Electric Car Jargon: What you need to know

 

Do you know your PHEVs from your BEVs?

Electric cars are becoming more and more common. We’re getting ever-closer to the UK government’s target of phasing out new petrol and diesel cars (and vans!) by 2030, but we realise they’re still a relatively new concept for a lot of people.

With lots of terms, phrases and acronyms floating around the electric car space, it can be confusing; especially as not all of them are entirely relevant in the day-to-day life of electric car ownership. It’s a lot to get your head around.

So, what do you actually need to know? We’ve put together and explained some of the key things you should understand as you transition to an electric car.

Citroen e-C4 parked by a church

General electric car jargon

Here are some of the most common electric car related terms and what they mean for you. You may have come across them before, but let us break it down for you:

Term
What It Means
EV
Electric Vehicle
An umbrella term that encompasses all electric powered/electrically assisted vehicles. It's commonly associated with purely electric cars, though.
ICE
Internal Combustion Engine
The usual petrol or diesel engine you'd find in all non-electric cars.
Hybrid
N/A
Another umbrella term! 'Hybrid' cars combine an electric motor and ICE to power the vehicle. Some hybrids can run on electric power only for short periods, others always require the ICE to be running.
MHEV
Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle
A hybrid vehicle that has an electric motor which only assists the ICE (meaning you wouldn't be able to drive the car that far on electric power alone, the ICE nearly always needs to be running). These cars have slightly improved fuel efficiency figures because of the electrical assistance, but isn't an 'electric car'.
PHEV
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle
A hybrid vehicle that has an electric motor which can drive the vehicle on its own (albeit at a much shorter distance than a full EV). You can plug this vehicle in to charge, like a normal electric car.
REx
Range Extender
Not so common anymore, a 'Range Extending' electric vehicle has an onboard 'auxillary power unit' in the form of a small petrol engine usually. This only charges the electric motor and doesn't drive the wheels itself.
WLTP
Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure
The harmonised what, you say? It's not as scary as it sounds. This is just the term for the standard test that manufacturers do on their new vehicles to test their energy efficiency.
ULEZ
Ultra Low Emission Zone
City dwellers may have come across this. Mostly associated with London, although cities like Manchester and Birmingham are introducing them, the 'ULEZ' is the name for an area which has restrictions/extra costs for 'high polluting' vehicles, to reduce air pollution. Each city has different restrictions so we'd advise checking your local authority's website to see if you could benefit from a zero-emission EV.
Range
N/A
You'd be surprised how many people don't fully understand what this is actually referring to. Essentially, it's how far you'll travel depending on how much energy your vehicle has stored. I.e., with an ICE car we could say "this car will go 500 miles on a full tank of fuel", thus being it's 'range' (though we don't commonly refer to it is as this). With EVs, we say "this car has a 300 mile range", meaning it can travel 300 miles on one full charge.
Real World Range
N/A
You'll see us referring to the 'real world range' of a car on our website. This is how far the car will actually go under "real world" conditions, not estimated in a factory. Manufacturers are often optimistic with their claims; from our experience, you'd be hard pushed to get an electric car to achieve the range they say. For example, FIAT claim the 500e will do 199 miles on a single charge but, realistically, we see our subscribers doing closer to 145 miles in 'real world' driving. This will vary in summer and winter, though, with the range increasing or decreasing depending on weather conditions.

Battery & vehicle jargon

You’ve decided to go electric for your next car, it’s exciting!

But, there’s lots of new battery related electric car acronyms and phrases to learn; it can be a bit daunting. Don’t worry though, we’ll help you out. 👇

Term
What It Means
kWh
Kilowatt-hour
kWh is usually referring to the total battery capacity, much like the total fuel tank capacity in an ICE car. For example, the Vauxhall Corsa in petrol guise has a 44 litre fuel tank, whereas the Corsa-e in electric form has a 50kWh battery.
Li-ion
Lithium Ion
This is the rechargeable battery you'll find in most of your appliances at home (mobile phone and laptop for example), and now, electric cars.
Battery capacity
N/A
The battery capacity is the total amount of energy the battery your electric car can store, when it's fully charged. Think of it like the fuel tank in an ICE car: instead of saying, 'this petrol car has a 45 litre fuel tank', you'd say, 'this electric car has a 50kWh battery (or a battery capacity of 50kWh)'. However, that's not the full story... 👇
Useable capacity
N/A
Some electric cars purposefully don't let you use all the battery. This, amongst other things, is so there's always a little bit left should the onboard systems need any energy when the car is switched off or low on power. Put simply, the 'useable capacity' of a battery is the amount of energy the car can use to actually move. For example, the battery capacity of a Vauxhall Corsa-e is 50kWh, but the useable capacity is 45kWh.
Max charging speed
N/A
This is the highest rate at which your car can take on electricity (or the fastest it'll charge at any one time). In ICE cars, we've never really needed to measure how quickly the fuel gets from the pump to the car. But, in an electric car, this can be quite important in choosing what your next car should be. If you're planning to use public chargers a lot, and want to keep your journey times as short as possible, the 'max charging speed' of a car may be the deciding factor. The higher the number, the faster the car will charge - providing the charge point you're at charges up to similar rate.
mpkWh
Miles per kilowatt-hour
You could think of this as the 'miles per gallon' (or MPG) figure you might be familiar with in an ICE car. The higher the number, the more 'economical' the car is (though the maximum range also depends on how big your car's battery is). For example, a car that does 3.0 mpkWh but has a 100kWh battery pack will go further on one charge than a car which does 4.0 mpkWh but only has a 40kWh battery. Worried your car won't go far enough on one charge? Don't be, just take a look at the car's total battery capacity and take our suitability tool to see if an electric car would work for you.
100 mile efficiency
N/A
This is how many kWhs of battery energy the car uses, as an estimate (depending on your driving style and the conditions) to travel 100 miles.

Charging jargon

Here’s the scenario: the manufacturer says your car has a 90kWh battery, will charge “up to 100kW DC” and has a Type 2 charging cable. But, the charging unit you’re using only charges ‘up to 50kW’ and says “CCS” on the front. What does it all mean?

Citroen e-C4 charge port

Well, firstly you should know that there are multiple ways of charging your electric car, but it’s not as scary as it may seem.

Electric cars can come with a couple of different cables for you to charge with: the first is the 3-pin plug (which you’ll use for slow charging using a normal plug socket), the other is a Type 2 cable which you’ll use for fast or rapid chargers.

Let’s cover general charging jargon first:

What It Means
AC or DC
This is where it could get quite complicated but, thankfully, it shouldn't affect you too much day-to-day. Alternatate (AC) or Direct Current (DC) is, put simply, how electricity enters your car when charging. AC is much slower because all batteries are replenished by DC, so if you charge your car with an AC charger (like the 3-pin plug socket in your home for example), the car itself needs to convert the "alternate current" electricity to "direct current". That's why you'll see nearly all rapid chargers use DC, as the car can take the power on much quicker and without having to convert it first.
Slow charging
Slow chargers, sometimes referred to as the 'granny cable', are the (you guessed it) slowest chargers you'll find for an electric car, and typically use AC. A standard household plug charging at 2.3kW, for example, would be considered a slow charger.
Fast charging
Fast chargers are the slightly higher powered chargers that can sometimes charge up to 22kWs. A standard 7.4kW wallbox you could fit to your home would be considered a fast charger.
Rapid charging
Rapid chargers are the higher powered DC chargers you'll find at some public charging stations, like a motorway services for example. These chargers have an onboard AC to DC converter, meaning your car can take on the electricity much faster without having to convert it itself. Usually, these rapid chargers charge at 50kW-100kW.
Ultra-rapid charging
These are the meanest, baddest, fastest chargers you can get, which charge DC at 100kWs+ (usually hovering around 150kW, though some are being seen to go up to 350kW!).

When you’re out and about, there’s the public chargers to contend with. These, unlike your plug socket at home, already have the cable attached to the charger so you don’t need to plug in the one that comes with your car. You just pull up, pop the attached cable in and go about your business. 

All you need to do here is check the charger you’ve pulled up at has the right connector for your vehicle (otherwise it’d be like trying to put a US plug into a UK socket – it just wouldn’t fit).

What It Means
Type 1 & 2
This is the referring to generation of connector that comes with your electric car. Type 1 connectors were much slower (and not used in new electric cars). Type 2 is the modern, faster option, and is found fitted to most new electric cars.
CHAdeMO
One of (if not the) first 'standard' type of charge port you'd find on mainstream electric cars, mostly those from Japan (Nissan for example). They're not so common in new cars anymore as Europe/the UK favours the CCS port.
CCS
This is the most common rapid charging setup you'll find in the UK and Europe. The 'combined charging system' uses DC and comes fitted to the charge cable of pretty much every rapid charger in the UK. It's good to note that the CCS connector is an extra plug that sits underneath either the Type 1 or Type 2 connectors. Type 2 is by far the most common, though, and the one you’ll find on nearly all cars available on our subscriptions.

What do the charging connectors look like?

Great question – to break it down visually for you, here’s what the Type 1, Type 2, CHAdeMO and CCS connectors (plugs) will look like.

Generally speaking, nearly all new electric cars will come with a Type 2 cable, with a port for the faster Type 2 CCS connector too, so you don’t need to worry too much:

Type 1 electric car charging connectors
Type 2 electric car charging connectors
CHAdeMO electric car charging connectors

And that’s it! 

You’ve now got everything you need to know to start living with your electric car. Want to try one? Check out how an elmo subscription works to start your transition to electric in as little as a week. 

FAQs

Here are a few of the most common questions people ask about electric cars:

How can I see how efficient my electric car is?

You can use the mpkWh figure, similar to MPG in an ICE car, to determine how efficient your electric car is. However, it’s likely more important for you to check the vehicle’s range and max charging speed, to work out whether it would suit your lifestyle. Try out our electric car suitability tool

Where can I find public chargers that fit my car?

You could use websites and apps like Zap Map which will show you all the electric car charging points in your area. Most charging providers, like BP Pulse for example, also have their own live maps of their charge points, which give you real time updates on whether they’re available to use or not.

What happens if I get to a charger and the connector doesn't fit my car?

Like fitting a US plug into a UK socket, the charger would not fit and could damage your car’s charge port. If you’re at a charger and the connector doesn’t fit, you should use an app like Zap Map to find the nearest charger that connects with your car. 

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