Electric vehicles (EVs) like the Hyundai Kona have taken the automobile market by storm. In 2021, EV sales doubled from the previous year to a record 6.6 million. EVs represented nearly 10% of global car sales for 2021, demonstrating that this mode of transportation is poised to make major waves.
It’s no surprise that an EV has very different equipment under the hood than a traditional gas-powered vehicle. The simplicity of an EV is part of what makes this type of car so appealing. Quiet and efficient yet surprisingly powerful, today’s electric vehicles seem to have it all. But do they have a transmission powering their impressive feats? Here’s what you’ll find.
What Is a Transmission?
A vehicle’s transmission delivers power from the engine through a set of gears to the wheels. This component ensures that the wheels get neither too much power nor too little. In the most basic sense, every vehicle must have a transmission, or the wheels would have no way to access the power, whether this energy comes from a gas-powered internal combustion engine or an electric motor. However, there are some notable differences between the transmission in a gas-powered vehicle and the equivalent component in an EV.
How Do Gas-Powered Transmissions Work?
Gas-powered transmissions perform the critical task of controlling the speed of the spinning engine. The transmission prevents the engine from spinning either too fast or too slow, making it impossible to stop, start, or drive the vehicle effectively. A conventional transmission keeps the engine rotating between 500 and 7,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) so that it neither stalls out from moving too slowly nor overheats from rotating too quickly.
Gas-powered transmissions come in the form of either a manual transmission or an automatic transmission. A manual transmission features a clutch pedal and shifter, allowing the driver to change gears manually. The driver engages or disengages the clutch as the transmission engages or disengages the engine. The transmission features a flywheel and pressure plate with the clutch positioned between them. Disengaging the clutch releases the pressure plate to shift into a new gear.
An automatic transmission uses a torque converter in place of the clutch to change gears automatically without any input from the driver. The torque converter delivers torque to the engine when you want to move forward and absorbs that torque when you want to remain in place. The transmission also features a set of planetary gears controlled by hydraulics to allow the vehicle to change gears and operate at different speeds.
What Type of Transmission Do EVs Use?
Electric vehicles use a different type of system entirely. Many people refer to this system as a single-speed transmission because it performs the critical task of transmitting the engine’s rotation through to the wheels. Other automobile aficionados prefer to call this system a single-speed gear reduction unit, which provides a more accurate description of its functionality.
An EV does not use gears as a gas-powered vehicle does. The transmission in an EV adjusts the motor RPMs as needed to transfer the appropriate amount of energy to the wheels. While a gas-powered transmission must carefully balance the line between overheating and stalling the engine, an electric-powered transmission doesn’t deal with this complexity. EVs can operate safely and effectively anywhere from zero to their top RPM.
An electric motor can rotate at more than 20,000 RPM, providing enough power for the vehicle to speed by at 200 miles per hour. Since drivers typically want to maintain a more reasonable speed between 30 and 40 miles per hour, the transmission must control the torque to help you get there. The transmission in an EV diverts power as needed to either the front or rear wheels to deliver optimal efficiency while keeping your vehicle at the desired speed.
Do Any EVs Use Multiple Gears?
Automakers have delivered a few exceptions to the rule, demonstrating that EVs needn’t stay confined to the realm of single-speed transmissions. One of the first EVs, the 2008 Tesla Roadster, featured a two-speed transmission. However, this early iteration of the technology wasn’t as efficient as desired, so Tesla quickly cut back to a single-speed transmission in future vehicles.
The 2022 Porsche Taycan is a more recent exception. This vehicle features a two-speed transmission in the rear for the back wheels and a single-speed transmission to power the front wheels. This luxury vehicle utilizes its dual-speed transmission setup to deliver speeds of up to 160 mph in the all-wheel drive option.
Why Are Single-Speed Transmissions Preferred for EVs?
While it’s possible for EVs to utilize two-speed transmissions and multiple gears, it’s rarely desirable. Adding this type of system increases the parts and weight of the vehicle, thus decreasing its overall efficiency. A two-speed transmission creates a more complex system that’s more expensive to set up and more costly to purchase. A two-speed transmission also requires more labor at every stage, from the original construction to the user’s ongoing maintenance needs.
What Is the Future of EV Transmissions?
Certain vehicles with more extreme needs may incorporate more complex transmissions as EVs begin to expand into new markets. Race cars, large electric trucks, and some off-road vehicles may turn to two-speed transmissions for better operation. These types of vehicles may opt for one transmission speed for torque and the other for cruising speed.
Hybrid vehicles sometimes utilize a continuously variable transmission which uses pulleys to transition seamlessly from one speed to the next. Some EVs may transition into this type of technology to better manage the balance between speed and torque, delivering an optimal driving experience.
Are you interested in trying out an EV for yourself? If you’d like to check out our lineup of new Hyundai vehicles and take some of the latest models for a test drive, visit our team at Huffines Hyundai Plano. We’re happy to let you look under the hood and see what all the excitement is about in these innovative vehicles.