Let’s Talk More About Battery Longevity
In another recent article, our friend Barry discussed the need for standards in battery longevity if consumers are going to adopt EVs. I agree that there needs to be not just a standard, but a good standard. I’d like to add some of my thoughts to the conversation and provide some ideas on how we can improve that situation.
What Should The Standard Be?
Barry recommends a 15-year, ~150,000 mile warranty (I know he went metric and my figure isn’t exact, but any US standard or law is going to end up being stated in miles). I think his recommendation is close, but I’d tweak it a bit to make it more evidence-based.
First, let’s look at consumer expectations for vehicle longevity. There are a variety of figures out there for average vehicle longevity (factory to junkyard), but they range from 8 years or 150,000 miles (an older figure from more than a decade ago) to 12-17 years and 200k-300k miles. Somewhere in this range is what people expect an ICE vehicle to survive, and on its first engine and transmission, when maintained properly. In other words, this is how long a car should go before it needs an uneconomical repair (where the cost of the repair exceeds vehicle value).
If we want car buyers to believe (rightly) that an EV is a better vehicle than an ICE car, we need manufacturers to put their money where their mouth is and promise that the most expensive part of the car (the battery) will remain useful (80% or greater range) for longer than an ICE vehicle will remain useful.
I’d take the expected longevity (12 years on the low end), and multiply it by the average driver’s annual mileage (roughly 15,000 miles). That comes out to 180,000 miles, which splits the difference between older longevity figures and newer ones. So, that’s my recommendation for such a standard (12/180k). They really should last longer, but most vehicles outlast their warranties by several times, so that’s fair to automotive manufacturers.
This Isn’t Hard For Manufacturers
Whether we go with Barry’s 15/155k/70% recommendation or my 12/180k/80% recommendation, it shouldn’t be a challenge for automakers to warranty.
I know this is anecdotal, but there’s a Tesla that remained useful as a taxi for 180k miles on a first battery, and then over 600k on a second battery. This one (used for Uber), lasted 250k on the first battery and then at least 175,000 miles on the second battery (which was still going). That 180,000 mile battery had only lost around 16-17% of its range, so even my more stringent 80% range recommendation would hold up.
What about non-Tesla EVs? I don’t think we should consider the history of the Nissan LEAF or the various compliance cars manufacturers built between 2010 and 2016. Why? Because they don’t reflect the quality of what’s being sold by most manufacturers today. With the exception of the LEAF, EVs being sold in the United States today are all liquid-cooled, and even the LEAF has enough range to avoid racking up too many charge-discharge cycles from normal driving.
The oldest non-Tesla EVs that meet today’s battery standards was the Bolt EV. While the Bolt does have some shortcomings (55 kW charging), it has proven to be very, very good at resisting degradation, even when used as an Uber or otherwise driven heavily and fast charged frequently. There are a good number of “I know a guy” stories with Bolts exceeding 200,000 miles with minimal degradation, but that’s hearsay and we can’t rely on that. But, there’s one owner who racked up 150,000 miles on his, and documented it on video himself:
For him, the capacity was still at between 88% and 91% of original available capacity, which is impressive. It also shows that it would be easy, even for budget EVs, to not only last 180,000 miles, but to have over 80% range at that high mileage.
Is A Government Mandate Needed To Create This Standard?
Barry assumes that the US government (and perhaps other governments) should pass a law requiring a longer warranty than today’s 8-year, 100,000 mile battery warranty requirement. Before moving onto what the alternatives are, let’s keep in mind that the federal warranty mandate only requires that the battery work after that long, and doesn’t require a percentage of original range.
It’s important to note that manufacturers don’t all do the bare minimum required by federal law. Some manufacturers have 8-year unlimited mileage battery warranties. Hyundai even offers an unlimited warranty, with no year or mileage limits, for some of its EVs. So, we don’t necessarily have to pull the legislative card and hope such a law can make it through a hostile congress, or not get repealed later.
But, there are alternatives. One could be getting manufacturers and EV organizations to start pushing for a standard. It might even be possible to get automotive media to adopt a general idea of what a battery warranty should look like, and mention it in reviews and other coverage when a company offers the bare minimum instead of offering a decent warranty.
A Super Long Warranty Might Not Even Be Needed
There are still people today who think a hybrid car is too financially dangerous. In some ways, they’re justified in thinking so, because getting a Prius battery replaced at a Toyota dealer is well north of $3,000 when not under warranty. But, anybody who knows anything about dealers knows that they’re not the place to go if you have an out of warranty car that needs work. People don’t call them “stealerships” because it rhymes.
The cost of smaller hybrid batteries has dropped considerably from third party sources, though. In most places, you can find somebody who will come out to your house and install a refurbished hybrid battery (often with a short warranty) for well under $1,000. It’s also true that out of warranty EVs are starting to see third party companies that can refurbish battery packs and perform other service for for cheaper than a battery replacement from the battery manufacturer, so that trend is repeating itself.
It may be that the situation for out-of-warranty cars isn’t as bleak as it looks right now. By the time many EVs need out-of-warranty work done, the price could be affordable and may even entail getting more range and longevity than the original pack.
Featured image provided by Rivian.
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