Electric car, or electrified car? We decode this obnoxious industry jargon

electric car or electrified car chevy bolt
2017 will go down in automotive history as the year of electrification. Car manufacturers from all over the globe plucked the term from their collective glossary of jargon and made it an important piece of their marketing departments’ ever-growing armory. Companies use it to highlight their commitment to a more sustainable future, but what does it really mean? In short: an electrified car isn’t electric, but an electric car is electrified. Confused? Let us explain.

The devil is in the details

Jaguar – Land Rover gave us the best definition. “Electrified is the proverbial rectangle, while electric is the proverbial square. Not all rectangles are squares, but all squares are rectangles,” explained Nathan Hoyt, the company’s product communications manager.

electrified vs electric
2016 Chevy Silverado with eAssist

Other car companies provided us with similar definitions. Audi pointed out an electric car is fully electric, while an electrified car is either a plug-in hybrid or a mild hybrid. Chevrolet notes the term “electrified” covers “all vehicles that use electric power at varying stages,” such as eAssist, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and extended-range electric vehicles.

Breaking it down

The term “electric car” is simple to define: it refers to a model which uses exclusively electricity to get from point A to point B. Battery-electric car, battery-powered car, and EV are commonly interchanged with “electric car.”

Here’s another way to look at it: if a car has an exhaust, it’s not electric.

Every single vehicle manufactured by Tesla is electric, and the California-based company is unique because it has never built anything else. There’s no such thing as a Tesla with a V8 under the hood. The list of electric cars also includes the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Bolt, which were both developed as EVs from the get-go.

Defining the term “electrified car” is less straight-forward because there are several forms of electrification. Broadly speaking, electricity needs to power more than basic accessories (such as power windows) for a drivetrain to be considered electrified. The 12-volt battery in your Jeep Grand Cherokee’s engine bay doesn’t allow it to claim any form of electrification.

The most basic form of electrification is the mild hybrid system, which uses a compact electric motor to complement the gasoline- or diesel-burning engine. Most mild hybrid systems boast a regenerative braking function which transforms the electric motor into a generator in order to capture some of the energy produced while braking. It’s either pumped back into the drivetrain under acceleration, or fed to car’s electrical system. Mild hybrid technology boosts fuel economy without adding too much cost or weight to a car. It’s also generally easier to integrate into an existing design. It can’t power a car on electricity alone, however.

Audi’s brand-new A8 will come standard with mild hybrid technology when it goes on sale next year. Mercedes-Benz will soon introduce a mild hybrid drivetrain built around its first straight-six engine in decades, and Bosch is working on a more affordable 48-volt mild hybrid system for compact cars like the Volkswagen Golf.

electric cars vs electrified cars
2018 Audi A8

Next up in the electrification hierarchy is the standard hybrid system. Hybrid and mild hybrid technology are similar on paper, but the former typically receives a more powerful electric motor and an appreciably bigger battery pack. While gasoline or diesel still drives the wheels, electricity provides a performance boost and improves fuel efficiency. The Toyota Prius is the poster child of the hybrid segment; other options include the Hyundai Ioniq and the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.

Sometimes called PHEVs, plug-in hybrid cars also qualify as electrified. They’re capable of driving on electricity alone for short distances thanks to an even bigger battery pack that drivers can top up by plugging in at home or at a charging station. They’re a great compromise between non-electrified and electric cars because they offer the driving range and ease of use of a standard vehicle, yet they’re capable of zero-emissions driving when needed. The Mercedes-Benz C350e, the BMW 330e, the Toyota Prius Prime, the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, and any Volvo with a T8 emblem on the trunk lid are examples of plug-in hybrid cars. Expect to see more of them in the coming years as emissions regulations get stricter.

Expect to see more plug-in hybrid cars in the coming years as emissions regulations get stricter.

The term “range-extended electric car” is highly misleading; they’re electrified, not electric. Take the Chevrolet Volt, for example. Electricity spins the front wheels, but a 150-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine comes to the rescue when the battery pack runs low. Another example is the BMW i3. The standard model is electric, but ordering the optional two-cylinder range extender demotes it to electrified status, even if burning gasoline doesn’t directly turn the wheels. Here’s another way to look at it: if a car has an exhaust, it’s not electric.

When Volvo announced plans to build only electrified cars starting in 2019, it wasn’t promising the death of the internal combustion engine and a lineup of battery-powered cars. It was merely saying every car introduced from 2019 will have an electric motor. Some models will be fully electric, but most will continue to use a three- or four-cylinder engine. Realistically, internal combustion technology will play a sizable role in transportation for decades to come.

What about fuel cells?

Experts disagree on which side of the electric fence fuel cell-powered vehicles fall on. Hydrogen is its own technology, and we’d ideally group hydrogen-powered cars like the Toyota Mirai into their own segment of the market. The technology that makes them go is different enough from a standard extended-range hybrid drivetrain to warrant its own designation. And while the sector is still tiny, it’s going to get much bigger in the coming years as companies like Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW embark on model offensives.

If we must distill it down to electric or electrified, we’d lump hydrogen-powered cars in the latter camp. While early prototypes like the BMW Hydrogen7 were equipped with liquefied hydrogen-combusting engines, modern ones use a hydrogen fuel cell to generate the electricity needed to zap an electric motor into motion.

Cars

Qiantu K50 is a Chinese electric sports car that’s coming to the U.S.

The Qiantu K50 is a Chinese electric sports car that will be marketed in the United States by California-based Mullen Technologies. The carbon-fiber bodied, 402-horsepower K50 is expected to go on sale in 2020.
Cars

Electric car buying guide: What you need to know before you buy

EVs are better than they've ever been, but buying your first battery-powered car can be an intimidating experience. Digital Trends has compiled a comprehensive guide that walks you through the process of buying an EV.
Cars

Genesis’ all-electric Mint concept proves small cars can still be stylish

Unveiled ahead of the 2019 New York Auto Show, the Genesis Mint concept is a future electric city car with scissor doors in place of a traditional hatchback. Genesis likely won't put it into production, however.
Cars

Karma Automotive unveils two head-turning concept cars, quicker 2020 Revero GT

Karma Automotive brought three new cars to the 2019 Shanghai Auto Show, including a long overdue redesigned version of its Revero plug-in hybrid, an all-electric concept car, and a concept coupe designed in concert with legendary Italian…
Cars

Nikola previews $80K NZT off-road EV speedster with 590 horsepower

Nikola Motor is taking reservations for the NZT, a high-performance, all-electric off-highway vehicle (OHV). The $80,000 NZT has 590 horsepower, 775 foot-pounds of torque, and reaches 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds.
Cars

Bored with stock? The best tuner cars are begging to be modified

Modification has been around almost as long as the automobile itself. Here are 25 of the best tuner cars you can find, ranging from American muscle standouts to Japanese drift cars.
Cars

21 charged in Chicago carsharing heist; 100+ cars stolen, many still missing

More than 100 Mercedes-Benz vehicles belonging to carsharing service Car2Go were stolen in Chicago. Police are still working to recover all of the cars, which are equipped with GPS, and 21 people have been charged.
Cars

The VR goggles you wear to shoot alien ships is helping Magna design car parts

Canadian automotive supplier Magna has started using virtual reality in its research and development department. The technology helps engineers get a better view of what they're working on, whether it's an interior part or a powertrain.
Cars

From rugged wagons to hot sports cars, the 2019 NY Auto Show brought it all

From city cars to supercars, anything goes at the New York Auto Show. Automakers from all over the globe traveled to the 2019 show to unveil their newest concept cars and production models.
Cars

Toyota leads $1 billion investment in Uber’s self-driving tech division

In a move that has been a long time coming, Uber filed its S-1 documents, which sets the stage for the company to finally go public with an initial public offering. The company could be valued at more than $100 billion.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Samsung Galaxy Fold woes, zombie pigs, and more

Today's topics: Samsung Galaxy Fold, Facebook A.I. voice assistants, YouTube comes to Fire TV, facial recognition on airline flights, the SpaceX DART program, Yale's zombie pigs, and much more!
Cars

Carbuying can be tiring: Here are the best used car websites to make it easier

Shopping for a used car isn't easy, especially when the salesman is looking to make a quick sale. Thankfully, there are plenty of sites aimed at the prospective buyer, whether you're looking for a sedan or a newfangled hybrid.
Cars

Apple’s interest in self-driving cars reported to be revving up

A new report suggests that Apple is in talks with a number of suppliers to purchase lidar sensors, an essential tool for self-driving cars. The news is once again spiking rumors that Apple might be building vehicles.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!