Make no mistake, it still has a brake pedal, but in regular driving conditions you might not need to use it
Hyundai’s long-range electric car, the Kona, launched earlier this week, can be practically driven without using the brake pedal at all. Make no mistake, it still has a brake pedal, but in regular driving conditions you might not need to use it, except, of course, for emergency braking.
Every form has a function, and the one-pedal driving in the Kona, too, is the result of a larger technology that will become more popular with the arrival of electric cars—it’s called 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. In the Kona, using the control paddles located behind the steering wheel, you can select multiple levels of regeneration.
For example, 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 Kona decelerates very quickly, almost mimicking the conventional braking action. This especially comes in handy during stop-and-go traffic—by eliminating the hassle of constantly braking.
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).
While the Kona has a claimed range of 452-km on a full charge, in certain (ideal) conditions it can travel longer, too. For example, if you are travelling downhill (say, from Shimla to Chandigarh), you can end up gaining range.
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 landaus (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 landaus, 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.
The next one-pedal driven car that could be launched in India is the Leaf, by Nissan. The Leaf has a technology called the ePedal—the difference compared to the Kona is that, in the Leaf, as the driver takes her foot off the accelerator pedal, both regenerative and mechanical brakes are applied.