The other day I met someone who thought the Tesla Model S was the first electric car ever made. That took me by surprise – but then I realized, to a non-gearhead, that probably sounds about right. I mean, it used to take 20 years for a new thing to become a household name, and now one company can practically make it happen overnight. But like ice skating or learning to yodel, it still takes years of effort to become an overnight celebrity – and small electric motors have been powering cars for a very long time.
Just so that one guy doesn’t get confused, though, let’s start from square one.
Why are Small Electric Motors Awesome?
We know Teslas have instant power the moment you put your foot down. We also know modern supercars have massive torque figures that were unheard of a few decades ago. But how did this all come about? The answer lies in the small electric motors at the heart of electric vehicles. They’re easy to understand, and while I don’t have time to explain them here, you should totally read this quick article and this Wikipedia timeline to learn how small electric motors work and how we got where we are now.
When they’re not exerting power, small electric motors use regenerative systems to recharge an onboard battery. That’s not enough to keep the car going forever by itself, so the batteries must be charged using grid power, like solar or the outlets at your house – hence the phrase “plug-in hybrid” or “plug-in EV.” In a hybrid, the small electric motors assist the engine instead of replacing it: the battery powers the motors, the motors recharge the battery, and everything is peaches and rainbows.
Either way you cut it, emissions are reduced and fuel economy is increased. In the case of pure EVs like Teslas, to discuss efficiency we use the metric MPGe – that’s the “miles per gallon equivalent” of the amount of electricity the car uses to cover a mile. For a Tesla Model S, that works out to about 100 MPGe. In addition to getting seriously great fuel mileage, it can outsprint pretty much any gas-powered car ever made. Not bad for a technology that was first taken seriously about 20 years ago.
Let’s look at some of the most exciting cars of today and tomorrow that are powered by small electric motors.