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How to understand electric car specifications

While electric cars are certainly the hottest thing since sliced bread, they still represent just 2% of domestic car sales and many of us are very confused about how to compare them to gas-powered cars. All the numbers for EVs, like Kilowatts, Amps, and KwHs are completely unfathomable to most of the public. Luckily, they aren’t too complicated once you know how to compare them to more familiar metrics like horsepower and fuel tank size. Here are the main electric car specifications you need to know how to decrypt:

Kilowatts

On an electric car spec sheet, a kilowatt is a lot like a horsepower. You can read it as informing you how powerful the car will feel underneath you, and how fast/quick it will be on the road. One Kilowatt is roughly equal to 1.34 horsepower. When reading up on an EV that has piqued your interest, simply multiply the kW metric by 1.3-1.5 in your head and you’ve got yourself a good approximation of horsepower. For instance, a 100 kW motor would have 140 or so horsepower, and the Tesla’s 451kW across two motors gives it a claimed 680 combined horsepower.

Kilowatt Hours

Just to make things more confusing, we have another kilowatt-based measurement. Kilowatt-hours are equivalent to battery size and give you the range in an electric car. Most EV spec sheets list the range possible, but the kWh number for the car is another way to see this information quickly. A kilowatt-hour describes how much work you can get out of your battery, not unlike how a fuel tank size tells you how much work you’ll get out of the engine before you run out of fuel. The bigger the kWh, the more capacity you have in the tank as it were.

One kilowatt-hour is analogous to four miles of driving. Take any kWh spec you see on an EV and multiply it by three to get your theoretical maximum range. Taking a 50 kWh battery gives us 150 miles of range, and the Porsche Taycan’s 93 kWh battery gives you the claimed 279 miles of range.

Kilowatts

I know what you’re thinking — We just covered Kilowatts three paragraphs ago. I know. But the engineers of the electric world don’t want to make this easy for you. Unfortunately for all of us, kilowatts can also apply to an electric car’s charging rate. However, it is generally quite clear in spec sheets and forums when the kW being discussed is charging rate.

In this context, kilowatt refers to the rate at which you can charge the battery of your electric vehicle over the course of an hour. A 10kW charger will add 10 kilowatt-hours to your battery over the course of an hour. Tesla’s company-wide charging rate of 11.5kW will therefore give you 11.5kWh (or 34 miles) per hour of charging. You can see why Superchargers and other quick-charging stations are so advantageous to living with an electric car.

Luckily for all of us, all of the above metrics have largely been standardized across the industry and more manufacturers are relaying electric vehicle specifications in easy to digest horsepower and miles of range. Until then, this guide should help us all navigate our way around the EV buying process.

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