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More facts and definitions are here.

Electric vehicles can be powered by hydrogen fuel cells or batteries. EV is the general term for electric cars and includes battery and fuel cell vehicles. There is a third type of EV powered by ultracapacitors.

Fuel cells produce their own electricity. They are expensive and still under study at the present time. The US Military finds uses for fuel cell vehicles, while Toyota is investing in a 100 vehicle fuel cell demonstration program for civilian uses.

The abbreviation BEV refers to a battery powered vehicle. This is what most people think of when they think about electric vehicles. The NEV is a niche vehicle designed for low speed (25-35 mph) and shorter ranges up to about 30 miles. Golf carts and GEM maintenance vehicles are typical NEVs.

The LEV includes a wide range of smaller Evs from scooters to electric bikes and electric motorcycles. Since the development of a practical Lithium Ion battery, electric powered light vehicles have become much more practical. Lithium batteries are about a third the weight of their lead acid counterparts. This makes a lot of difference for example on a bicycle where you can replace three 10 pound batteries with one 10 pound battery that will do the same job.

As for light weight power, Ultracapacitors have the potential to provide quick charge and discharge for electric vehicles but are not yet able to hold a charge for an appreciable length of time. However, they have found uses for quick charging city busses, trains and some hybrid electric cars.  

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The First Electric Cars

The 1st electric car is variously credited to either the Jedlik electric car in 1828, or an 1834 car by Thomas Davenport. Davenport is generally credited with the first practical EV, though neither car was produced. Electric cars as we recognize them would be produced some 50 years later in the 1880s.

One big technical problem: Early electric cars had a really short range since the first batteries were not rechargeable. The first rechargeable batteries came along 25 years later in 1859. By 1881 batteries were portable enough to be used in electric vehicles. Three wheel EVs were popular in Europe, and by 1891, the Morrison electric vehicle was being built in the US. Other manufacturers like Baker, Columbia, Detroit Electric, and Riker followed.

By 1895 EVs had become quite popular in the USA. In 1897, electric vehicles found their first commercial application. A fleet of electrical New York City taxis, built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia, was established. By 1900 thousands of EVs by many companies were being produced in numbers greater than gas powered rigs. 

The electric sage, Thomas Edison, built 3 nickel-iron powered electric cars back in 1912. The top speed was 25 mph, and the price twice that of gas powered models of the day. Today the one remaining Edison car has sold at auction for some $1.6 million US. 

There are a number of EV firsts. A few highlights:

The first auto race in the USA was won by an electric car. The first car dealer sold electric cars in 1896. The next year, the electric car was the first with power steering. Electric Torpedo's held several firsts in top speed. The first woman to buy a car bought an electric car in 1898. A few years later in 1903 the 1st electric car in the US earned the first speeding ticket. Then in 1908 the first lady of mass production, Clara Ford, declared that her electric car ďnever fails meĒ.

Of course electric cars have always been first in simplicity and last in pollution. These days, EVs are often first off the line!                                                                          
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All electric cars are powered only by electricity. These electric cars go by the names Electric Vehicle (EV), Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), and Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV), or LSV, low speed vehicle. There is also the Light Electric Vehicle (LEV), which includes scooters, bikes, and the like.

The PHEV is a Plug-in Electric Vehicle that has a gas motor onboard as well as a bigger battery pack, or packs. The PHEV can be charged by plugging in at a charger, or by its gas motor. Sometimes the PHEV cars are called range-extended EVs.

Standard Prius hybrids have a 1.3  kwH pack. The 2012 Prius will have a total of 5 kWh storage and be rechargeable. Or, You can now buy additional plug in capable packs: 2 kWh kit for $2,000 or a 4 kWh kit for $4,000 USD.  

The Chevy Volt is a PHEV, or REEV - range extended electric vehicle. It has a large (16 kWh) battery pack.