Electric cars are becoming more and more popular as we move away from a reliance on fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. In 2021, around 6.6 million electric vehicles were sold around the world and the global market is worth something like £200 billion. By 2030, some analysts suggest the market will be worth somewhere between £1.3 trillion and £2 trillion.
Almost all the major car makers have embraced electric vehicle technology. Even the supercar brands – with supercar price tags – are getting in on the e-action with some promising sub-four second 0-60 times and ranges of 300 miles or more. So without further ado, let’s torque about how electric cars are produced.
A Short History of Electric Cars
Believe it or not, the story of electric cars doesn’t start with the Toyota Prius or Elon Musk.
In fact we have to go back almost 200 years to a Hungarian priest called Ányos Jedlik who invented an electromagnetic device which he fitted to a small model car in 1828.
A decade later, Scotsman Robert Anderson invented a very basic electric carriage but it wasn’t until the late 1850s, with the invention of rechargeable lead-acid batteries, that electric cars became viable as a means of transport.
In the 1880s, Thomas Parker, the man responsible for electrifying the London Underground, was one of the first to answer the question ‘how are electric cars manufactured’ and built the first electric production car.
As an interesting aside, the very first car to bear the Porsche name was a petrol-electric hybrid in 1898 known as the Lohner-Porsche Mixte.
The introduction of Henry Ford’s cheap and reliable Model T effectively killed the electric market until the 1970s. The price of oil sky-rocketed and the car market was ripe for disruption.
Even into the early 1990s, electric cars were nothing more than crude conversions of petrol and diesel cars. However, coupled with ever-tightening environmental regulations and a more green-focused customer base, companies like Tesla are spending billions creating electric vehicles that are cost-effective to buy, cost-effective to run and have the range comparable to petrol and diesel cars.
These cars are certainly leading the charge for change, but how are electric vehicles made? Here’s how.
How are Electric Vehicles Produced?
The manufacturing process for electric cars is similar in some ways to that of traditional cars, but with a number of key areas where the process is unique. The main difference revolves around the engine and battery. Electric cars have an electric motor instead of a petrol or diesel engine. Electric cars also require specialised testing to ensure that the battery and electric motor are working correctly. When it comes to the manufacturing process itself, the key steps in production differ between manufacturers, though the overall steps required cover those set out below.
First off, an engineer builds the first half of the gearbox. They attach a brass fitting and a plastic tube that will deliver lubricant to the transmission’s bearings. The bearings are inserted and then a device that locks the transmission called a parking pawl is fitted. The second half of the gearbox is fitted with the single-speed transmission with four helical gears. This means the teeth are cut at an angle to ensure gradual engagement and a smooth transition between the gears.
The Driving Force
Perhaps the most important elements of an electric car – and a key component of how electric cars are made – are the rotor and the stator. They are both electromagnets. The rotor is inserted into the stator and the magnetic fields interact. This creates the torque that transforms electrical energy into mechanical energy and powers the car forward and backwards. This is now bolted to the gearbox assembly – known as the drivetrain – and cables are fitted to regulate the flow of battery power to the motor.
The chassis is pre-assembled and the drivetrain is lowered into the rear of the car’s body and bolted into place. Next, the drive axle is attached to the gearbox along with the independent suspension. This allows the car to react to bumps in the road wheel by wheel.
The battery, known as the powertrain, is the beating heart of an electric car and the most important element of how electric cars are produced. It’s not a battery like you’d find in your TV remote control, rather it consists of almost 7,000 lithium ion cells. Unlike traditional cars, where the engine is lowered into the engine bay, the battery packs in electric cars are so heavy the car has to be lowered onto the battery pack!
All the wiring is attached to power the lights, fans and other electrical components and then comes the car’s brain – the power electronics module. This is installed on top of the drivetrain and it converts DC power from the battery to AC current which is supplied to the motor when the driver accelerates.
A vacuum system is then installed to drain air from the battery and pump in liquid coolant to maintain an even temperature through the battery block.
The Car Itself
While the inner workings of the car are put together, the body panels, seats, instrumentation, lights, ignition and charging point are all assembled on a production line. When everything has been built and fitted, the car is tested and driven to ensure everything is working as it should. Once the car has been quality controlled, it’s signed off and ready to be delivered to the showroom or straight to the customer. This is the final step in the process of how electric vehicles are made.