Electric car technology: What is one-pedal driving and how does it work?

A 100-year-old technology is getting popular again: All electric cars have a brake pedal, but in regular driving conditions you might not need to use it.

The Kia EV6, the Volvo XC40 Recharge, the Tata Nexon EV Max … all these electric cars can be driven without using the brake pedal at all. Make no mistake, these (and all other electric cars available in India) have a brake pedal, but in regular driving conditions you might not need to use it, except for emergency braking.

Regenerative braking

The technology that allows you to do this is called ‘brake energy regeneration’, or in simple words ‘regenerative braking’.This technology turns the mechanical energy generated by the wheels into electricity when you decelerate (slow down the vehicle), and then stores it in the battery.

This way, a portion of energy that would have otherwise been lost as heat and sound is channelled into the battery, increasing the driving range of the car.

Levels of regeneration

In most electric cars, you can select multiple levels of regeneration either by using control paddles located behind the steering wheel (like in the Audi e-tron) or via a button on the dashboard or between the seats (like in the Nexon EV Max).If you want the car to charge the battery more when decelerating, you can increase energy recapture. In this mode, when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal, the car will decelerate very quickly, almost mimicking the conventional braking action. This especially comes in handy during stop-and-go traffic—when you won’t have to use the brake pedal at all.

While driving on the highway, you can select the easy cruising mode—here, comparatively lesser energy is captured, and the car more or less gives you the conventional coasting and deceleration feel (as is in any petrol or diesel car).

100-year-old technology

Regenerative braking, and the resultant one-pedal driving, is not a new phenomenon. Like electric cars, it dates back to early 20th century. One of the first examples was seen in the landau (a four-wheeled carriage with a removable cover) manufactured by the French company Societe des Voitures Electriques Systeme Kriéger (or Kriéger Company of Electric Vehicles). In these electric landau, the motors that drove the front wheels could operate in reverse, to work as generators when the carriage slowed down. During those days of poor-quality mechanical brakes, the primary function of this technology, it appears, was not regeneration of energy, but helping slow down the vehicle. However, with the arrival of internal-combustion engine cars soon after, and with mechanical brakes improving, the technology all but disappeared. With the advent of electric and hybrid cars, it appears to be full circle for the technologies long forgotten.

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