What are cheap electric cars? Cheap electric cars are almost the same as normal electric cars, but built to a lower price mainly due the the much more affordable battery and motor system. They have necessarily to keep the overall weight down for the fact that a smaller motor and battery pack are used, but generally, the cars are excellent value for money.
Recently I was asking a question on an electric car forum where a guy interrupted to make his point known about cheap cars. His comment showed a complete lack of knowledge about something of which he had a predefined idea and wasn’t going to be moved on it. He stated quite clearly that cheap electric cars were plastic bodies on a golf cart, with poor brakes, and were completely unsafe.
So what are cheap electric cars?
My answer to him appears to have completely blown his little world apart. You see my little car is about the same size as a small car of any other manufacture – in the region of 13 feet in length. The body is a complete steel monocoque shell as are the bodies of mainstream manufacturers with the front panel in plastic as is usual on all cars now.
Power-assisted disc brakes are fitted at the front and drums at the rear with a vacuum servo and a dual circuit isolating the front and rear systems, the whole thing being powered by an electric vacuum pump under the hood. The steering is also power-assisted by an electric system and the car is fitted with air conditioning, electric windows front and rear, and central locking.
Generally, given normal road conditions, my car will drive for around 120km before needing to be recharged. However, there is a generator and fuel tank fitted under the hood which provides electric power to recharge the batteries if a longer distance is contemplated. So long as fuel is in the petrol tank, the batteries will not die. The generator can be switched manually or set to automatic, in which case the generator will start, and begin to recharge the batteries when they reach somewhere around 70%. I have reclining front seats, fold-down rear seats, five doors, alloy wheels, an excellent lighting package, an opening roof panel, a radio with a rearview camera for reversing, and an MP4 player for entertainment.
It was interesting that after his tirade and my response, he disappeared from the forum.
What do you not get for your money?
There are limitations as to what these cars provide of course. The seating is fully adjustable for inclination and distance from the pedals etc. as would be expected, but they lack the finesse of a really good car seat. The covering is vinyl but not well made, whilst the seat stuffing is simple plastic foam which has begun to lose its shape a little over the almost four years of constant use. The rear seat doesn’t get so much use and is mainly the depository for shopping bags.
When the rear seat is folded down, its back covering has no weight-bearing support and has had to be strengthened by a ply sheet placed over it on the occasion that something larger than the rear compartment can hold the seat in the upright position.
The paintwork is not applied as well as more expensive vehicles, but after living outside in all weathers for four years, there is not one sign of rust anywhere so the paintwork appears to be in good condition. The exception is that some paint has blistered and flaked on the plastic front apron showing the lack of a proper plastic primer under the paint. The headlamps have greyed a little which seems to be the trait of almost all plastis headlamps, so no real problems there. They will be repolished soon.
The door seals seem pretty reasonable as I notice no rain ingress into the car. but an annoying instance is that when travelling on rough roads, a steady clattering sound comes from below my feet. On investigation, this has turned out to be the little universal cross-joint connecting the steering column to the steering rack. There is no chance of it failing but it will be replaced soon.
How much are cheap electric cars?
The cost of my little car new direct from the manufacturer? $4,600 USD plus delivery and purchase tax
So where are the economies that make the car so inexpensive? The design of the car is intended to provide a town car, not long-distance transport, BUT, and that’s a big but, the car can travel long distances if required thanks to the generator. The 120km which seemed relatively little distance is therefore of no consequence. As a town car, the speed is limited to around 55-60 kph. It’s illegal to go faster in the town anyway, so no problem. The manufacturers saved a lot of money on batteries too.
Expensive electric cars normally use Lithium Ion batteries. A lithium-ion battery pack can cost more than my car. They hold more power per kilo than other types but due to the high-power electric motor and extended range, their overall weight can often approach a similar weight to the rest of the vehicle. This means on average, a total weight approaching two tons.
It follows that any electric car has to carry the weight of several adults before anyone steps into it. It is this problem which battery manufacturers are trying to overcome along with the ever-present dangers of battery breakdown. LiOn batteries can cause not only fires but violent explosions if a short circuit develops. Some of these accidents are actually caused by the owners using incorrect chargers to charge the batteries.
In one recent survey which did not cover cheap electric cars but covered electric scooters, it was found that more than 40% of the scooter owners were not using the correct charger as supplied with the transport. Batteries were being under or overcharged, the overcharging causing the batteries to overheat and break down.
What batteries do these cheap electric cars use?
Cheap electric cars tend to use either lead/acid battery variations or lithium iron batteries rather than LiOn (lithium Ion). Lead/acid batteries have two drawbacks. First, they are heavier. Secondly, they don’t pack as much energy as a LiOn battery, but let’s sort this out. A Hybrid car isn’t an electric car. It relies greatly on a normal internal combustion engine driving the wheels as has been done since 1900 and only brings in the electric motor for certain maneuvers. This is why I don’t regard it as an electric car. An electric car is one in which the electric motor is the only device powering the wheels.
An affordable electric car inherits a large amount of its cheaper price by not using the large lithium-ion packs that the more expensive cars use. Up to $20,000 is spent on the batteries for the bigger cars, but affordable EVs use batteries which look more like the batteries we have known and used on petrol-engined cars for the past century. That’s where the likeness ends though. The modern electric car batteries contain different innards, some being lithium the same as the expensive electric cars.
The expensive batteries on expensive cars consist of several hundred batteries connected together to give hundreds of volts to drive the electric motor, whereas our batteries are connected to provide a much safer voltage of usually 60 or 72 volts.
So what’s the difference? Is the high-voltage battery a better, more efficient battery? Usually no. The answer lies in the motor power. Motor power is measured in Watts. The higher the Wattage, the more power is needed from the motor.
Simple example: Wattage is voltage multiplied by the current in Amps. A 12-volt battery running at 10 Amps is providing 120 Watts. For a 1200 Watt motor, the 12-volt battery would have to provide 100 Amps. Our affordable electric cars usually have a 4,000-watt motor which would mean 4000 divided by 12 = 333.3 Amps. No 12-volt battery could stand that for more than a few minutes. By connecting 6 batteries in series we have 72 volts. 4000 divided by 72 = 55.5 Amps which is much more acceptable. Remember that the 4000 Watts of power is only needed in the situations when you need the most power, then the current from the motor is rarely 55 Amps anyway.
When a motor of 50,000 Watts is fitted into an expensive electric car, a single 12-volt battery would die immediately. 50,000 divided by 12 = 4,166 Amps. The battery could never provide that. The same motor using a 400-volt battery would need a more reasonable 125 Amps. This is the reason for the expensive high-voltage batteries in expensive cars.
These cheap electric cars are powered by gel batteries as a norm. So what is a gel battery?
A gel battery is a type of lead/acid battery in which the acid is present as a gel rather than a liquid. There are several advantages over the standard lead acid battery. As the acid is in gel form, it’s impossible to spill acid in the car so deterioration of the mechanical and body parts from acid contamination is avoided. Due to the method of manufacture the batteries have “deep cycle” properties, which means they can provide constant power for much longer than a standard lead/acid battery.
The killer is the weight. My car runs on 72 volts by connecting 6 of these batteries in series. The weight of each battery is a hefty 38 kilos giving a total of 228 kilos which is around one-third of the all-up, or kerb-side weight of the car.
Performance And Usability of cheap electric cars
A little bit of history. Did you know that when cars first began to rumble around the streets, electric cars outnumbered petrol cars? That’s a fact that is not often mentioned. It was much easier to install an electric motor and a set of batteries than to fit an internal combustion engine, as supplies of petrol were difficult to find, whereas every reasonable town in the early 1900s had electricity to charge batteries.
Petrol supplies were so difficult to find that one of the early Benz (Mercedes Benz) cars ran on powdered coal. Another interesting fact is that the wife of Henry Ford, the car manufacturer ran an electric car which her husband didn’t make. She is quoted to have said that she wanted nothing to do with the smelly petrol cars her husband made.
Don’t think that cheap electric cars need to be something expensive which is going to empty your pockets. Petrol-engined cars only took over from electric cars when petrol supplies in 2-gallon cans finally became readily available from grocery and hardware stores before petrol stations came along.
If you aim to get a car which is eminently suitable for shopping and general running about without long journeys, then a cheap electric car is ideal and affordable. Performance is ample for daily town use and running and repair costs are minimal, and the exhaust won’t drop off as there isn’t one. There are only about 20 moving parts in an electric motor compared to 200 in a petrol engine. There is much less to go wrong so it’s cheaper to repair, and much easier to drive. You can’t stall an electric car.