When buying a new electric car, one common thing most buyers wonder is when will the next battery upgrade come and how big will it be. Buying an electric car today and in the next weeks discover that a new battery with a lot more capacity for the same price has just became available is a sure path to feel buyer’s remorse.
Normal battery upgrades should be around 5-10 % every two years, small increments like when Tesla Model S 85 kWh battery was upgraded to 90 kWh. This is what happens when you are already using the best current technology, improvements are small.
The problem is that when traditional automakers started building electric cars, they purposely undermined them to prove people didn’t want them and technology wasn’t ready yet. The cells used were old technology and had an energy density of around 300 Wh/L, when Tesla Motors was already using cells with energy density more than double of that.
Now electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, BMW i3 or Volkswagen e-Golf are playing catch-up and changing from obsolete to modern battery technology, this means very big capacity increases are possible. That’s why we see improvements of 50 % happening in battery capacity and this leads to huge depreciation in older electric cars. An electric car with 100 km real range will have a big loss in the resale value if the new version has 150 km range. In the other hand the resale value of a car that has already a modern battery capable of 300 km real world range, won’t be much affected with a new version with 315 km range.
Until electric cars made by traditional automakers reach the current best cell’s energy density used by Tesla Motors, expect big battery capacity leaps from time to time. Tesla Motors has already reached 800 Wh/L in the 90 kWh battery and will soon surpass 900 Wh/L with the cells made in the Gigafactory for the Model 3 next year. So there is still a lot of catch-up to do by most electric cars that aren’t made by Tesla.
Consider 800 Wh/L the best cell’s energy density available now and used by Tesla Motors. Where are the others?
Nissan Leaf 24 kWh: 317 Wh/L
Nissan Leaf 30 kWh: 396 Wh/L
Upcoming Nissan Leaf 40 kWh: 528 Wh/L
Possible with 800 Wh/L cells: 60 kWh battery
Renault Zoe 26 kWh: 275 Wh/L
Upcoming Renault Zoe 40 kWh: 423 Wh/L
Possible with 800 Wh/L cells: 75,6 kWh battery
Volkswagen e-Golf 24,75 kWh: 305 Wh/L
Volkswagen e-Golf 36,63 kWh: 451 Wh/L
Possible with 800 Wh/L cells: 64,92 kWh battery
Note: Kreisel Electric already made a prototype with a 55,7 kWh battery.
Mitsubishi i-MiEV 16 kWh: 218 Wh/L
Possible with 800 Wh/L cells: 58,7 kWh battery
Now that you see what’s possible now, you know what to expect regarding battery upgrades in the next years.
Since traditional automakers don’t want electric cars to succeed, they aren’t interested in using the best technology. I usually look to smartphone’s batteries to see modern battery technology applied in consumer products. With new smartphones appearing every week, it’s easy to have new products where a new battery can be promptly used. For example the Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 has a 4.000 mAh battery with an energy density of 690 Wh/L since last year.
More interesting is that the Chinese smartphone maker Huawei has shown last year a battery capable of 48 % charge in 5 minutes and with an energy density of 620 Wh/L. This kind of fast charging will be useful when the charging start to be paid by the minute and not the energy used. Since quick charging stations should always be available for emergency charges I think that this way makes more sense.
There are a lot of ways we can use to prove that traditional automakers aren’t interested in electric cars, from how bad the dealers are in selling them, the ridiculous high prices, mandatory battery leasing in Renault, almost none advertising, lobbying against lower emission regulations to saying technology isn’t ready yet. But my favorite way is analyzing the battery they used. An automaker serious about making good electric cars only use cells with at least an energy density of 600 Wh/L, anything less just tells me they want electric cars to fail and then blame the technology, saying it isn’t ready yet and people don’t want them.
A common trick is telling the technology that will make electric cars possible is just years away, either it be lithium-air, lithium–sulphur or even the hydrogen scam. So they can keep selling polluting cars, ignoring that the current battery technology can already make electric cars better than gas cars.
Not only automakers lie about current battery technology regarding capacity they also lie about price. With today’s technology electric cars can already compete with gas cars in terms of range and price if automakers decide to mass produce them.
Moral of the history…
Until the cells used in the batteries reach at least 800 Wh/L there is still a big margin for improvement and battery capacity increase will happen in big leaps. If you have a Tesla you shouldn’t worry about battery improvements, you already have the best. You can only expect the battery increase from 90 kWh to 100 kWh in next year or two. By 2018, traditional automakers will probably decide to use the best available technology in electric car batteries, then battery upgrades will be minor and gradual, not big leaps that scare buyers.