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BEVs, MHEVs, HEVs, FCEVs – What?

No matter what you think of them, it looks like electric vehicles are going to be with us for some time. Discussions of battery range and charging time are becoming as commonplace in our car reviews as fuel economy and engine size. All the same, you may be feeling a little confused by the welter of new abbreviations and acronyms buzzing around the place.  You’ve got the other common terms used in car reviews and the like in your mental dictionary (SUV, EBD, ABS, etc.), but what are all these other terms?

Never fear: here’s a little guide to the most common abbreviations* you’ll find in discussions of electric vehicles and what they all mean.

BEV: Battery electric vehicle or, if you’re picky about grammar, a “battery-operated electrical vehicle”. BEVs are 100% electric and have a battery (as the name suggests) that has to be charged, as well as using regenerative braking.

HEV: Hybrid electrical/electric vehicle. These have an electrical motor and a traditional internal combustion engine. The two motors can run separately or both at once, depending on what you’re asking of the vehicle. The battery is charged by regenerative braking and not by plugging it into a charger. Again, it pays to clarify if someone is talking about HEVs to see if they are referring to all hybrid vehicles or just the sort that don’t plug in to recharge.

EV: This stands for “electric vehicle” and is the catch-all term that covers all vehicles that have an electric motor in them. Technically speaking, E-bikes, electric forklifts and electric trains could all be classed as EVs. However, in practice, the term EV tends to refer to cars. If someone starts talking about EVs, it’s wise to clarify exactly what they mean, as some use the term to cover purely electrical vehicles and hybrids, but others use it to refer to those running purely on electrical power.

MHEV: Mild hybrid electrical vehicle. This is the entry-level hybrid for those just dipping their toes into the waters of EVs (not that EVs and water mix, but that’s another story). Like all hybrid vehicles, an MHEV has an internal combustion engine and an electrical engine. However, the internal combustion engine does most of the work, with the electrical engine only kicking in during coasting, braking and stopping.

FCEV: Fuel cell electrical vehicles (also known as FCVs or fuel cell vehicles) are a different animal from the other EVs. Instead of relying on a battery that has to be charged up at regular intervals, a fuel cell vehicle generates its own electricity, using a fuel to get this electrochemical process going. The fuel in question is usually hydrogen, which is stored in a tank and can be topped up like an internal combustion engine’s petrol or diesel tank. It’s only in its early stages at the moment, but is likely to spread and grow in popularity as the technology improves and the infrastructure is set up. These can also be called HFCEVs or HFCVs, with the H standing for hydrogen.

PHEV: Plug-in hybrid vehicle (it could be abbreviated PIHEV but isn’t). These are the sexy hybrids that are coming out from every manufacturer. Like all hybrid vehicles, a PHEV has both an electrical motor and an internal combustion engine. However, around town or at low speeds, it’s the electrical motor that does the lion’s share (or possibly the Li-ion’s share) of the work, with the other engine kicking in at higher speeds and/or when the battery is drained. Unlike a mild hybrid (MHEV), a PHEV does not rely only on regenerative braking to charge the battery, as the battery needs more charge than braking can give. This means it needs to be plugged in to recharge, like your cellphone or laptop. Charging can be fast or slow, depending on the type of connection. Home charging tends to be slower, so it’s best done overnight.

PV: If you’ve come across this one, you are probably not reading about a car. PV stands for “photovoltaic” and describes the technology used in solar panels. Although people have tried to come up with a car that carries about its own solar panels (PV panels), these are not in production and have not been very successful so far. They are often referred to as “solar cars”.

ICE: This stands for internal combustion engine. Even though hybrid vehicles have an internal combustion engine, they are not called ICE vehicles. That term is reserved only for cars and utes that have the old-fashioned sort of engine.

Li: This isn’t strictly an abbreviation but should be included here. Li is the chemical element symbol for lithium, which is the main element used in rechargeable batteries in EVs and other devices. You’ll sometimes see this written as Li-ion, but there’s no need to put that hyphen in there, as you wouldn’t do it for, say, potassium ions, etc. (yes, I’m with the Grammar Police). Anyway, lithium can lose and gain charge quite readily, so it’s ideal for use in rechargeable batteries. It has its downsides, such as the fact that it can be volatile and because it’s not a renewable resource. Scientists are working on alternatives, including carbon nanotubes (abbreviated CNTs**)

EREV: Extended range electrical vehicle. This is something like the mirror image of the MHEV. It’s mostly an electrical vehicle, but it does have a small internal combustion engine as a backup. However, the internal combustion engine doesn’t power the drivetrain directly. Instead, it operates a generator that produces electricity that feeds into the electrical motor.

*I’ve come across some similar articles referring to these as “acronyms”. The picky part of me that’s a card-carrying member of the Grammar Police word nerds objects. Unless you’ve been pronouncing PHEV as “fevv” and EV as “evv”, it’s not an acronym. Most people I’ve heard have referred to “ee-vees” rather than “evvs”, so these are abbreviations.

** Be glad that this one is an abbreviation pronounced see-en-tee rather than an acronym…