is part of the process! The key for the successful development of the Indian and global EV market is the education of consumers and also the streamlining of EV terminology.  

Basics 101


Let’s start with a fundamental road transportation concept: emissions.  The ‘focal point’ of the discussion on electric vehicles is the reduced to zero emissions from road transportation.  Traditional or conventional cars, scooters, motorbikes, buses, trucks, rickshaws etc. all use an internal combustion engine (ICE) to power the vehicle.  ICE vehicles run on either petrol or diesel. You can recognise an internal combustion engine vehicle very easily. 

Tailpipe emissions
Air Pollution From An Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)

A feature common in petrol and diesel vehicles is a ‘tailpipe’ or ‘exhaust’ hence the expression ‘tailpipe emissions’.  Petrol and diesel vehicle release harmful pollutants (particulate matter, ammonia etc.) via the tailpipe of the car, which increases air pollution and increases the risk to health.  Quite simply, the higher the level air pollution, the worse is the impact on the general health of a given population.  The current and future discussions on road transportation will pivot on the theme of emissions.  Citizens around the world, to include India, demand lower levels of air pollution, combined with the macro narrative on global warming and climate change, has created a ‘perfect storm’ that is set to challenge and replace current forms of polluting transportation.  

The core reason that electric vehicles have taken ‘center stage’ over the past few years, is due to their environmental benefits.  Electric vehicles do not pollute the same way as petrol and diesel vehicles and therefore have a more positive impact on the environment.  Indeed, an all-electric car (a type of electric car) has zero-emissions i.e. these vehicles do not release any harmful pollutants. 

For avoidance of any doubt, all electric vehicles have lower pollution compared to conventional diesel or petrol vehicles.  Hence the increased interest in battery-vehicle technology.  So bottom-line the growth in EVs is to a large extent being driven to mitigate the harmful impact of internal combustion engine vehicles. 

Densely populated India cities crammed with million of polluting vehicles, aspire for the growth of low emission road transportation.  We are already at breaking–point in regards to air pollution and it is imperative that electric vehicles become mainstream in India, otherwise, there is a real risk, that it would be to late to reverse the impact of decades of diesel and petrol pollution in our cities and villages. 

What Are The Different Types Of Electric Vehicles?

There are four main types of electric vehicles.  These include:

  • Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs)
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)
  • Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs)
  • Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs)

From the above types of electric vehicles, battery-electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles are zero-emission. Plug-in hybrids electric vehicles are ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs), while HEVs are low emission vehicles i.e. HEVs pollute more than PHEVs.  However, PHEVs pollute more than BEVs and FCEVs.  

What Is A Battery-Electric Vehicle (BEV)?

Simply put, a battery-electric vehicle is just what the name says i.e. it is a car that runs on battery and not fuel.  Maybe an example you will relate to from your childhood are the battery operated radio-control cars.  At the most basic level, a battery-electric vehicle can be described as a larger version of a battery operated radio controlled toy.  But that’s where the similarity stops. 

For a start, the EV battery is a lot more complex that AA or AAA batteries used for radio controlled toys.  EV batteries are huge and in most cases are placed beneath the entire floor of an EV.  You get the picture!  And do not confuse the car battery in a traditional petrol or diesel car to an EV battery.  It is not the same!  

EV batteries are of different types too, but the most common types currently being used are called lithium-ion batteries. More on this on a separate article.  BEVs are propelled by the electricity from the EV battery that power the electric drivetrain.  BEVs do not have a traditional fuel tank and do not use any traditional fuel like diesel or petrol.  So bottom-line the only source of power that propels a BEV is the EV battery.

However, BEVs are  also sometime referred to as a pure electric vehicle, or an all-electric vehicle or pure electric cars.  

With a BEV there is no need to go to a traditional fuelling station to refill your car as there is no petrol tank and nor is there an internal combustion engine (ICE).  Most EV drivers charge their electric car at home via a dedicated electric car home charging point.  In some ways charging an electric car is really quite as simple as using a kettle for making a cup of tea.  

BEVs are also interface via a smartphone mobile app.  You can set your car to charge via the app and also get other useful information as kilometers available, charging speeds and charging costs 

As BEVs do not release any emissions, these vehicles do not have an exhaust or tail pipe.  Indeed if you were ever unsure if an EV was a BEV, all you need to do is to walk to the rear of the car.  If no tail pipe, then it is certainly a pure electric car.  Lastly BEVs do not make any noise.  The only audible sound is a very gentle ‘star trek’ type hum as the vehicle accelerates.   

All-electric cars have been around for many decades, but only as recently in the 21st century have seen a resurgence.   One of the best-selling battery-electric vehicles, the all-electric Nissan-Leaf was first available for sale in the year 2000. Since then the Nissan Leaf has sold more than 400,000 worldwide.  

But the most famous electric cars are not the Nissan Leaf’s, despite their phenomenal success.  The all-electric cars that have inspired an entire new generation of pure EV drivers are the famed Tesla electric cars.  The California based automotive company is leading the charge in the global EV race and and has become an ‘aspirational’ lifestyle acquisition.  

The Tesla electric production cars include the Tesla Model X, the Tesla Model S and the Tesla Model 3.  Other popular pure electric cars available today in international markets include the award-winning all-electric Jaguar I-PACE, the all-electric BMWi3 and the all-electric Audi e-tron.

tesla model 3
Tesla Model 3 All-Electric Car

It is also worth noting that the popularity of all-electric cars have seen a significant increase in the past 24 months as global automotive manufacturers commit to zero-emission road transportation.  Many global manufacturers like Volkswagen (VW) and Volvo Group have committed to transforming their entire portfolio of vehicles into electric vehicles.   Also ‘fuelling’ the surge in the popularity of all-electric cars is the increased performance of EV batteries i.e. the zero-emission driving range.  We now have a number of battery-electric vehicles that will drive well over 300 kilometers on a single charge.  Battery capacities or sizes have now increased with most BEVs installed with at least 60 kWh EV battery if not larger. 

Pure electric cars available in India, include the, all-electric MG ZS SUV, the pure electric Tata Nexon SUV, the all-electric Tata Tigor sedan, the all-electric Mahindra e Verito and the all-electric Hyundai Kona SUV.

What Is A Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)?

The answer is in the word ‘hybrid’.  PHEVs used dual sources of power to propel the vehicle.  These include a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) and an EV battery.  However, the EV battery in a PHEV is much smaller than a BEV.  By way of example, a PHEV will usually have a zero-emission capability of  up to 50 kilometres, which is significantly lower than the zero-emission range of a pure electric car.  

Yes, PHEVs also have significantly smaller EV batteries.  Most PHEVs have a battery capacity of less than 20 kWh.  To a large extent, PHEVs are a stepping stone from traditional petrol or diesel cars to low emission road transportation.  PHEVs offer the familiarity of the traditional along with the new. More importantly, PHEVs address the issue of ‘range anxiety’ head-on i.e. in a PHEV if the EV battery is fully discharged, then the vehicle will simply run on the traditional ICE engine.  Of course, the advantage of a PHEV over traditional cars, is the lower emission driving profile of PHEVs.  

Mitsubishi outlander PHEV
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (credit: Mitsubishi)

With a PHEV you have to do both, refill the traditional fuel tank with petrol or diesel fuel and recharge the EV battery. Though PHEVs come in both diesel and petrol variants, the majority of PHEVs are petrol ICE engines combines with EV battery technology.  

A PHEV can be charged overnight at home just like a BEV, however, a PHEV will take a far shorter time to charge compared to a BEV, given the size of the PHEV battery in comparison to a BEV battery.  

PHEVs will still continue to have a role to play in the immediate to medium term future.  However, as EV charging infrastructure becomes more prevalent in our cities and battery performance/costs improve, the role of PHEVs will become marginal and overtime, PHEVs will be discarded to history.  As mentioned earlier, PHEVs are simply a ‘stepping stone’ from traditional petrol and diesel cars to all-electric battery-electric vehicles.  

What Is Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)?

In India, hybrid electric vehicles are not so common.  However, book an UBER in most countries in the western world and the probability of an HEV coming to pick you up is extremely high.  In fact, in cities like London, UBER drivers are synonymous with the ubiquitous Toyota Prius hybrid electric vehicle.  

Toyota Prius Hybrid
The Toyota Prius Hybrid (credit: Toyota)

A hybrid electric vehicle is also sometimes referred to as a mild hybrid vehicle.  The main difference between an HEV and a BEV/PHEV is that in a hybrid electric vehicle, a car is not ‘plugged-in’ to recharge.  An HEV also has a far smaller EV battery than a BEV and PHEV. In a mild hybrid, the EV is recharged via a process of regenerative braking i.e. a process that captures wasted energy during braking.  HEVs have lower emissions than traditional petrol and diesel cars and better mileage than traditional cars.  However, HEVs have higher emissions compared to BEVs and PHEVs. Popular models of HEVs include the Toyota Prius and the Kia Niro self-charging hybrid.

Automotive companies will continue to manufacturer HEVs for the foreseeable future, but as legislation tightens, we expect HEVs to also be discarded to history in favour of pure electric cars. 

 What Is A Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)?

We know what you are thinking.  Another confusing acronym for an aspiring EV buyer to learn! A fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), also known as fuel cell vehicle (FCV) or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, is an electric vehicle (EV). 

An FCEV, the EV is powered using a fuel cell stack, that generates electricity through a chemical process involving oxygen and compressed hydrogen. There is no internal combustion engine (ICE) in an FCEV.  An FCEV is not recharged like a BEV.  Instead, FCEV are refuelled with hydrogen just like filling up a tank of fuel in a conventional car. In both a hydrogen-fuelled car and an all-electric car, the wheels are driven by electric motors. 

Toyota Mirai Hydrogen fuelled electric vehicle
Toyota Mirai FCEV (credit: Toyota)

FCEVs have a tailpipe, unlike 100% battery electric vehicles.  However, the tailpipe in a FCEV only emits water vapour (a by-product of the process within the fuel stack) and no pollutants.  An FCEV is a zero-emission electric vehicle. 

Though some auto manufactures have launched fuel cell electrical vehicles, in general the total number of available production models are only a handful.  In international markets the following are available FCEV models:

  • Hyundai NEXO Fuel Cell 
  • Toyota Mirai 
  • Honda Clarity Fuel Cell 

Some other manufacturers like Mercedes Benz, have announced plans to introduce FCEV models.

Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are still at relatively early stages, in terms hydrogen refueling stations (HRS) infrastructure.  However, the potential for scale is exponential.  FCEVs have the advantage of long ranges and of course much quicker refuelling stops compared to recharging an EV battery. We should not expect to see FCEVs in the immediate future. 

Apart from the significant environment benefits of an FCEV have an impressive zero-emission range. For example, the Hyundai NEXO has a WLTP range of 414 miles and can certainly alienate any concerns regarding range anxiety.  While the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, that was introduced in the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, can achieve 385 miles in a 3-minutes fill-up.  Real world driving range seems closer to 300 miles for FCEVs. 


The next few years will witness a significant change in auto manufacturers model lineup, as OEMs revise strategies and budgets to compete in the fast evolving zero-emission road transportation race. 

In India, we too will see the change to zero-emission road transportation. We will first witness the change in two-wheeler and three-wheeler transportation from conventional vehicles to e-scooters, e-mopeds, e-rickshaws, e-motorcycles and e-bikes. Leading auto companies in India like TVS Motors and the Hero Group are already leading the charge to zero-emission road transportation in the two and three wheeler e-segments.  

We also have witnessed auto companies like Mahindra Electric and the Tata Group committing strongly to electric vehicles.  India will need significant development of charging infrastructure to make zero-emission driving a reality.  However, till then, we should certainly expect to see many more HEVs and PHEVs on our roads! 

While e-zoomed uses reasonable efforts to provide accurate and up-to-date information, some of the information provided is gathered from third parties and has not been independently verified by e-zoomed. While the information from the third party sources is believed to be reliable, no warranty, express or implied, is made by e-zoomed regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of any information. This disclaimer applies to both isolated and aggregate uses of this information.

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Ashvin Suri

Ashvin has been involved with the renewables, energy efficiency and infrastructure sectors since 2006. He is passionate about the transition to a low-carbon economy and electric transportation. Ashvin commenced his career in 1994, working with US investment banks in New York. Post his MBA from the London Business School (1996-1998), he continued to work in investment banking at Flemings (London) and JPMorgan (London). His roles included corporate finance advisory, M&A and capital raising. He has been involved across diverse industry sectors, to include engineering, aerospace, oil & gas, airports and automotive across Asia and Europe. In 2010, he co-founded a solar development platform, for large scale ground and roof solar projects to include, the UK, Italy, Germany and France. He has also advised on various renewable energy (wind and solar) utility scale projects working with global institutional investors and independent power producers (IPP’s) in the renewable energy sector. He has also advised in key international markets like India, to include advising large-scale industrial and automotive group in India. Ashvin has also advised Indian Energy, an IPP backed by Guggenheim (a US$ 165 billion fund). He has also advised a US$ 2 billion, Singapore based group. Ashvin has also worked in the real estate and infrastructure sector, to including working with the Matrix Group (a US$ 4 billion property group in the UK) to launch one of the first few institutional real estate funds for the Indian real estate market. The fund was successfully launched with significant institutional support from the UK/ European markets. He has also advised on water infrastructure, to include advising a Swedish clean technology company in the water sector. He has also been involved with a number of early stage ventures.

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