Electric Vehicles 101: The Basics

We won’t blame you if the recent boom in electric vehicles (EVs) has flown under your radar. They’re so quiet rolling down the road, it’s easy to miss them. That said, EVs have become common in the last decade. In 2010, just 1,919 EVs were sold in the U.S. Only eight years later, sales rose to 233,411.  

What is an electric vehicle?  

To oversimplify, an electric vehicle is a car powered by electricity. The category is much broader than you probably realize. It includes plug-in hybrids that offer both a gasoline or diesel engine and an electric motor; conventional hybrids; and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).  

A decade ago, consumers’ options were limited when buying an EV. These days, you have dozens of options and styles to choose from.  

Conventional hybrids vs. plug-in hybrids 

Conventional hybrids use gasoline engines to keep their batteries charged as you drive, with no need to plug them in. They offer substantially better fuel economy than their nonhybrid counterparts in stop-and-go city driving, because they can recapture energy while braking.  

Plug-in hybrids have much larger batteries, which recharge as their name suggests by plugging them into a source of electricity. The ability to charge in advance enables plug-in hybrids to drive on pure electric power without burning any fuel while maintaining the ability to drive “hybrid” mode using a combination of the gas engine and the electric motor. 

How efficient are electric vehicles?  

In terms of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, EVs are often cleaner than the most efficient conventional vehicles; how clean depends on the type of motor and the source of electricity. When charged exclusively with renewable energy like Co-op Solar or wind, charging and operating an EV can be nearly emission free.  

The huge variety of EVs on the market means their efficiency varies widely, but the advantages are clear across the board. According to the National Resources Defense Council, electric motors make vehicles significantly more efficient than internal combustion engines. Nearly all electric cars now travel more than 200 miles on a full charge. EVs convert over 85% of electrical energy into mechanical energy, or motion, compared to less than 40% for a combustion engine.  

Want to understand how all that efficiency equates to money in your pocket? Use the handy cost calculator located on our EV Page—just click the savings button and enter your estimated daily driving distance to find out how much you can save.  

Earn tax credits 

In addition to the savings on fuel, a tax credit is available for the purchase of a new, qualified plug-in electric vehicle. A few of the qualifications: The vehicle must have at least five kilowatt-hours of capacity. It must use an external source of energy to recharge the battery. It must have a gross vehicle weight rating of up to 14,000 pounds, and it has to meet specified emission standards. The number of vehicles sold by the manufacturer also impacts the tax credit available.  

The minimum credit is $2,500, and you could save as much as $7,500 depending on the efficiency of your vehicle. Talk with your tax consultant to learn about the state and federal tax credits available to you. We may even have special rates and other opportunities for EV owners.  

How to charge an EV 

Plug it in. It’s that simple.  

An electric vehicle can take several hours to reach a full charge, depending on the vehicle and charger. That’s why nearly 80% of EV owners simply plug in their vehicle at home overnight, during off-peak hours. You can charge a plug-in hybrid overnight, even on a standard 110-volt household outlet. However, it’s worth investing in a wall-mounted charger. We’re always happy to answer any questions you may have charging.  

If you’re going on a long trip or running a bunch of errands, you’ll want to plan ahead for access to a fast public charger. Faster chargers can provide a full charge in under an hour, and public ones are popping up every day.  

Electric vehicles are more fun 

EVs are no longer reserved for the guy behind the counter at your local health food store who’s always ranting about climate change. They’re often endorsed by car enthusiasts for their superior performance. EVs have more torque than combustion engines. This is because electric motors use an electric current, which moves through a magnetic field and creates the force necessary to rotate the motor’s coils, allowing the car to move instantly.  

What do you think about electric vehicles?  

Are you already driving an EV? Considering one? We’ve been doing research on the best and easiest ways our members can maximize the value of their EV—like why you should charge your vehicle during off-peak hours or whether your state offers rebates on charging equipment. Visit our Electric Vehicles page for everything you need to know.