Engineering Explained: 5 reasons the electric car outperforms the gas car

Regular visitors to this space probably don’t need to be reminded of the superiority of electric cars over legacy vehicles. But if you are in need of some specifics to convince the skeptics in your life, check out this new video by Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained. Jason partnered with the electric racing championship Formula E to explain why electric cars outperform the old-fashioned kind. 


Above: Electric car design has some significant advantages over gas-powered car design (Image: Engineering Explained)

Yes, EVs cost less to run, and are better for the environment, but as Jason admits, he finds the performance advantages “more interesting,” a preference he shares with most electric car buyers. Those of us who drive electric know that EVs are more fun to drive - Jason explains five reasons why.

First, EVs produce instant peak torque, which means that you have maximum power and acceleration from the moment you step on the pedal. That’s why even a lowly LEAF can smoke almost any car off the line at a stoplight (above 30 mph, that Mustang or Corvette will leave the LEAF behind - but not a Tesla). While a gas-belching sports car may have spectacular acceleration at higher RPMs, most of us spend most of our time at low speeds in stop-and-go traffic, so having instant torque makes EVs more fun to drive in daily use.


Above: The Tesla Model S benefits from massive amounts of torque endemic to electric vehicles (Instagram: stillstroll)

The second advantage follows directly from the first: because an EV’s torque is fairly even across a large rev range, it does not need a complex transmission. Most current EVs (including Formula E racers) get by with a single-speed gearbox, which means less weight in the drivetrain, more reliability, and no pauses to shift gears.

Jason’s third point has to do with throttle response. Calibrating the throttle of an internal-combustion engine is a complex matter, but an electric vehicle can be tuned any way you like in software. “With an electric vehicle you can get exactly what you ask for with that throttle pedal, because you can choose exactly how much power you want it to deliver at any given position,” says Jason.


Above: Electric cars have advantageous throttle response (Image: Engineering Explained)

Number four on the EV hit parade is brake fade, the reduction in stopping power that occurs after repeated application of friction brakes. Especially during high-performance driving or going down a long hill, heat builds up in the braking surfaces and causes a temporary loss of braking power. EVs, which use regenerative braking, rely much less on their friction brakes, and are therefore much less susceptible to brake fade. A related advantage is that the brakes should last a lot longer, and can even be designed smaller, resulting in less unsprung mass.

Mr. Fenske’s final point has to do with batteries. EV batteries are necessarily bulky and heavy - a huge design problem if you’re adapting a legacy vehicle to electric drive, but a huge opportunity if you’re designing a native EV. If you start with the proverbial “clean sheet of paper,” you’re bound to come to the conclusion that the best place for the battery pack is the bottom of the car. Tesla’s vehicles are designed this way, as are the few other native EVs out there, including the BMW i3.


Above: Five ways electric cars beat gas-mobiles (Youtube: Engineering Explained)

“The architecture of Model S is really similar to a skateboard,” said Model S designer Franz von Holzhausen in 2011. “The floor of the vehicle is the battery pack, and the motor is between the rear wheels. Everything above that is the opportunity space.”

This is nothing less than a revolution in automotive design. It frees up loads of space for passengers and cargo, and it makes the vehicle safer by adding rigidity. It also lowers the center of gravity, which greatly improves handling. Many a reviewer has expressed amazement that such a large and heavy car as Model S corners so well, and safety testers have found it almost impossible to roll over.


Sources: Jalopnik, InsideEVs, Gizmodo