Electric Powertrains: An Efficient, High-performance Alternative to Internal Combustion

The automotive industry is experiencing a major transition as electric powertrains increasingly displace traditional internal combustion engines. Driven by pressing environmental concerns, government regulation, and a broadening understanding of their performance advantages, electric powertrains represent a highly compelling solution for those looking to power on-road, off-road, marine, and aerospace vehicles both today and well into the future. This article takes a look at the different parts of an electric powertrain, some of its key benefits over combustion engines, and how the future is shaping up for electric powertrains as adoption ramps up and innovation accelerates. 


What is an Electric Powertrain?

To put it simply, an electric powertrain harnesses electricity from an onboard battery to move a vehicle by spinning an electric motor rather than combusting fuel. Unlike combustion engines, which generate power through controlled explosions of stored, on-board fuel, electric powertrains utilize a rechargeable battery to store energy that is then converted to motion by the motor. Because significantly less energy is lost to heat compared to a traditional combustion engine, electric vehicles operate with far greater efficiency and longevity. 


The Parts of an Electric Powertrain

There are four primary components that make up an electric powertrain system. First, and most obviously, is the electric motor, which transforms battery voltage into mechanical torque through electromagnetic forces. Next is the battery or batteries that store energy — typically lithium-ion packs that can hold multiple kilowatt-hours of electric potential. Various electronic components then precisely control and distribute current between the battery and motor. Finally, a single-speed or multi-gear transmission, or gear reduction unit, transfers torque from the motor output to the wheels through differential gears or gearing — often reducing the often high RPM output of electric motors to a more usable figure. 


Benefits of Electric Powertrains over Internal Combustion Powertrains

Due to their clean and efficient operation, electric powertrains offer many valuable advantages over internal combustion. For one, electric powertrains realize up to 60% or more of the energy stored in batteries as usable power versus only around 20-30% efficiency for gasoline and diesel engines. This allows electric vehicles to travel much farther on less energy input, lowering operating costs significantly. In addition, operating electric powertrains yields zero tailpipe emissions, eliminating noxious pollutants that degrade air quality and impact public health.

Performance-wise, electric motors are unmatched, generating maximum torque instantly across their entire speed range. This allows electric vehicles to accelerate way more quickly than the average combustion counterparts, allowing some to go from 0-60 MPH in less than 2 seconds in some cases. Although they may lack the melodious noise we’ve come to love from many combustion engines, electric powertrains offer smooth and silent driving characteristics, making them enjoyable to drive at any speed. Additionally, electric powertrains require significantly less maintenance compared to internal combustion thanks to far fewer moving parts and less need to deal with friction and heat. 


Future Outlook for Electric Powertrains

Advancements in battery technology have been a primary catalyst behind the rise of electric transportation. In the late 2010’s, relatively affordable, long-range electric cars hit the market — ones capable of traveling 200 miles or more per charge. Automakers like Tesla paved the way, proving demand exists for both daily-driven and high-performance EVs. To relieve the very real concern of range anxiety for many shoppers considering EVs, most manufacturers currently aim to deliver vehicles with at least 300 miles of range. And thanks to newer protocols like CCS combo plugs, the time it takes to recharge electric vehicles of any size and type is decreasing. 

Looking ahead, electric powertrains are set to overtake most if not all markets currently dominated by internal combustion within the next few decades. This transition will be accelerated as emerging technologies and supporting infrastructure grow to match demand and further increase the appeal of EVs advantages. Over 300 new electric models will launch by 2025. Developed nations are funding ubiquitous public fast-charging corridors. Fleet operators are converting to zero-emission trucks, cars, buses, and machinery en masse. It’s already begun, but as the world continues the transition to the performance and sustainability of EVs and sustainable transportation, there’s no question that electric powertrains will be propelling our future.