Volkswagen future battery upgrades

Samsung SDI at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) 2017

Politicians often use the TINA (There Is No Alternative) narrative when they need to push unpopular agenda. Corporations do the same, whether we’re talking about cutting wages, while giving big bonus to CEOs, or when they want to keep using profitable, yet polluting and already obsolete technology.

This article is all about TINA. I really hate TINA, it’s a coward excuse to ignore reality and alternatives, while feeling comfortable with the ruling paradigms. For this reason, in this article we’ll see where the current battery technology is at and what it makes possible today, not in a distant future.

Let’s begin!


In 2014, Volkswagen planned to continuously upgrade their plug-in cars with Sanyo battery cells as we can see below.


Volkswagen’s plan in 2014 for future battery upgrades


However, instead of the initial plan of making incremental and more frequent battery capacity upgrades, Volkswagen decided to change its battery cell supplier from Sanyo/Panasonic to Samsung SDI and is now introducing 37 Ah cells to their plug-in car batteries. These new battery cells have the same size form factor (VDA PHEV2) and directly replace the old 25 Ah Sanyo battery cells. By the way, the VDA (Verband der Automobilindustrie) is the German Association of the Automotive Industry.

Volkswagen’s current strategy is to use the same battery cells in every plug-in car, doesn’t matter if it’s a BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) or a PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). While this strategy isn’t the best for all electric cars, since it relies in a compromise between energy and power density, it does have the advantage of economies of scale.

As you can see in the first image, Samsung SDI already unveiled the capacities available for the VDA PHEV2 cells – which are used by Volkswagen.


Let’s see what Samsung SDI current battery cells make possible in Volkswagen electric cars:


Volkswagen e-Golf (88s3p)

Step 1: 264 x 3,6667 V x 37 Ah = 35,82 kWh (currently on sale)

Step 2: 264 x 3,6667 V x 50 Ah = 48,4 kWh

Step 3: 264 x 3,6667 V x 60 Ah = 58,1 kWh


Unfortunately, it’s rumored that Volkswagen will only move to “step 2” in 2019, by introducing a Volkswagen e-Golf with a 48 kWh battery in its 8th generation and a more powerful and efficient 152 kW electric motor.

Only when Volkswagen decides to use the 60 Ah battery cells, will the automaker achieve what Kreisel Electric did long ago.


Volkswagen e-up! (102s2p)

Step 1: 204 x 3,6667 V x 37 Ah = 27,68 kWh

Step 2: 204 x 3,6667 V x 50 Ah = 37,4 kWh

Step 3: 204 x 3,6667 V x 60 Ah = 44,88 kWh


The Volkswagen e-up is currently a “frozen” project and still has the old 25 Ah battery cells made by Sanyo. It’s rumored that only in 2019 the Volkswagen e-up will be joined by its twin brothers, Seat e-Mii and Skoda e-Citigo. Unfortunately it seems that only by then Volkswagen will “unfrozen” this electric car, by giving it more range and lower price.


Given that plug-in hybrids are a bridge technology and not the focus of this website, I won’t even bother with them. Nevertheless, they should also get the battery upgrades.


Moving on…


The old 25 Ah cells from Sanyo had a volumetric energy density of 277 Wh/L and the new 60 Ah cells from Samsung SDI are 665 Wh/L. This is great, nevertheless some modern smartphones already have batteries that surpass 700 Wh/L, such as the Huawei Honor 8 Pro that reaches 710 Wh/L.

Besides of enabling higher ranges, the best thing about increasing energy density is that with the same raw materials we get more capacity to store energy, thus contributing for lower kWh cost.


Summing up…


Even the Volkswagen electric cars, e-up and e-Golf, that are still in a shared platform with the ICE versions, can already get very good battery capacities with the current technology. Imagine when they finally get a dedicated platform, such as the Modular Electrification Toolkit (MEB) – previewed in the Volkswagen I.D. Concept that we see below.


Modular Electrification Toolkit (MEB) in the Volkswagen I.D. Concept


Given that the next generation Volkswagen electric cars with the MEB platform won’t arrive before 2020, Volkswagen really needs to use the already available 60 Ah battery cells, to milk the current platform. The TINA strategy is no longer working and Volkswagen needs to step up its game.


It’s now possible for Volkswagen to sell the e-up with a 44,88 kWh battery or the e-Golf with a 58,1 kWh battery. The Volkswagen e-Golf would get a realistic EPA range of roughly 208 miles (335 km), just enough to make it modern in current standards. How long will it take for Volkswagen to do it? I don’t know, but I suspect it depends on the sales of the Tesla Model 3. I really hope that Tesla manages to increase production to its goal of 40.000 monthly units already in early 2018. That would finally get German automakers worried and moving…

Anyways, I suspect that as rumored, the next – and probably only – upgrade will be to 50 and not 60 Ah cells. It’s not very likely that Volkswagen will decide to jump right into 60 Ah when the new Samsung SDI battery cell plant starts operating in Hungary next year. Otherwise, it would make their electric cars viable alternatives to the ICE cars, and this would destroy the TINA narrative.


What do you think? Will Volkswagen upgrade the batteries in the current platform, or will it keep writing tons of press releases saying that the technology isn’t ready yet, while waiting for 2020 and the new MEB platform?!

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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4 years ago

Pedro are you sure that Samsung 50Ah cells or even 60Ah are ready for mass production? Do you know about any application with such “big” prismatic cells with equivalent energy density per cell?

4 years ago
Reply to  Pedro Lima

Hi Pedro, thanx for reply.

From my point of view there is a significant technological difference between pouch and prismatic cells. Pouch cells uses a non liquid electrolyte (it is chemically based on liquid one but with added plasticizer it become a gelous structure) and have laminated structure. Prismatic cells are I think more similar to cylindrical and uses wound structure with liquid electrolyte. So I know that pouch cells make huge progress in the term of energy density in last few years. Kokam and LG have already 550Wh/l “big” pouch cells.

Also I am not sure if small mobile phone cells with state of the art energy density 700Wh/l are based on prismatic principle or if they are pouch cells in a hard case?

Also from what I can see on the market and is most noticeable on cylindrical cells is, that there is no evidence that bigger cells based on the same technology have the same or even better energy density rather than smaller cells. An example is 18650 format. Smaller 14500 and also bigger 26650 formats have still significantly lower energy density. Now we have confirmed that new Tesla 21700 cells are 5Ah “only” so they also barely matching the energy density of 18650 which are already available for 4 years.

So what I am trying to say is that big prismatic (or big cylindrical) cells shows the smallest increase in energy density in last few years. I agree that it can be caused because the lack of interest about this particular format. So I am very sceptical that there are already more than 550Wh/l in big prismatic cells (50Ah cells in VW format or 120Ah in BMW format).

4 years ago
Reply to  Pedro Lima

I am somewhat skeptical about all the statements of these days made by all Li-ion cells manufacturers, including Tesla. And this leads me to the question if we know for sure that new 21-70 cells for TM3 are NMC based? If I look at current production of highest energy density cells in small cylindrical format (18650,20700) all of them are NCA based. Even new 21700 from Samsung SDI are NCA. So I think there are two cell models in 21-70 format already produced in Gigafactory. This new 5Ah NCA chemistry based cells for Model 3 and older ones with significantly lower capacity (but with better cycle life and safety) based on NMC chemistry used for their stationary ESS.

Anyway I must say that I like your site very much. Your articles always includes detailed analysis of what is possible and what we are waiting for. So please keep doing this great job.

3 years ago
Reply to  Pedro Lima

Those non-removable batteries in smartphones (iPhone, remember Note 7!) are Pouch cells. And all those chemistries are used in smartphones like the Huawei Honor 8 Pro and other consumerelectronics a while before they come to the EV market.

Indeed prismatic and even pouch cells have less energy density than cylindrical today(btw, the latter usually have different chemistry(NCA vs NMC). But you need to compare those cells assembled in a complete battery package. Cylindrical cells loose 15%(gravimetric)/50%(volumetric) density compared to pouch (16-18%/30-50%) and prismatic(8%/20-22%). So prismatic cells are not that senseless as you suggest.

4 years ago
Reply to  Pajda

60ah prismatic cells from Samsung SDI have been commercially available and used for first generation BMW i3 cars since 2013 !

4 years ago
Reply to  Chris

Hi Chris,

I was thinking about energy density of big prismatic cells. 60Ah cells for BMW i3 have 227Wh/l newer one with 94Ah have about 360Wh/l and now we are waiting for 120Ah cells. But even 120Ah cells will have relatively low energy density.

4 years ago

Es más que obvio que Volkswagen intenta retrasar lo maximo posible el coche eléctrico pero como tu has dicho muy acertadamente Pedro Lima las ventas del Model 3 de Tesla pondran en apuros a toda la industria automovilística alemana ¿A que nivel de apuro?. Según las ventas de este y auguro igual que lo que pensara usted que el model 3 se va a vender bastante bien. La llegada para la decada de 2020 de celdas de Li-S con 500wh/kg de Oxis Energy las de Sion Power y tal vez 400-500wh/kg de Solid Energy pondran definitivamente al coche eléctrico en el lugar que le toca……Tan solo nos queda esperar para ver lo inevitable.

4 years ago

Samsung is investing in Hungary. LG is building a factory in Poland.

4 years ago

Samsung SDI is being built in Hungary. LG chem does in Poland. To the point – perhaps bigger cells are more costly per kWh? Second problem might be that battery being essential to electronics, suspension (probably bigger kg/l ratio) as well as safety issue becomes too complicated to replace/upgrade on a regular basis. So they wait for major refresh. Other problem might be with cooling as density increases, although more so during fast charging.

4 years ago

I mam – Samsung SDI factory is being built…

4 years ago

Sorry for mistakes and repeating the Hungary issue. Problem with writing on the phone:/ will have to find how to switch language during writing…

premium salmon
4 years ago
Reply to  Mg

Still staying with Hungary and Samsung SDI:
please note that the European production center has been inagurated already back in May this year, so it should have started production.

However no production data are known to me since planning, except the annual output is planned to be 50 000 „batteries”, compared to LG Chem Poland with 100 000 „batteries” / year.

I presume these might be e-cars, so we have to guess models and battery needs. The agreed average number in analysis is 70 kWh/car, however from as I understand now, with VW it is not realistic for 1 or 2 more years.

You may remember the Samsung SDI EV battery breakthrough on the NAIAS 2016,

And that well hid, but decisive sentence:
„The new cells for 600 km are to be produced starting around 2020.”

So it is quite murky around Samsung SDI.

premium salmon
4 years ago
Reply to  premium salmon

Then came January 9, NAIAS 2017, with more impressive promises:

„Samsung SDI presented in Detroit at the 2017 NAIAS several battery innovations for electric cars.The major reveal is the next generation lithium-ion cells with both high energy density for 600 km (373 mi) of range in an all-electric car and high power density for 20-minute recharge (80%).”

And again, an even worse announcement:
„The drawback is that Samsung SDI expects mass production of these cells in 2021. „

Is the future picture of Samsung SDI batteries even murkier?

Michael Papke
4 years ago

I’m still driving my e-up! with pleasure. But sometimes on my 500 km trips a bit more battery capacity would make things easier. The Samsung 37 Ah PHEV2 battery cells don’t perform good regarding fast charging. VW decided to not use any cooling for the e-Golf and e-up! and so there is a demand for battery cells with much lower internal resistance. The 25 Ah PHEV2 battery cells from Sany/Panasonic doing this really well. A fast Charge up to 80% is done in only 20 minutes, but when battery temperature reaches 38°C, the charging power drops. At 43°C the charging power is limited to 16 kW.

However, I would be glad if there will be a battery upgrade available for existing cars. If VW will ask me around 2019/2020 if I would like to upgrade my e-up! battery pack to a new one with 27 or 37 kWh, then, depending on the price, I will really think about this option. But my hope to get such an offer is really low.