If you have never driven an electric car before, you may be under the impression that they are slow. While electric cars cannot reach the top speeds of the world’s fastest sports cars, they actually have the ability to accelerate, or go from zero to the speed limit, faster than gas-powered vehicles. Why is this possible?
Electric cars can accelerate faster than gas-powered cars because pressing the throttle generates instant torque, which is the rotational force necessary to propel a vehicle forward. Gas-powered vehicles must have their engines hit certain requirements before maximum torque can be achieved.
This is why, at drag races, there will be a period of “vroom vroom” at the starting line as the cars rev their engines: they are trying to get their cars ready to generate the torque that electric vehicles are designed to create instantly. There are many reasons that electric cars can accelerate so fast, giving passengers the sensation that they are being thrown into their seat’s back upon take-off. We’ll cover all of these points below.
Electric Cars Have Instant Torque
The chief factor behind electric cars accelerating quickly is their ability to generate instant torque. Torque is a measure of how much rotational force can be produced by the vehicle and is the essential element that drives the vehicle forward.
Electric cars can achieve maximum torque the instant the throttle is pushed. Conversely, gas-powered vehicles cannot realize maximum torque until their engines reach approximately 4,000 rotations per minute (RPMs).
For anyone who has driven a gas-powered car, you know that it takes a few seconds to reach 4,000 RPMs (or a desired higher speed) as the vehicle shifts into higher gears.
How Does Torque Impact Acceleration?
Without getting into the complicated physics formulas for how torque is calculated, understand that torque is a measure of how much rotational force can be produced by a vehicle. When this is measured at the driveshaft, it impacts the vehicle’s ability to move forward.
However, this does not always mean that a high-torque vehicle will be fast. For example, many diesel-burning engines are preferred for hauling large trailers because they can generate a lot of torque at lower RPMs than gas-powered engines, meaning that they do not have to work as hard to produce maximum rotational force. This makes hauling easier on diesel engines.
Despite the high torque, these diesel-powered vehicles are not as fast as gas-powered sports cars at top speeds because, due to their heavier diesel engines, they cannot achieve as many RPMs in top gear as gas-powered cars, which is a critical component of producing horsepower in ICE vehicles. As such, torque is not the best measure for top-end speed.
Electric Vehicles and Torque
Nonetheless, as the rotational force that makes a vehicle go, torque is the essential element that impacts movement in a vehicle. Those that can attain torque easily will accelerate more quickly than those that have to work harder to produce it.
Therefore, as electric cars can generate maximum torque instantly and gas-powered cars must be revved to over 4,000 RPMs to reach their maximum torque-producing potential, electric cars will accelerate faster.
Electric Cars Have No Transmission
On the topic of shifting gears, another important reason that electric cars can accelerate faster than gas-powered vehicles is the absence of a transmission.
The transmission is the component in gas-powered vehicles that attempts to add efficiency to the engine by diverting power to the drive axle in the form of gears. In lower gears, the vehicle will have more available power but will travel at slower speeds, while in higher gears, the vehicle has less power but can travel faster.
- Gas-powered vehicles always start in the lowest gear.
- As the vehicle needs to be in higher gears to go fast, flooring the gas pedal at take-off sends a signal to the transmission that it needs to transition into a higher gear.
However, the car must quickly pass through each gear level (usually first and second gear for most standard cars) before it can reach a state of “open throttle,” where pressing on the gas pedal is directly correlated to higher RPMs and greater torque.
Even for the smoothest shifting gas-powered vehicles, there are brief pauses as the transmission shifts the car into a higher gear. When looking at the tachometer (the vehicle’s gauge for RPMs) during a shift, note how the RPMs drop once a new gear level is reached. While gears add efficiency to the gas vehicle’s engine, they impede the ability to accelerate instantaneously.
Electric cars do not have a transmission; their electric motor consists of a single gear. In this sense, electric cars are essentially always in a state of “open throttle,” with no work required by a transmission to get the vehicle into top torque-producing capacity, allowing for instant acceleration.
Electric Cars Have a More Efficient Design
People often equate efficiency in electric vehicles with their ability to eliminate fuel consumption. While this is undoubtedly a key characteristic of EVs, they are also efficient in their simplicity of design, which leads to more immediate drivability.
There is a multitude of moving parts in a gas-powered car’s drivetrain. The process for how an ICE vehicle creates movement can be broken down in the following sequence:
- Fuel and air mix inside the engine, creating small explosions that drive a series of pistons.
- The energy produced by the pistons initiates a crankshaft, which is connected to the transmission.
- Based on the energy received, the transmission will route the power to the driveshaft, which propels the wheels.
As you can see, there are many moving parts involved for gas-powered cars to generate torque. Not only do all of these moving parts create an increased opportunity for something to go wrong, but even the most efficient drivetrains will lose about 15% of their torque-producing power as it is routed from the engine to the driveshaft. This power seep is known as “drivetrain loss” and will undermine a gas-powered car’s 0 to 60 potential.
The drivetrain of an electric car is comparatively very simple. Energy is stored in a battery. When the driver presses the throttle, this stored energy is sent to the motor via an electric current. This electricity cycles magnetic poles that turn the driveshaft, creating a more direct energy-to-torque sequence that aids in the electric vehicle’s acceleration.
Are Electric Cars Faster Because They Are Light?
One common assumption is that electric cars are faster than ICE vehicles because they are lighter. Without the heavy fuel-powered engine or transmission, electric cars must weigh a fraction of ICE vehicles, which, in turn, makes it possible for them to go faster, as they don’t have to move as much weight, right?
Surprisingly, electric cars weigh about 25% more than ICE vehicles with comparable power specifications. Many of the lithium-ion batteries used in current EVs can weigh well over 1,000 pounds.
Even for larger sports utility vehicles, the combined weight of both the engine and transmission will not weigh as much as an electric car’s battery, dispelling the idea that electric cars are faster because they are lighter. However, as you may have guessed from what we’ve covered until now, there are plenty of other reasons why electric cars accelerate faster.
Despite being perceived as slower and less powerful than gas-burning burning vehicles, electric cars can actually accelerate faster than similar ICE models. This is because they can instantly achieve maximum torque, whereas fuel-burning engines must rev their RPMs to accomplish the same feat—a process that takes several seconds.
As torque is the rotational force that powers a car’s driveshaft, the efficiency of electric cars in achieving their maximum torque allows them to take-off faster than comparable ICE vehicles.