A Glossary of Car Terms to Recharge Your Thinking

Must-know terms for switching gears from gas and emissions to alternative vehicles.

Don’t get left behind while the future charges forward. We’ve created a definitive list to charge your knowledge of electric as the auto industry gears up for a hybrid vehicle forecast filled with plug-in and battery options. Here’s a list to help you brush up on the lingo and fuel your thirsty intellect.

Battery Electric – a vehicle powered by a device that stores electrical energy. Unlike gas in the fuel tank which only powers the gas engine, an electric motor on a hybrid car can put energy into batteries as well as draw energy from them.

Bio-Diesel – A diesel fuel comprised of vegetable oil or animal fat base.

Biomaterials – Car seats made of soy-based foam or soundproofing using old denim is an alternative interior material used by Ford’s engineers and others to furnish their new fleets with sustainable sources found in nature.

Butterflies – Used to curb range anxiety, the feedback screen in the 2013 Ford Fusion displays butterflies as an indicator of the additional range beyond your selected charge point destination. The more efficiently you drive, the more butterflies you see and the greater your battery range.

Carbon Efficiency – The cost of driving a vehicle in terms of emissions generated.

Charging Station – Why is San Francisco rushing to set these up outside City Hall? To encourage use of plug-ins of course. The stations, like gas station counterparts, are publicly accessible terminals to recharge your EV.

Chevy Volt – The 2011 Motor Trend car of the year, GM released the Volt in U.S. in December of 2010 and is considered by the EPA to be the most fuel-efficient car in its class with an internal combustion engine sold domestically. The Volt can travel up to 50 miles on its lithium ion battery before needing a charge.

Clean Coal – Is there such a thing when it comes to the environmental impact of coal energy generation? This term implies coal can be made a viable fuel source low in carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants. Techniques include chemically cleaning the minerals and impurities, gasification, treating flue gases with steam to remove sulfur dioxide and other methods to aid the efficiency of the conversion into electricity.

CNG – Acronym for Compressed Natural Gas, also known as methane.

Diesel Electric – A transmission system with a diesel engine connected to an electrical generator. It creates electricity that powers electric traction motors. Considered as a class of hybrid electric vehicle when electrical energy is stored in rechargeable batteries for high efficiency applications.

Electric Motor – A hybrid’s electric motor lets it act as a motor and generator sot hat it can draw energy from batteries to accelerate the car. When serving as a generator it can slow down the car and restore battery energy.

Electro Pollution Smog – A new kind of pollution often associated with cell phones and high tension cables, e-smog derived from electricity + smog is a term for all artificially produced electrical and magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation. According to Ford, the Middle East has among the highest restrictions to reduce any dangers.

EV – Electric Vehicle

Feedback Concepts – As with the Ford butterfly display, feedback provides vehicle data to help drivers with range, navigation, phone, radio or other information.

Fisker Automotive – An American automaker that plans to release its Karma in the summer of 2011. It’s billed as the the world’s first true EV with extended range of 300 miles. The first 50 miles are on tailpipe-emission-free-electric-only charge. After 50 miles, a gas range-extending engine turns the generator to add an additional 250 miles of range. The Karma debuted at the 2008 North American International Auto Show and established the premium green car segment, one most major companies have since pledged to follow.

Ford Fusion – the 2013 plug-in exemplifies Ford’s new commitment to convert to affordable electric.

GM Impact – New green car concept introduced by GM at the Los Angeles Auto Show in the early 1990’s. The EV was touted for a driving range above 80 miles, a top speed of more than 100 mph and acceleration from 0 to 60 in 8.0 seconds.

HEV – An acronym for Hybrid Electric Vehicles.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell – This electrochemical cell consumes hydrogen to generate electricity.

Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) – Hybrids have a dual system that uses a small internal combustion engine and an electric motor to power a vehicle. The ICE refers to an engine with intermittent combustion of a fuel (usually a fossil fuel), as occurring with an oxidizer such as air in a combustion chamber.The expansion of the high temperature and pressure gases from the combustion applies direct force to a component of the engine such as pistons and moves the component over a distance generating mechanical energy. 

Lithium ion Battery – A rechargeable battery accommodating the flow of electricity by the movement of lithium ions from the negative terminal to the positive terminal.

NiCad – a type of rechargeable nickel cadmium battery using metallic cadmium as a cathod (electrode or terminal by which a current leaves an electrolytic cell).

Nissan Leaf – The 100% electric Leaf has been reserved by 2,000 customers  in limited U.S. markets – nearly 7,000 getting dibs in the first 65 hours Nissan opened the reservations.  “People are ready” says Nissan about the vehicles that spare  some 700 gallons of gas per year.

Overhead lines –Wires used to transmit electric energy to trains, trams, or trolleybuses at a distance from the energy supply point.

Parallel Hybrid – Combining two power sources (fuel tank and batteries) this way means both the engine and electric motor can turn the transmission at the same time and the transmission turns the wheels.

Mercury Switches – Their use has become controversial recently in terms of environmental restrictions on safe recovery and disposal of heavy metals by manufacturers. Such metals are used in automotive batteries and fluorescent lights and are present in factory waste or contaminated waste sites. A mercury switch consists of a sealed glass tube with two unconnected electrodes and a small amount of liquid mercury. When the tube is moved past a certain angle the mercury will pool between two electrodes and a connection is made, allowing electricity to flow through a completed circuit. Mercury is hazardous so many manufacturers are replacing switches with other mechanical methods of disruption electrical current.

Range Anxiety – Some of the new plug-ins need charging every 50 miles and this can produce anxiety in drivers worrying about running out of power.

Series Hybrid – Unlike parallel, the gas engine turns the generator and the generator can charge the batteries or power the electric motor driving the transmission. The gas engine in this type of hybrid does not directly power the vehicle.

Shielding Radiation – Are hybrids dangerous to our health? Scientists continue to study the effects of surplus radiation generated by the electromagnetic field from the AC current flowing from batteries to the engine and back again. Known as ionizing radiation, it is widely used in industry and medicine and presents a health hazard to living tissue. Numbers of acceptable levels vary, according to experts.

Toyota Prius – Now in its third generation, the Toyota hybrid hatchback went on sale in Japan in 1997 as the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle – and is considered the real McCoy by purists. Available worldwide in 2001, sales reached 1 million in September 2010, spurred on by rebates to reduce gas consumption. The U.S continues to be the biggest market.

Wireless Energy Transfer – The process in any system where electrical energy is transmitted from a power source, most commonly devices that convert one form of electrical energy to another. Wires are used to bear mechanical loads and carry electricity to telecommunications systems. Wireless transmission is useful in cases where instantaneous or continuous energy transfer is needed but interconnecting wires are hazardous or impossible.

Images: Justin Pickard; avinc; Chevy; EMF, Futureatlas, TechShowNetwork, Dustin Reynolds

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.