Are all electric cars automatic?

 

The electric car industry is booming. In March 2022 alone, over 39,000 BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) were registered in the UK, the highest recorded in a single month. And latest figures show that more than 1 in 5 cars registered are now electric. As the interest and adoption continues to grow at a rapid pace, so do questions raised about them.

A common one that often crops up is ‘are all electric cars automatic? ’.

The answer is simple – yes, most of them!

Engineers have been able to modify how electric cars drive because of how an electric motor works.

Most electric cars are automatic because they run off a single speed system or gear. They produce their power instantly – going forwards or backwards at the touch of a button.

In a manual ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) vehicle, they generate peak power when rotating the engine at a certain speed – that’s the RPM you’ll see on your dashboard. Spin the engine too slow and you won’t move very far, spin too quickly and it will break. That’s why combustion engines require a gear box to keep your engine at an optimum RPM.

Electric car drivetrains don’t require this optimisation and have constant power regardless of the rotation speed. So, there’s no need to change gears and you also don’t need a clutch.

There are a few rare occasions where manufacturers have produced EVs with more than one gear. This is either to mimic ‘normal’ driving, or to improve efficiency. One example of this is the Porsche Taycan. The Taycan has two-speed transmission to help improve acceleration and efficiency at higher speeds

Woman driving an automatic electric car

Do electric cars have a clutch?

Another key difference between ICE and electric cars is that there is no need for a clutch. Because electric cars don’t have an engine or gearbox, there’s no need to disengage anything from the transmission. Electric motors are powered instantly through their ‘single speed’ system, so no need for a clutch. Electric motors are powered instantly.

Do electric cars have gearboxes?

Because they don’t have a clutch, electric cars also don’t need a gearbox or gears. Many electric cars do have drive selectors however, which include Drive, Reverse, Neutral and Park.

Many electric cars also have different modes, such as ‘Normal’ and ‘Eco’ or ‘Regenerative mode’.

Eco mode usually helps to reserve battery power by limiting certain functions such as speed, air conditioning and acceleration (depending on your EV of choice). It often also activates regenerative breaking, whereby kinetic energy from braking is captured and charges the battery pack.

Some electric cars have a regenerative braking mode which increases the speed of deceleration, so drivers rely less on the brakes. It is especially useful when descending on steep grades where brake pads can be susceptible to overheating and failure.

Renault ZOE drive selector

What are the advantages of automatic electric cars?

Automatic cars, and in particular automatic electric cars have many benefits over manual vehicles.

  • Easier to drive

They are easier to drive – since you don’t need to think about changing gears, you can focus your attention on the road, your speed, and any potential hazards.

There are also only two pedals required – the accelerator and brake pedal. Which makes EVs potentially beneficial for drivers with a disability or limited mobility.

  • Fewer moving parts

Few moving parts means there are often less maintenance and repairs to carry out. There’s no clutch to replace for example.

  • Instant acceleration

Due to the single gear – electric vehicles accelerate instantly and far quicker than ICE vehicles off the line, making it ideal for city driving. Power is delivered instantly to the wheels without the need to change gear.

FAQs

Can electric cars stall?

It’s impossible for an electric car to stall because they are single speed and don’t have a clutch.

Do I need an automatic license to drive an EV?

No! You can drive an electric car with an automatic or manual license. The first time you drive an automatic can feel strange, but you quickly get used to it and most find them easier to drive.

Are hybrid cars automatic?

Like electric vehicles, most hybrid plug ins are also often automatic. That’s because there is no benefit for a manual transmission in conjunction with an electric motor which doesn’t require any manual changes.

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