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Electric car terms explained: All of the EV terminology and lingo you need to know

If you've looked for a subscription car, chances are you've seen a ton of terms which may not make complete sense.
Electric car terms explained: All of the EV terminology and lingo you need to know

If you're interested in electric cars, you've probably heard the terms "DC fast charger" and "conventional combustion engine" a few times. But what exactly do these words mean? And how are they related to other common phrases like "kilowatt-hour (kWh)" or even "internal combustion engine (ICE)?"

In this guide, we'll explain the key terminology of all things electric vehicles so that you can better understand our world's next significant shift: from gas guzzlers to battery-powered transportation. This is pretty important if you're considering get one on subscription!

We've arranged the guide by subject, so you can easily find related terms together.

Vehicle classification definitions

Alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) - A car that runs on a fuel other than traditional petrol or diesel. It includes EVs, PHEVS, FCEVs and HEVs.

Internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV): A vehicle powered by an internal-combustion engine that burns petroleum fuel.

Electric vehicle (EV): A vehicle powered by an electric motor. EV encompasses many types—including cars, trucks, buses and boats.

Battery electric vehicle (BEV): A vehicle that runs solely on a battery and does not have an internal combustion engine.

Hybrid (HEV): A vehicle that switches between its electric motor and internal combustion engine to improve efficiency.

Plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV): A hybrid vehicle that can run on electricity for longer than a conventional model.

Extended range electric vehicle (EREV): A car with an electric motor and a combustion engine, with the former used primarily to power the vehicle and the latter held in reserve as needed.

Mild hybrid electric vehicles (MHEV): A hybrid car relies primarily on an internal combustion engine but also has an electric motor. MHEVs cannot operate solely on battery power.

Zero-emission vehicle (ZEV): A vehicle that produces no pollution during operation.

Fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV): A vehicle that uses a hydrogen fuel cell to create electricity and recharge its battery.

Worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure (WLTP): A test that measures vehicles' fuel consumption and emissions in real-world driving conditions.

New European driving cycle (NEDC): The New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) is a test that measures vehicle fuel consumption and emissions. It was replaced in 2017 by the World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP).

Neighbourhood electric vehicle (NEV): A small electric vehicle that travels at low speeds.

EV parts terms and definitions

Battery: Like the tank in a gasoline-powered car, an EV's battery stores energy that will power it for some time.

Battery cell: Batteries are composed of many small cells. Thousands of cells (like tiny batteries) may be required for an EV to store enough electricity.

Battery module: The battery pack of an electric vehicle is made up of many individual lithium-ion cells.

Battery pack: The entire structure of an EV's battery, including all modules and cells that compose it—as well as the enclosure.

Battery management system (BMS): The system coordinates the activity of all cells so that they drain at an even rate and perform like a single unit.

Battery heating system (BHS): This system keeps the battery pack at a constant temperature and ensures a longer life for your batteries.

Electric power control unit (EPCU): The electric power control unit is a single computerised part that combines all the essential functions for managing an EV's electrical systems.

Electric drive unit: The combination of an electric motor and its transmission.

Internal combustion engine (ICE): An engine that burns fuel to create power. It has a piston that moves up and down in a cylinder, which produces the force to move the vehicle.

Lithium-ion: One of the major components of an electric car is its battery—just like in your mobile phone or tablet. They are incredibly efficient, producing large amounts of energy. In addition, they can be recharged many times before they need to be replaced.

Low voltage DC-DC converter (LDC): A component that reduces the voltage of an electric vehicle's battery, allowing it to be used in auxiliary systems like headlights.

Inverter: An inverter changes the direct current from a battery into an alternating current.

Motor: The electrical heart of an electric vehicle, which converts energy from a battery into mechanical motion. When the magnetic field changes, it causes a rotor inside the cylinder to spin. This, in turn, rotates an axle and drives wheels.

On-board charger (OBC): On-board chargers convert alternating current into direct current to charge an electric vehicle's batteries. Fast-charging stations don't need to use an EV's onboard charger since they are connected directly to the grid.

Range extender (REx): An engine that uses petrol or diesel to recharge an EV's batteries.

Reducer: An electric vehicle's equivalent of a transmission converts the high-torque output of its motor into increased revolutions per minute.

Transmission: Gear sets adjust the final power sent to the driveshaft, axles and wheels. Cars switch between these gears to change how fast they go without changing the amount of power generated by their engines—this is called shifting or gear-changing.

Solid-state battery: A new type of battery uses a solid electrolyte between its anode and cathode rather than the liquid variety.

Vehicle control unit (VCU): The processing centre of a vehicle, which coordinates power control, motor control, regenerative braking and other functions. Check out our EV myths guide where we debunk common misconceptions.

Electrical power glossary

Alternating current (AC): A standard that powers homes by running electrical cables through them from outside.

Amp (A): Amps (or amperes) are a unit of measurement for the flow of electricity. This measures the rate at which electrons pass through a point.

Amp-hours (Ah): A measurement of a battery's capacity to produce an electrical current over time. A common way to express the total energy capacity of a battery.

Anode: In a polarised electrical device, the anode is the electrode through which conventional current enters.

Capacitor: A module in an electrical circuit that retains power for a brief period—not as long as a battery, but capable of providing enough juice to keep things running if they lose or gain voltage.

Cathode: In a conventional current, the electrode from which the electrons flow is known as the cathode.

Direct current (DC): An international standard for the interchangeability of electrical parts has enabled manufacturers to create products that use a single plug and socket design. EVs need to convert AC power into DC in order to charge their batteries.

Kilowatt (kW): One thousand watts.

Kilowatt-hours (kWh): One kilowatt maintained for one hour is known as a kilowatt-hour. It allows one to determine the total amount of electrical energy a given battery can produce.

Ohms: A measurement of electrical resistance. In colder climates, the rate at which EVs charge can decrease due to higher electrical resistance. Battery deterioration can also increase the electrical resistance of a battery. You may also see the symbol Ω.

Renewable energy: Renewable energy comes from sources that will never run out and can be used indefinitely, unlike natural gas or oil.

Resistor: A circuit component that slows the flow of electrical current, used for a variety of purposes—e.g., voltage-splitting and tolerance matching.

Supercapacitor: Supercapacitors store and discharge power more quickly than lithium-ion batteries, though they are less efficient. They have been used in pilot projects with electric buses to recharge the vehicles rapidly during stops at terminals or depots on their routes.

Transistor: A device that modulates or amplifies electrical power.

Volts (V): A measurement of the amount of electricity delivered by a circuit. It measures the amount of work an electric current needs as it flows between two points.

If you're charging an electric vehicle at higher voltages, it will charge faster than if you used a lower voltage.

Watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg): The energy density is the amount of energy a battery can store relative to its weight. This can be especially important in electric vehicles, which have heavier batteries.

Watt-hours per litre (Wh/L): A measure of the energy stored in a battery relative to its volume. A battery with a high rating contains more energy per unit of volume than one with a lower rating.

Watts (W): This is a measurement of electrical power. Watts are often used as a measure of the final electrical output for charging points since they consider both force and flow rate.

Charging infrastructure terminology

CHAdeMO: A type of connector that can charge a vehicle at rates up to 100 kilowatts. It is used in many parts of Asia.

ChaoJi: A future connector that will charge up to 900 kilowatts, a record for fast charging. It will replace both GB/T and CHAdeMO while maintaining backward compatibility—and no one has anything to worry about.

Charge point installer (CPI): Charge point installers sell, maintain and repair charging points made by multiple manufacturers.

Combined charging system (CCS): The Combined Charging System is a kind of connector that charges at up to 350 kW. It combines DC charging pins and standard AC plugs,

Connector: The physical end of the charging cable, which goes into your car. The connector type will vary depending on what kind of car you own.

Distribution network operator (DNO): The companies that distribute electricity to homes and businesses are called distribution network operators.

Electric vehicle service provider (EVSP): Electric vehicle service providers provide back-end software and communications management for charging points.

Electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE): Everything you need to charge your EV, including cables and connectors for various charging stations.

Electro-mobility service provider (eMSP): EV charging companies coordinate billing and customer information between EV drivers, charging stations and central control.

En-route charging: En-route charging typically requires high-powered rapid chargers that can put more than 100 miles into your electric car in the time it takes to grab a coffee and use the restroom.

Fast charging: Some fast charge points offer 7kW, ideal for top-up charging (keeping you going while out and about). These can be found in homes, workplaces, supermarkets and public car parks. Check out our guide on how long it takes to charge an EV.

GB/T: A kind of connector that charges up to 250kW and has seven pins; it is primarily used in China.

Home charging: Most people charge their electric cars at home by plugging them in when they park at home.

Level 1 charging: This is the slowest type of EV charging, requiring a total of 24 hours to refill an empty battery.

Level 2 charging: Dedicated charging stations offer a more powerful 240-volt charge, which is much faster than the standard 120v outlet. They can recharge electric cars in as little as 4 hours.

Level 3 charging: Level 3 charging delivers a high current at up to 900 volts. Most EVs can be charged in half an hour with direct-current superchargers. Tesla has its own unique connector for level 3 charging within its network of fast-charging stations.

Off-peak charging: Charging your EV at low-demand times, such as the middle of the night.

Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI): The Open Charge Point Interface allows you to charge your electric vehicle anywhere, regardless of which network or energy supplier originally installed the charging station.

Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP): The Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) is an open standard that allows charging stations to communicate with their operators and provides information to flow between EVs and the electrical grid.

Open Smart Charging Protocol (OCSP): Open Smart Charging Protocol (OSCP) communications—between charge points and energy management systems—help operators predict local grid capacity.

Rapid charging: Rapid chargers can be used as a quick way to charge your car on long journeys or if you happen to need it and are nearby. Rapid charging, available above 43kW power levels, may be limited by the car's onboard charger.

Single-phase charging: This type of plug socket is found in most UK homes and businesses. A single-phase electricity supply can power a dedicated charge point up to 7kW.

Slow charging: A better option for home charging is the dedicated charge point, which allows both top-up and overnight charging.

Smart charging: A catch-all term for a series of functions that can be performed by a wi-fi connected charge point. Typically this refers to things like load balancing and energy monitoring.

Three-phase charging: This charger is commonly used in commercial and industrial areas, as it can provide three AC currents that generate a maximum output of 22kW.

Top-up charging: Plugging in whenever you park is an excellent way to make use of the time your car is not in use, adding charge to the battery so that you don't run low on power.

Trickle charging: This is the slowest method of charging and should be used only for overnight charging at home on dedicated charge points by using a standard 3-pin plug.

Type 1 plug: The most common EV connector can charge up to 7kW. It is a five-pin, single-phase plug often used in the US and called SAE J1772 or J Plug.

Type 2 plug: A connector that charges up to 250 kilovolts. It is a seven-pin, triple-phase plug often used in Europe.

Final word

We hope this glossary has helped you better understand the electric vehicle industry. The more you know, the more confident and empowered you'll feel when discussing EVs with friends and family. As we move into a new era of clean transportation, many exciting things are happening in EV technology—and we think it's essential for everyone to be on board!

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