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Types of Electric Vehicles


There are now four types of electric cars: battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), conventional hybrids and hydrogen fuel-cell powered. While each has its advantages and disadvantages, all save on fuel and emit fewer greenhouse gases.

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

A battery electric vehicle (BEV) runs entirely on a battery and electric drive train, without a conventional internal combustion engine. These vehicles must be plugged into an external source of electricity to recharge their batteries. Like all electric vehicles, BEVs can also recharge their batteries through regenerative braking. In this process, the vehicle’s electric motor assists in slowing the vehicle and recovers some of the energy normally converted to heat by the brakes.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) run mostly on batteries that are recharged by plugging into the power grid. They are also equipped with an internal combustion engine that can recharge the battery and/or to replace the electric drive train when the battery is low and more power is required. Because PHEVs can be recharges on the public network, they are often cheaper to run than tradition hybrids though the amount of savings depend on the distance driven on the electric motor alone.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

HEVs on the road today have two complementary drive systems: a gasoline engine and fuel tank and an electric motor, battery and controls. The engine and the motor can simultaneously turn the transmission, which powers the wheels. HEVs cannot be recharged from the power grid. Their energy comes entirely from gasoline and regenerative braking.

Fuel-cell Electric Vehicles

The fuel-cell is another type of electric vehicle expected to be widespread on the market in the next few years. Since February 12, 2015, the fuel-cell Tucson is now for sale in the Vancouver area, making Hyundai the first OEM to market a fuel-cell vehicle. Toyota is slated to follow suit in September 2015 with its Mirai. The date this model will be sold on the Canadian market has yet to be announced

Instead of storing and releasing energy like a battery, fuel-cell electric vehicles create electricity from hydrogen and oxygen. Because of these vehicles’ efficiency and water-only emissions, some experts consider these cars to be the best electric vehicles, even though they are still in development phases. However, fuel-cell technology is not yet problem free. Extracting hydrogen from a water molecule is an energy-intensive process that generates greenhouse gas emissions if renewable energies are not used. The transportation and infrastructure required to bring this fuel to stations must also be taken into account, though for now there are but two hydrogen fuel stations in Canada. 

You can find more information on fuel-cell electric vehicles here (page 35).



BEVs are powered by electricity from an external source (usually the public power grid) and stored in onboard batteries that turn the vehicle’s wheels using one or more electric motors. Regenerative braking also helps to recharge the batteries when BEVs are being driven. The initial purchase price of BEVs is significantly higher than similar gas-powered vehicles, even with government incentives (if offered in your province). However, many experts believe that, as with hybrid electric vehicles, increased consumer demand will result in lowered cost in the near future. These vehicles offer consumers not only the opportunity to cut down their CO2 emissions but also to save greatly on fuel and maintenance costs.

Nissan Leaf


Although the benefits are clear, there are also practical considerations for consumers thinking about purchasing a BEV.

  • Current BEVs tend to have a potential range between 140 and 180km, compared with 500 km or more between fill-ups for most conventional cars. However, for most consumers, that range is well within their current commute range, making BEVs a viable – and more fuel efficient – option as a commuter car. The average Canadian commutes approximately 30 kilometers per day.
  • BEV batteries can typically be re-charged overnight in a regular household (120V) outlet, or even faster using a 240V outlet (similar to the  type of outlet domestic clothes dryers use). The cost of installing a 240V outlet is estimated to be between $200 and $400. Many EV owners also purchase a charging station for their home, which ranges in price from $600-1200.
  •  400-volt rapid charging stations are now available in many strategic locations. A vehicle equipped with a CHAdeMO or COMBO connector can be 80% charged in under 30 minutes.
  • More and more recharging stations are being built to accommodate BEVs, although the network does not yet provide complete coverage across Canada and the United States.
  • The cost of recharging a BEV is similar to the cost of heating a 40 gallon water tank. To find out the cost of charging a BEV where you live, click here.

What are the Prospects for BEVs?

Because they do not directly consume any petroleum fuel and do not produce any emissions from the vehicles themselves, there is strong government support for the development and sale of BEVs, including incentives to consumers for their purchase. As a result, development of BEV technology is proceeding at an unprecedented pace around the world. Recently improved batteries should provide an increased autonomy of 300-400 km per charge.

Given the resources devoted to BEV development, it is likely that these vehicles will become attractive alternatives in the near future for many consumers, with purchase costs in keeping with similar fossil-fuelled vehicles.

Some of the BEVs available in Canada are listed here with links to their commercial websites.



The most commonly known type of electric vehicles are hybrids. These vehicles use two or more forms of power generation and energy storage: an internal combustion engine running on gasoline or diesel fuel and one or more electric motors and battery storage. These systems can work in combination or independently. “Hybrid” is a catch-all term encompassing all forms of vehicles with two or more different propulsion systems.

More detailed information on different hybrid technologies can be found here (page 10).

Those vehicles commonly known as hybrids (HEVs) have two complementary drive systems: a gasoline engine and fuel tank and an electric motor, battery and controls. Both the engine and the electric motor can turn the transmission at the same time, and the transmission then turns the wheels. These HEVs cannot be recharged from the electricity grid. Typically, the electric motor can also function as a generator, driven by the engine, to help recharge the batteries when electric power is not needed for driving the vehicle. Power is further supplied to the batteries, as with all electric vehicles, through the regenerative braking process. As soon as the driver accelerates moderately, running entirely on the electric motor lasts rarely more than 5-10 km.

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) run on batteries and an electric drive train but also have the support of an internal combustion engine that may be used to recharge the vehicle’s battery and/or to replace the electric drive train when the battery is low and more power is required. Because PHEVs use electricity from the power grid, consumers save more money than they would with a traditional hybrid vehicle, although the potential fuel-economy offered by a plug-in hybrid depends on the length of the trip between recharges. If the distance traveled before recharging is always less than the vehicle’s range in electric-only mode, the car would never have to be refueled with conventional fuel. Autonomy can vary between 10 and 35 km in entirely electric mode.

Extended-range electric vehicles run on an electric system, but are also equipped with an internal combustion motor that can recharge the battery when needed. This engine can also take over or add power when the battery becomes weak. In general, since hybrid rechargeable vehicles can be charged by plugging into the public network, they are cheaper to run than traditional hybrid vehicles.

Chevrolet Volt


  • Since these vehicles’ batteries are smaller than those of an entirely electric vehicle, charging time is less. These vehicles can be recharged every 3-7 hours at 240 volts but cannot use 400-volt rapid charging points.

  •  Although extended-range hybrids do not offer the same fuel economy as BEVs, they do offer significantly improved fuel economy over vehicles equipped with just an electric motor.
  •  The prices of extended-range electric vehicle are comparable to those of electric vehicles.

What are the Prospects for HEVs and PHEVs?

HEVs and PHEVs currently have an advantage over BEVs because consumers are comfortable with internal combustion engines, and because their purchase costs are comparable to similar vehicles operating on internal combustion alone.

HEVs and PHEVs also offer readily available fuel for long distance driving, and have a significantly increased range compared to BEVs.

For the time being, HEVs and PHEVs, to a lesser degree, lead the electric vehicle market. Once purchase costs of BEVs resemble gas- or diesel-fuelled vehicles and their ranges are extended, consumers may prefer BEVs for their increased fuel savings and lessened environmental impact.

Some of the HEVs and PHEVs available in Canada are listed here,with links to their commercial websites.



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