AS the world suffers from ever increasing fuel prices, there is no more need for alternatives like now. There is a lot of energy being focused in the direction of mass producing EVs. EV is the acronym for Electric Vehicle.
An EV is not a hybrid, it’s a vehicle powered entirely by electricity either via a motor-generator, a fuel cell, or a battery pack. Historically, GM first proved that a fully-electric car could be a success with their EV1, a car which ultimately was killed off by short-sightedness and political lobbying due to the greed of the industry. Now seems to be the right time for the real EVs. Following several arguments for and against the same, we have decided to revisit the EVs. Following the recent showcasing of an EV built by Uganda’s Makerere University’s Engineering Students and their lecturers; it is worth looking at a vehicle that we could easily produce and use in Africa.
Chevy Volt was supposed to be the world’s first mass-produced, family-friendly, everyman electric vehicle. It looked like it would happen too; the original idea behind the Volt was fantastic. It’s a battery-powered vehicle that can get a decent commuter range on pure battery power. At night you plug it in to recharge it, and if you start to run short on power during the daytime, a small onboard petrol engine could spin up a generator to provide recharging capability to the batteries on-the-fly. If you stayed within the electric range, the petrol engine would never come on. This is how Chevy promoted the Volt up until October 2010 when it transpired that a tiny design change had been made which turned the Volt from an EV into a petrol-electric hybrid instead. Up until that point, GM had been promoting the mantra that there was “no mechanism in the Volt to drive the wheels even if the engineers wanted to”.
It was when Motor Trend first test drove a production Volt that they discovered that the petrol engine could and did drive the wheels. Whilst there is no direct mechanical link (like a driveshaft) between the Volt’s petrol engine and the wheels, above 70mph a linkage is accomplished by meshing the power output of the engine with the power output of one of the motor-generators through the planetary gear set. Just like a Prius. No matter which way you cut it, the gas engine can now directly contribute to driving the transmission. That means it’s not an EV, it’s a hybrid.
After the Volt, the next most likely name you’ll have heard of for an EV is Tesla Motors. These guys were the first manufacturers to build a pure EV that wasn’t some joyless science experiment. Instead they took some novel design approaches to the motor, transmission and batteries and shoehorned the lot into a Lotus Elise body, creating a 2-seat roadster that people were already familiar with and making it fun to drive. It’s important to note here that Tesla did not take a Lotus Elise and convert it to be an EV, but built their own chassis and EV system and put an Elise body on top. The Roadster is, by all accounts, an amazing car to drive with sports-car handling and if you drive it with a light foot, a 250 mile range.
The Roadster is still a boutique car though - it’s not manufactured in large numbers and the cost is prohibitive for the average buyer. To combat that, Tesla are working on the Model S - a 4 seat family sedan which they hope will be what the Chevy Volt should have been - a fully electric family car for the masses.