Electric car, or electrified car? We decode this obnoxious industry jargon
November 4, 2017 Ronan Glon
electric car or electrified car chevy bolt
2017 will go down in automotive history as the year of electrification. Car
manufacturers from all over the globe plucked the term from their collective
glossary of jargon and made it an important piece of their marketing
departments’ ever-growing armory. Companies use it to highlight their
commitment to a more sustainable future, but what does it really mean? In
short: an electrified car isn’t electric, but an electric car is
electrified. Confused? Let us explain.
The devil is in the details
Jaguar – Land Rover gave us the best definition. “Electrified is the
proverbial rectangle, while electric is the proverbial square. Not all
rectangles are squares, but all squares are rectangles,” explained Nathan
Hoyt, the company’s product communications manager.
electrified vs electric
Other car companies provided us with similar definitions. Audi pointed out
an electric car is fully electric, while an electrified car is either a
plug-in hybrid or a mild hybrid. Chevrolet notes the term “electrified”
covers “all vehicles that use electric power at varying stages,” such as
eAssist, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and extended-range electric vehicles.
Breaking it down
The term “electric car” is simple to define: it refers to a model which uses
exclusively electricity to get from point A to point B. Battery-electric
car, battery-powered car, and EV are commonly interchanged with “electric
Here’s another way to look at it: if a car has an exhaust, it’s not
Every single vehicle manufactured by Tesla is electric, and the
California-based company is unique because it has never built anything else.
There’s no such thing as a Tesla with a V8 under the hood. The list of
electric cars also includes the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Bolt, which
were both developed as EVs from the get-go.
Defining the term “electrified car” is less straight-forward because there
are several forms of electrification. Broadly speaking, electricity needs to
power more than basic accessories (such as power windows) for a drivetrain
to be considered electrified. The 12-volt battery in your Jeep Grand
Cherokee’s engine bay doesn’t allow it to claim any form of electrification.
The most basic form of electrification is the mild hybrid system, which uses
a compact electric motor to complement the gasoline- or diesel-burning
engine. Most mild hybrid systems boast a regenerative braking function which
transforms the electric motor into a generator in order to capture some of
the energy produced while braking. It’s either pumped back into the
drivetrain under acceleration, or fed to car’s electrical system. Mild
hybrid technology boosts fuel economy without adding too much cost or weight
to a car. It’s also generally easier to integrate into an existing design.
It can’t power a car on electricity alone, however.
Audi’s brand-new A8 will come standard with mild hybrid technology when it
goes on sale next year. Mercedes-Benz will soon introduce a mild hybrid
drivetrain built around its first straight-six engine in decades, and Bosch
is working on a more affordable 48-volt mild hybrid system for compact cars
like the Volkswagen Golf ...
Next up in the electrification hierarchy is the standard hybrid system.
Hybrid and mild hybrid technology are similar on paper, but the former
typically receives a more powerful electric motor and an appreciably bigger
battery pack. While gasoline or diesel still drives the wheels, electricity
provides a performance boost and improves fuel efficiency. The Toyota Prius
is the poster child of the hybrid segment; other options include the Hyundai
Ioniq and the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.
Sometimes called PHEVs, plug-in hybrid cars also qualify as electrified.
They’re capable of driving on electricity alone for short distances thanks
to an even bigger battery pack that drivers can top up by plugging in at
home or at a charging station. They’re a great compromise between
non-electrified and electric cars because they offer the driving range and
ease of use of a standard vehicle, yet they’re capable of zero-emissions
driving when needed. The Mercedes-Benz C350e, the BMW 330e, the Toyota Prius
Prime, the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, and any Volvo with a T8 emblem on the trunk
lid are examples of plug-in hybrid cars. Expect to see more of them in the
coming years as emissions regulations get stricter.
Expect to see more plug-in hybrid cars in the coming years as emissions
regulations get stricter.
The term “range-extended electric car” is highly misleading; they’re
electrified, not electric. Take the Chevrolet Volt, for example. Electricity
spins the front wheels, but a 150-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine
comes to the rescue when the battery pack runs low. Another example is the
BMW i3. The standard model is electric, but ordering the optional
two-cylinder range extender demotes it to electrified status, even if
burning gasoline doesn’t directly turn the wheels. Here’s another way to
look at it: if a car has an exhaust, it’s not electric.
When Volvo announced plans to build only electrified cars starting in 2019,
it wasn’t promising the death of the internal combustion engine and a lineup
of battery-powered cars. It was merely saying every car introduced from 2019
will have an electric motor. Some models will be fully electric, but most
will continue to use a three- or four-cylinder engine. Realistically,
internal combustion technology will play a sizable role in transportation
for decades to come.
What about fuel cells? ...
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