EVs 101 — Introduction to Electric Vehicles


This section provides an overview of light-duty electric vehicles. It then summarizes those areas of most concern to public officials and business managers. It draws from the Electric Vehicles pages at the US Department of Energy and other sources. DVRPC anticipates providing information on medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles as they enter the market.

Electric Vehicle Terminology

Electric vehicle terminology can be confusing, and is not always consistent in its usage. This guide is provided to help.

AEV: All-Electric Vehicle. Run only on electricity, either from a battery (BEV) or a fuel cell (FCEV).

BEV: Battery Electric Vehicle. A PEV that uses only a battery and electric motor to power the EV. Current examples include the Nissan LEAF, the Chevrolet Bolt, or any of the Tesla models.

EV: A generic term for a vehicle that gets some or all of its power from an electric motor. Sometimes used to mean PEV, BEV, AEV, FCEV, and occasionally HEV.

FCEV: Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle. An AEV that is powered by a fuel cell rather than a battery. These are not covered in this resource kit, which addresses only PEVs.

HEV: Hybrid Electric Vehicle. These vehicles do not plug in, but have a large battery on board that is charged by the vehicle’s braking. The energy stored by this battery assists the ICE in moving the car, significantly improving the gas mileage. A current example is the Toyota Prius or Honda Accord Hybrid.

ICE: Internal Combustion Engine. Traditional gasoline and diesel cars and trucks use an internal combustion engine to convert fuel to the motion that moves the vehicle. Propane or compressed natural gas is used in some ICE vehicles as well.

PEV: Plug-in Electric Vehicle. An EV that plugs in to an external source to charge an on-board battery that provides the electricity for the electric motor. Some EVs, such as trolleys, subways, trains, and trolley buses, are powered by electricity from overhead wires or a track. FCEVs are powered by a fuel cell.

PHEV: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. PHEVs use both an ICE and an electric motor with a battery that recharges by plugging into an external source. Depending on its exact configuration, the PHEV’s battery can either assist the ICE, or fully power the vehicle until the battery has been discharged, at which time the vehicle continues to operate as an HEV. Current examples include the Toyota Prius Prime and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.

Overview of Electric Vehicles

Why Electric Vehicles?

Electric vehicles (EVs) have several attributes that make them desirable for personal transportation. For the consumer, electric vehicles can be a joy to drive – they have high acceleration rates, drive smoothly, are very quiet, and can be fueled at home at a much lower cost per mile than a traditional gasoline vehicle. A traditional gasoline engine vehicle burns fuel in an internal combustion engine (ICE). ICEs produce a lot of heat and exhaust gases that contain toxic pollutants. Because of this, ICEs have systems to cool the engine and clean the exhaust gases. Because electric vehicles do not burn fuel, they stay cooler and have many fewer parts. Thus, EVs are expected to be less expensive to maintain than traditional ICE vehicles.

From a public good standpoint, EVs do not produce tailpipe emissions[1] as they do not use gasoline or any other combustible fuel. This can help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause global warming. While they are responsible for emissions associated with generating the electricity they use, these emissions are much lower than for a comparable ICE vehicle.

[1] Note that plug-in hybrids produce tailpipe emissions when their ICE is running.

How Do EVs Differ From Traditional Cars?

EVs operate pretty much like traditional gasoline vehicles except that they use electric motors, rather than a gasoline powered ICE to move the vehicle. Rather than carrying energy in the form of gasoline in a tank, an electric vehicle carries energy as electricity in a battery. The battery is charged by plugging the car into a charging point, which can be anything from a standard 120V outlet to a sophisticated, specialized, piece of electrical equipment.

From an operator’s standpoint, EVs tend to have higher acceleration, and run more quietly than gasoline powered vehicles.

What Kinds of EVs Are There?

Electric motors in vehicles can be used to fully replace an ICE or to supplement it. Vehicles fall along the entire spectrum. At one end are hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) which have a battery-powered electric motor that assists the vehicle’s ICE. Some HEVs can run a short distance on the electric motor. The battery in an HEV is recharged by 'regenerative braking', a process where the electric motor helps to slow the vehicle and serves to generate electricity to charge the battery. HEVs do not plug into the grid to charge their batteries.

Note that EVs – like all cars – cause congestion, take up parking spaces, and can hit people walking, riding bicycles, or driving. In addition, they do not pay the state and federal gasoline taxes that help pay for roads.

At the other end of the spectrum are all-electric vehicles (AEVs), which run only on electricity, either from a battery that plugs in to recharge, or a fuel cell that uses hydrogen to produce electricity. In fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen is stored on the vehicle in a tank that can be refilled.

In between are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) which have both an electric drive and ICE. PHEVs typically have a smaller battery able to handle a typical day’s drive (15-50 miles) on electricity. They then shift to gasoline when the battery is depleted.

This resource kit focuses on plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). These are electric vehicles that plug in to an external electricity source to charge an on-board battery that powers the vehicle’s motor. This includes battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).

What Do PEVs Cost to Own and Operate?

Purchase Cost

A PEV generally costs more than a comparable ICE. A battery currently costs roughly $50 per mile of range. That is, a battery for a BEV with an all-electric range of 200 miles costs roughly $10,000. Battery costs have fallen rapidly, and are expected to drop to $30 per mile of range over the next five years. Although some of this cost difference is made up in other components, BEVs currently cost $10,000 to $12,000 more than similar ICEs.[1] PHEVs also cost more than their traditional gasoline ICE counterparts as they have both an ICE and an electric drive train.

PEV prices are decreasing, the distance they can be driven between charges is increasing, and a wider selection of vehicle types is entering the market, including SUVs and pickup trucks, which in September 2019 made up 76 percent of light duty vehicle sales. Taken together, these factors are expected to increase sales of PEVs. 

[1] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/making-electric-vehicles-profitable

Operating Costs

While the cost of a gas tank for a traditional gasoline ICE is very low, the cost of a PEV’s battery is a significant portion of the vehicle's cost, particularly for BEVs. Conversely, the cost per mile of fuel used is much lower in PEVs. If gasoline costs $2.75 per gallon, and electricity costs $0.15 per kilowatt hour (kWh), the fuel cost of traveling one hundred miles on gasoline in a 25 mile per gallon car is $11, while the cost for driving using electricity is $4.25 (the typical PEV requires 29 kWh to travel 100 miles). For a driver that drives 12,000 miles per year, that amounts to an annual savings of $810. In addition, a recent Consumer Reports study found that the maintenance and repair cost for PEVs was about half that of traditional gasoline ICE vehicles, totaling to $4,600 in savings over the life of the vehicle.[1]

[1] Chris Harto. Electric Vehicle Ownership Costs: Today’s Electric Vehicles Offer Big Savings for Consumers. October 2020. Consumer Reports. Downloaded from https://advocacy.consumerreports.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/EV-Ownership-Cost-Final-Report-1.pdf

How do I Charge a PEV?

Charging a battery is fundamentally different than fueling a car with gasoline. Filling a car with gasoline takes only a matter of minutes. PEVs must plug in to charge the battery. The speed of charging depends on the type of charger used and the vehicle being charged. There are three basic categories of chargers, also called electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), based on the maximum amount of power the charger provides to the battery:[1]

  • Level 1: Provides charging through a 120 V AC plug and does not require installation of additional charging equipment. Can deliver 2 to 5 miles of range per hour of charging. Most often used in homes, but sometimes used at workplaces. Level 1 charging at home or work may be able to provide adequate charging for most commuters.
  • Level 2: Provides charging through a 240 V (for residential) or 208 V (for commercial) plug and requires installation of additional charging equipment. Level 2 can deliver 10 to 20 miles of range per hour of charging. Used in homes, workplaces, and for public charging.
  • DC Fast Charging (DCFC): Provides charging through 480 V AC input and requires highly specialized, high-powered equipment as well as special equipment in the vehicle itself. DCFC can deliver 60 to 80 miles of range in 20 minutes of charging. Used most often in public charging stations, especially along long-distance traffic corridors. The cost for DCFC generally makes it too expensive for everyday use. Note that if you think you may need to use DCFC, be sure that the vehicle you purchase has fast charging provisions installed. For some vehicles this is an option. For the 2021 Chevrolet Bolt, this option has an MSRP of $750. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles typically do not have fast charging capabilities.

Charging times range from less than 30 minutes to 20 hours or more based on the type of EVSE, as well as the type of battery, how depleted it is, and its capacity. BEVs typically have more battery capacity than PHEVs, so charging a fully depleted BEV takes longer. Most PHEV owners can easily get by with the Level 1 charger that comes with the vehicle.

Purchasing and installing a Level 2 charger costs between $1,000 and $2,000. DC Fast Charging costs much more (from $15,000 to $100,000 or more). Because most PEV charging takes place while the vehicle is parked either overnight or while at work, DCFC is not needed on a regular basis, and is rarely installed at homes or businesses (other than businesses that are intended as DCFC destinations). BEV drivers typically find that they will have enough charge in their vehicle to easily carry out their daily driving if they charge several times a week. PHEV drivers are likely to need to charge overnight in order to drive all-electric the next day. However, the ICE backup will allow them to drive even if the battery is discharged.

[1] Much of this is taken directly from from the US Department of Energy: https://www.energy.gov/eere/electricvehicles/vehicle-charging

What About Long Trips?

A full gas tank will carry the typical gasoline car 300 to 400 miles. Many BEVs sold today have a range of over 200 miles, with some over 300 miles. This is very different from the short ranges many early BEVs had. Because the typical driver drives under 30 miles per day, today’s BEV ranges are not the constraint they had been in the past. PHEVs generally have a relatively short electric range (15-50 miles with a few higher), but they are able to travel much farther with their gasoline engine, and can be refueled rapidly at any gas station.

When BEVs are driven outside of a typical daily driving pattern, for instance on long intercity drives, the driver will need to depend on shared public charging along the road at rest areas, near exits, or at their destination. The US Department of Energy maintains an online map showing the location of all publicly accessible charging stations.

In many cases, a BEV owner will have access to a gasoline car for long distance trips (either as a second vehicle or a rental). PHEV drivers will generally use gasoline for long trips that exceed their vehicle’s electric range.

What Do Public Officials And Business Managers Need To Know?

What is driving PEV Uptake?

To the Owner:

  • High acceleration rates.
  • Drive smoothly and quietly.
  • Can be fueled at home.
  • Lower cost per mile than a traditional gasoline (ICE) vehicle. 
  • Fewer moving parts—expected to be less expensive to maintain than traditional gasoline (ICE) vehicles.

To Society:

  • No tailpipe emissions from electric drive.
  • GHG emissions, including from electricity generation, are significantly lower than ICE vehicles regardless of the fuel used to generate the electricity. In the DVRPC region, vehicles running on electricity emit less than a third the GHG per mile as similar vehicles using gasoline. 
  • Criteria air pollutants are also much lower.
  • As electricity generation gets cleaner, the vehicles will also get cleaner. 

However, the convenience, ubiquity, the projected continued low price of gasoline, static federal fuel economy standards, the wider selection of models, and lower purchase price of ICE vehicles are all factors that slow the transition to electric vehicles.

In October 2020, 2.3 percent of the light duty vehicles sold in the US were PEVs.[1] This percentage has generally been on an upward trend. Forecasts for future PEV sales range widely, with some forecasting modest growth and some predicting rapid growth. The primary drivers of PEV sales are:

  1. Plug-in electric vehicle prices vs. gasoline vehicle prices
    - The gap is narrowing, but PEVs remain more expensive.
  2. The price of gasoline
    - Gasoline prices are low and are expected to remain low.
  3. The availability of a range of vehicle types
    - The range of PEV models is growing fast, particularly with the recent introduction of SUVs and pickup trucks. The availability varies, however, by state.  States that have adopted California’s zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) program, including New Jersey, generally have a greater number of PEV models for sale than states that have not, including Pennsylvania.
  4. The level of monetary and non-monetary subsidies provided to electric vehicle owners
    - Federal and state tax credits and rebates remain for many models.
    - Some states or localities offer relief from tolls, HOV lane restrictions, and parking charges for PEVs.
  5. Societal knowledge and cultural acceptance of PEVs
    - Efforts to familiarize people with PEVs have not been widely successful.  Societal knowledge has not expanded significantly over the past few years.

In sum, the growth trajectory of PEVs is uncertain. Their continued and broadened adoption is likely to depend on continued technical progress and government support.

[1] https://www.anl.gov/es/light-duty-electric-drive-vehicles-monthly-sales-updates. Accessed December 15, 2020.

National and State Programs and Policies to Support PEV Adoption

Many governments are supporting the transition to electric vehicles because of their lower air emissions per mile compared with traditional gasoline internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. The transportation sector is responsible for just under 31 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 45 percent of NOx criteria air pollutants in Greater Philadelphia. Moving to PEVs addresses both issues.

Several policies are in place to encourage PEVs. 

  • Many states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have adopted aspects of California’s low-emission vehicle (LEV) standards.
  • Some, including New Jersey, have also adopted California’s zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) program.
  • Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards encourage the production of electric vehicles.
  • Both federal and state tax policy and rebate programs subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles and vehicle charging equipment (also known as Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment or EVSE).
How Will This Resource Kit Help Public Officials and Others Prepare?

This resource kit is designed to help municipal officials prepare for PEVs by providing guidance on:

  • Determining whether PEVs might be suitable for their municipal fleet.
  • Selection and placement of charging equipment.
  • Where to find reliable information about PEVs and charging equipment.
  • The full range of costs associated with owning and operating PEVs and charging equipment.
  • Grant and rebate opportunities from states and other sources for purchasing PEVs and charging equipment.

Over time, it will be expanded to address other issues including:

  • Preparing codes, zoning, and permitting processes to ensure residents and businesses that want to install charging equipment can do so easily and safely without unnecessary expense.
  • Where to find reliable information about PEVs and charging equipment.
  • Considerations to “future proof” charging equipment investments.
  • How to make public facilities PEV-ready.
  • How to make a community welcoming to PEVs.

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