When will battery upgrades start to slow down?

Electric car interior

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.



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Pedro Lima

My interest in electric transportation is mostly political. I’m tired of coups and wars for oil. My expectation is that the adoption of electric transportation will be a factor for peace and democracy all over the world.

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5 years ago

According to Tony Seba many carmakers will go bankrupt in less than 10 years.

It may sound crazy but if we look what happened to Eastman Kodak, Nokia, Polaroid (to name a few) we can see it may not be that surreal to occur.

To defend mainstream automakers a 90 kWh Tesla battery costs about the price of a ZOE without batteries. That means a 90 kWh ZOE would cost with batteries included about 43000€.

Electrical cars will only become mainstream when a 60-70 kWh battery costs about $6000.00 USD give or take it $100.00 USD per kWh.

5 years ago
Reply to  sapcmc

Electric cars leave legacy auto makers with two very big bad choices to make for their business…

1) long term much redueced sales and profit because they will make high quality electric cars that last a very long time with little to no profits available for maintance items and repairs since they dont have engines and trannies that fail… let alone their pending dealership fights they will have in the US with the cronisum laws that dealersips have gotten pushed through at the state levels…

2) business as usual while waiting for Tesla, other startups, and the Chinese to put them out of business…

9 out of 10 says FCA will be the first to fail and that BYD becomes a major international automaker…

5 years ago

Hola Pedro Lima.
Como me gusta mucho indagar sobre el tema del coche eléctrico todos los boletos dan premio a un nuevo formato para el Tesla model 3 que al parecer sera la celda Panasonic la 20.700 4,2ah pero me he quedado bastante decepcionado al ver que su energia gravimetrica estara sobre los 220-230wh/kg y volumetrica 600-650wh/l ……Estas cifras serán inferiores a las actuales Panasonic 18650. Pedro lima ¿Es posible que Panasonic de el campanazo con una celda especifica de este nuevo formato y de esos 900wh/l y al menos 300wh/kg?. Te formulo esta pregunta por que veo informaciones contradictorias en varios medios.

5 years ago

I think with current situation only mainstream automakers that seem to have had awaken to reality are really GM and Nissan Renault Alliance.

Carlos Ghosn has been playing a very pivotal role and has been keeping the wildcard as much as he can but will launch it once the model 3 gets released.

In the aftermath many traditional automakers will become extinct.

5 years ago
Reply to  sapcmc

One thing is sure. I would trust the quality of a Nissan product over Tesla any day. A perfect Gen 2 leaf would make me cancel my Tesla 3 reservation. Exiting times.