When is an electric car not an electric car?
I drive an electric car, not one of the new electric cars from a major manufacturer, but a home built electric conversion of a classic car. My 1971 Karmann Ghia is extremely well restored and catches a lot of attention, after which people notice it's also an electric car, which gives them a whole new level of appreciation for the car. Almost every time I drive this car someone will approach and start asking questions. Today's questions included one about "fuel efficiency" of the car, and when I answered this car does not take "gallons", she exclaimed "Oh, it's an all electric car like a Chevy Volt?" Ignoring the inner sigh, I mumbled "yes" and, because I was blocking traffic, drove away.
The problem is that the Chevy Volt, while an excellent car, it is not an all electric car. Technically the Volt is a plug-in hybrid, but GM muddies the waters by insisting on the phrase "extended range electric vehicle" (EREV). Enough are confused that it's worth going over the distinction between an all electric car, and a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt. The confusion is not just among the random passerby, but extends to "journalists" for some major news outlets, one of whom published an article over the weekend claiming the Prius Plug-in is an all-electric car when in fact it is a plug-in hybrid.
An all electric car (AEV) or battery electric car (BEV) has only an electric drive train, and uses batteries to store electricity. These cars of course plug into some kind of electrical outlet to recharge. My Karmann Ghia plugs into regular power outlets, or through a converter box, can charge at a J1772 charging station. In the era before manufactured electric cars were available, those of us who wanted electric cars had to build our own by converting gasoline powered cars. Manufactured electric cars include the Coda electric car, the Ford Focus Electric, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla Model S.
Generally hybrid cars combine two (or more) sorts of power systems into one vehicle. The popular hybrid cars combine either a diesel or gasoline engine, with an ingenious transmission, to an electric motor and battery pack, allowing the car to shift back and forth between electric drive power, and fossil fuel drive power. There are several variations on hybrid cars.
The normal hybrid car (HEV), like the Toyota Prius, does not allow the car owner to recharge the battery pack from the electrical grid. Every joule of energy sent to the wheels ultimately comes from burning gasoline. The hybrid drive train is there mostly to increase the efficiency of gasoline use, but does nothing to erase the need for gasoline.