How an electric vehicle works, from the wheels up

2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV

By Nicholas Yekikian

Have you ever wondered how electric vehicles like the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf actually work? We know they’re electric vehicles, of course. But understanding how something works helps you, as a buyer, leasee or subscriber able to make a more informed decision about what it is you decide to drive day in and day out.

There are dozens of ways to do an internal combustion engine, and they all work differently from one another. But electric vehicles and electric motors all work on similar principles to help create silent, emissions free transportation – and they all do it by combining a few key components.

The first is the induction motor. Essentially, an induction motor works by translating an alternating, electric current into a rotating motion. Changing the speed of the electric current that runs through the motor dictates how fast it spins – the faster the current, the faster the motor turns.

The speed of an induction motor is simple to modulate and that makes it perfect for powering an electric car. Induction motors also weigh less than internal combustion engines, work more efficiently and don’t need any other parts, like a crankshaft, to help turn their energy into forward motion.

The induction motor gets its power from the battery pack that’s nestled into floorpan of most EVs. In some cases, these battery packs are just vast collections of the AA batteries like the ones found in a TV remote. The battery cells send their power to the third major component, the inverter. Battery packs like the one in a Tesla make a direct current (DC), but induction motors function using an alternating current (AC). An inverter is used to change the DC to AC power; it can also change the speed of the frequency of the current as it gets passed from the battery cells to the motor.

Think of the inverter as the brain of an electric car. The inverter is linked to the accelerator pedal in the car and, as a result, controls how fast the car moves by sending either less or more power to the electric motor.

The advantages of an electric car far outweigh some of the drawbacks, the biggest one of which is the weight penalty paid to carry around the hefty battery cells and what has come to be known as ‘range anxiety’. Though, as cities work harder and faster to create advanced charging networks, range anxiety will soon be a think of the past. There are already hundreds of charging stations around Los Angeles and other major cities in the U.S., and many more are working on legislation to make EVs more usable than ever before.

These electric motors are more effective and efficient than their internal-combustion counterparts, all without producing any emissions. Their efficiency, simplicity and speed is why the electric motors represents the heart of the future of the automobile.

What is Borrow?
Borrow is an electric vehicle subscription company with one goal: to make driving an EV as simple and headache-free as possible. It’s the only vehicle subscription service of its kind and is bringing the future of car ownership to its customers today.