Welcome to SHIFT Basics, a collection of tips, explanations, guides and tips to keep you up to date with mobility technology.
Get on board and fasten your seat belt, partner – because it’s story time.
My first close encounter with an electric vehicle was back when BMW launched its i3. I remember seeing this car rolling silently across the showroom floor, thinking it was some kind of personal transportation system of the future.
As interested drivers who entered the showroom on vehicle opening night reveal, one question seemed to resonate in space more than any other … “How long will this last?”
Speaking to the esteemed guest group, it became clear that they were actually referring to two things: range and battery life.
When it comes to range, the capacity of your electric vehicle depends on the type of electric vehicle itself and the size of its battery. The bigger and heavier the EV, the shorter its range will be compared to a lighter, more aerodynamically sleek vehicle – assuming both cars have the same size battery.
EV batteries are rated in kWh (kilowatt hours). This is how much electricity they can store, check out this handy explainer to learn more. But as a general rule, the larger the battery, the more range the electric vehicle will have.
There are a growing number of EVs capable of going over 200 miles on a single charge, but when the i3 was launched, 100 miles was the norm.
Software optimization can affect the range of an electric vehicle as well, but not by much. Tesla previously released an over-the-air software update that increased the range of some Model 3s of 9 miles.
While many of the party’s guests focused on how far the car had traveled, they were also concerned about the battery life before it ran out of service. This phenomenon is known as battery degradation.
As a lithium-ion battery is loaded and unloaded, it degrades. Remember the laptop that lasted all day and is now dead by lunchtime? It’s the same thing, but on a much larger scale.
Many potential EV buyers worry about this happening to their cars. So let’s take a look and see how much we should care about it.
Fortunately, we have a lot more user data than five years ago, and as EVs age, it’s become clear how much charge they can lose.
Some of those most affected by battery degradation are the owners of the first Nissan Leafs, especially those made over seven years ago.
The problem stems from a technical decision made by Nissan for its first-generation Leaf vehicles, where it opted for passive air cooling, rather than active cooling for its batteries. Air cooling is much cheaper to produce but much less efficient at handling battery thermals and can cause greater temperature variations. As a result, early Nissan Leafs are known to suffer from above average battery degradation as they age.
However, things have improved… a lot. Battery degradation doesn’t seem like such a big issue anymore.
Tesla has proven that by actively cooling batteries – and using spindle cells rather than pouch-type lithium-ion packs – their overall lifespan can be improved. It’s a format that many newer electric vehicles are adopting, and you could often hear an electric car’s cooling system working when plugged in charging on a hot day.
State of charge
Let’s take a look at what people are saying right now. In a study by the British consumer advice magazine Which? surveyed over 1,000 EV drivers last year, and the results were pretty clear.
An average three-year-old electric vehicle will only lose 2% of the battery capacity. By the age of six, his battery will have lost approximately 8% of charge.
What we also need to remember is a six year old auto uses six-year-old technology. If you were to buy a brand new electric vehicle today, chances are it will fare even better than the ones in this survey six years from now.
There is another way of looking at it too. If you are buying a new electric vehicle, there is a good chance that you are purchasing the car under a lease agreement. Most of the time on rental plans, drivers return the car for a new one, so battery degradation will never be an issue for these drivers.
Battery degradation will likely be a problem for buyers of used electric vehicles. However, it is quite easy to test the range of a used electric vehicle and check its battery status in the vehicle diagnostics. If the battery has degraded to a noticeable degree, this should definitely be reflected in its price.
While there are cases of battery degradation, it looks like for the majority of EV drivers this will never be a problem.
That includes those dew-eyed BMW i3 * admirers. They didn’t have to worry at all. It turns out that since the launch of the i3, no battery has had to be replaced due to premature aging or significant loss of range.
* Fuck I love this car
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Published March 3, 2021 – 14:59 UTC