Exploring Electrified Powertrains
This post is sponsored by Kia Motors America;
however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Vehicles using electricity as their energy source are now all the rage. Electrified powertrains are appearing in every automaker’s lineup, including Kia’s. There are three major types: battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and hybrid-electric. These are usually referred to as being an electric vehicle (EV), a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), or a hybrid. In terms of energy efficiency (measured by fuel economy), the EV is more efficient than the PHEV which is more efficient than the hybrid.
Kia currently has three models that illustrate these three electrified powertrains and how they work. Let’s look at each and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each powertrain option.
Electric Vehicle : Kia Soul EV
The Kia Soul EV is a battery-electric vehicle. This means that its propulsion system is the simplest of the electrified vehicle options. It consists of a large battery, a power controller, and an electric motor. In a pure EV like this one, the battery stores power which is then used to motivate the motor which turns the wheels and makes the car move forward. Controllers and other electronics control the power flow, adjust for various needs such as acceleration or power regeneration during braking, and allow the vehicle’s plug to safely transfer power from a wall outlet or power station into the vehicle’s battery.
The advantage of an EV is that it is the most efficient of the powertrain options being manufactured today. It’s both energy-efficient and lower in emissions (on the whole) than are other available options. The chief disadvantages of the EV are the high cost of batteries to store the amount of power needed to create the speed and range a car requires to be useful and the long charge times often required to fill those batteries with electricity.
For many drivers, however, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, making a vehicle like the Kia Soul EV a smart choice.
Plugin Hybrid : Kia Optima PHEV
The Kia Optima has proven to be a big seller for Kia, and will soon be available as a Plug-in Hybrid. The Optima PHEV utilizes an electric motor, a combustion engine, control electronics, and a battery. This type of vehicle is basically a battery-electric (EV) vehicle with the addition of a generator (usually a combustion engine) in place of a large portion of the batteries. In some uses, this type of powertrain can be more efficient than EV, especially when electrical power from the grid is produced using high-emissions coal or other sources. Typically, in a PHEV, the electric motor is the primary source of propulsion for the vehicle, with the combustion engine being a power generator with little or no connection to the wheels.
The advantage of a PHEV is that it’s much more fuel-efficient than a hybrid or a standard gasoline vehicle. It can be plugged in when parked in order to recharge the batteries from the grid and can also receive charge from its on-board engine. Potential range for a PHEV is typically much further than it is for an EV. Disadvantages include a high cost of manufacture and heavier vehicle weights.
Many typical drivers will likely find that a PHEV like the Kia Optima PHEV is a good choice for their lifestyle needs, allowing them both short-range efficiency in all-electric driving for daily commutes and errands, and long-range capability for trips to grandma’s and weekend getaways.
Hybrid : Kia Niro
Gasoline-powered hybrid-electric cars are the most common type of electrified vehicle available today. The upcoming Kia Niro is a good example of how these vehicles typically operate. A hybrid uses an electric motor, a controller, a combustion engine, and a small battery. The combustion engine is the primary motivator for the car’s movement, but can be supplemented by the electric motor to improve efficiency – especially at low speeds. Hybrid vehicles cannot usually be plugged into the wall to recharge and typically have only a very short all-electric drive range at limited speeds.
The chief advantages of a hybrid-electric vehicle are ease of use (no learning curve or lifestyle changes required) and driving range. Efficiency is higher than a comparable gasoline-only vehicle, but usually far lower than a PHEV or EV option. Disadvantages include the slightly higher cost associated with this more complex drivetrain as compared to gasoline-only vehicles.
For many everyday drivers not interested in costlier or more “futuristic” drivetrains, a vehicle like the Kia Niro is a good choice for lowering gasoline expenses without sacrificing ease of use.