You probably already know this, but electric cars and gasoline cars are completely different beasts.
In fact, concepts we’ve become accustomed to in gasoline cars such as the creep and kick-down functions of an automatic gearbox are not natively present in a electrical drivetrain - and yet automakers are spending lots of development time and money developing ways to get electric cars to mimic their gasoline ancestors.
But is this necessary? Or should electric cars be celebrated for what makes them different to gasoline cars?
Here’s a few ways in which gasoline and electric cars differ and how some plug-in cars are copying gasoline cars - often at the expense of fuel economy and operational simplicity.
When you take your foot off the accelerator pedal in a gasoline car, the retarding forces and friction within the engine cylinders slow the car down reasonably quickly without the need for a brake pedal.
But an electric car’s motor is affected much less by friction than a gasoline engine - so un-modified, an electric car can theoretically coast for a much longer distance and slow down much more gradually on lifting off the accelerator than a gasoline car.
However, most plug-in cars, including the 2009 Mini E test fleet, the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt mimic the effects of engine breaking by using regenerative braking triggered by lifting off the accelerator, slowing the car down as if it were being slowed by engine braking.
While it makes electric cars drive in a more familiar way, using simulated engine braking impacts on an electric car’s range, since it ends up wasting more energy than simply coasting.
A standard feature of practically every automatic transmission for the past 50 years, the creep function of an automatic transmission is perfect for moving gasoline cars forward slowly in busy traffic without unduly stressing the engine or the transmission system.
When using idle creep, feathering the brake pedal controls how quickly the car creeps forward, effectively controlling how much the car moves by balancing the natural friction of the automatic clutch with the friction of the brake pedal.
In short, you use energy in the form of braking to impede the forward motion of the car.
In an electric car mimicking idle creep a similar situation occurs. Because the car is moving too slowly to make use of regenerative braking, idle creep is controlled by the car’s friction brakes in the same way as a gasoline car - but this time the electrical motor, not the gasoline transmission system and engine, is put under stress, wasting energy.
In almost every automatic transmission pushing the accelerator all the way down induces kickdown - a shift to a lower gear ration to help give an extra boost of torque and power to help with that steep hill or overtaking maneuver.
But while cars like the 2011 Nissan Leaf appear to have a kickdown function we’re sorry to say they are completely simulated - since most electric cars only have a single speed gearbox.
2004 Toyota Prius accelerator pedal after being shortened as part of sudden-acceleration recall
Why mimic a gasoline transmission? Again, it’s all about familiarity - preventing the full power of the car’s motor from being unleashed unless the driver pushes the accelerator past its normal stop point and into the heavily sprung kickdown zone.
What do you think?
We’ve shared some of the ways in which some - but not all - electric cars try hard to mimic the driving experiences of gasoline cars, but is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?
Do electric cars need to make drivers used to driving gasoline cars feel at home, or should the differences between both car types be celebrated? Let us know in the Comments below.