For some, switching in to any kind of automatic car is daunting if they've spent a long time driving manual cars. Paired with buying an electric car it can then turn into feeling like stepping completely into the unknown.
An electric vehicle is automatic, taking away having to choose between gearboxes and allowing you to focus on more important aspects of electric cars like the battery capacity and additional features.
However due to their different build from traditional fuel cars you may be wondering how their automatic transmission works. Even if you're used to driving automatic vehicles there are some key differences in how an electric car's automatic transmission works.
Whilst all consumer electric cars are automatic, they do not have gears like a petrol or diesel car does.
Generally, an electric vehicle will have a switch or a button that allows you to switch between the different driving modes: "park", "reverse", "drive", and "brake", rather than a gearstick. ICE automatic cars still have a stick or lever that tells the gearbox which position it needs to be in. Electric cars have single speed transmissions that don't need to cycle through different gear ratios to reach top speed.
Firstly the electric motor, the equivalent of the internal combustion engine, is more efficient than a petrol or diesel engine. Whilst they generally achieve 4-6,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) an electric motor can produce up to 20,000 rpm.
Internal combustion engine cars then need multiple gears to build power and torque through the revs. The gears keep the power between a set amount so that you can speed up and slow down whilst having the right torque to do it.
When you're in first gear and hit the accelerator pedal hard you hear the car increasing it's revs and you must change up into second gear as it becomes too much for first gear to handle and so on until you're up to the required speed.
In contrast, electric motors generate all of their torque at low speeds and consistently maintain it thank to electric motors not having the same power band limitations as their petrol or diesel counterparts. This means that there is no need for additional gears in electric cars as single speed transmission is sufficient to get to top speed.
As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule.
Porsche have embraced a two speed automatic transmission and applied it to their Taycan model. Audi followed suit with the E-Tron GT, making them currently the only two EVs to use a two speed transmission.
This doesn't mean that there is a manual transmission that requires the driver to use a clutch pedal, the car itself will still automatically shift up to the higher gear. The second gear itself is there to stop the electric motor and battery from being overworked at a higher speed.
Interestingly, the prototype Tesla Roadster did initially have a two speed manual gearbox and Ford have shown a six speed manual EV Mustang at SEMA in 2019.
As previously mentioned, electric cars have a "brake" mode. This is regenerative braking and allows the car to replace some of the power that it uses. The single speed transmission that electric vehicles use is crucial in allowing this to work and would not be possible if there was a gearbox.
Regenerative braking uses the driving system itself to slow the car down by putting the electric motor into reverse which then slows the vehicle. The benefit of this is that the motor captures the kinetic energy produced when the car slows down and converts it into electricity which is then passed into storage in the battery.
Driving an automatic electric car has several benefits over driving even an automatic ICE car due to their difference in build.
Electric cars can be up to 30% cheaper to service and maintain, with a large part of this coming down to the build of the car itself. Without a manual gearbox, an electric car has fewer moving parts and therefore fewer parts that need regular maintenance and upkeep.
Electric motors also require no direct upkeep and are enclosed which all contributes to lower maintenance costs. As your car gets older it's also likely to need less replacement parts than a diesel or petrol counterpart, where parts become a more frequent purchase and cost more as the car gets older.
The absence of gears means that an electric car gives torque consistently from the moment you press the accelerator pedal and gives instant power at any time. Combined with a lack of combustion engine to have to burn fuel to power the car, an electric car is generally able to reach the desired speed before its petrol or diesel equivalent.
One of the great benefits of an automatic electric car is the convenience when driving. There's no gear shifting to do in an automatic car and only two pedals which is a less demanding drive. Focus purely on the road and pair with cruise control (if available) to make longer drives even easier.
There's also no having to change gears at low speeds, or figuring out which gear is best as you drive through a city centre. This also means that you cannot stall an electric car, a big win for new drivers or just those driving automatic for the first time!
Are all electric cars automatic? Yes, due to the build and design of electric cars and the difference in the way that they run in comparison to petrol or diesel cars, they must be automatic. Whilst there have been considerations and designs for a manual electric car to give a feel of "real driving" these have not yet come to fruition.
Electric cars continue to have many benefits over traditional petrol and diesel cars, plus the additional benefits that come with driving an automatic car, which make it an ideal option for your next new car.