The truth about EV batteries

05th September 2023
erin_baker_headshot.jpg Erin Baker

Thanks to Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the ULEZ to cover all 32 London boroughs – and the abolition of means-testing for the £2,000 scrappage grant for residents with non-compliant cars – I’ve been doing the rounds of BBC radio listener phone-ins this week and last. Queue much outrage about how much it’s going to inconvenience and cost those living in the expanded zone, or, worse, those living in a county which borders the zone. So their car is fine right up until they drive into the next street, where it’s not and no, there aren’t signs because most of the counties are refusing to put them up, in a display of protest against the expansion. 


And for those who think it’s a London-centric problem, two points: the expanded zone now includes Heathrow so beware those dropping off or collecting people from flights, and most other local authorities are considering rolling out some form of clean-air policy in their cities.

But embedded in the public anger has been a curious pitch of outrage reserved for electric cars – specifically, their batteries. The general consensus seems to be that we’ve been told an environmental lie about electric cars, because the batteries are a horror show. The arguments from listeners to various regional and national BBC radio phone-ins I was on have been: as a new technology, batteries’ reliability is unproven; they degrade over time so used electric cars are a big gamble; if the battery is damaged in a crash, you have to scrap it; you can’t repair or recycle batteries.


EV batteries: Just how quickly do they fail?

All of which is, well, wrong. Although, as I’ve discovered, it’s quite hard to convince an irate listener who’s come on air to make one of these specific points that he or she has misunderstood. But I’ve had to try because this maelstrom of battery myths is a huge blocker in the used EV market, which is where most people will buy theirs once the pot of wealthy and company-car buyers is fully exhausted.

First of all, let's front up to the idea that EV batteries are a new technology: it came as a genuine surprise to many listeners when I said that the likes of the Renault Zoe, Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf have been with us for a decade or more now. That’s hardly unproven tech: over 10 years of global, mass-volume production. Also: they come with an eight-year warranty. Show me a petrol engine that comes with an eight-year warranty, or doesn’t need some part replacing or repairing during the first decade of its life.

Next: they degrade over time. Yes, they do. By about one per cent a year, according to the biggest global OEM data sets we have to play with. So that’s a 10 per cent loss of performance in a 10-year-old Tesla. I defy a single consumer to notice that drop-off. Moreover, I sense that consumers are confusing battery degradation with improvements in batteries between generations. Hence, a consumer might compare a new Leaf with an eight-year-old Leaf, and be shocked that the former offers 200 miles of range, the latter about 80 miles, and put that down to battery degradation. They of course fail to realise that the older Leaf only offered 90 miles of range to start with.


Third: if the battery is damaged in a crash, you have to scrap it, because you can’t repair them. Yes, you can. You can repair, remanufacture and recycle batteries. After all that, at the very end of automotive life, you can still find them a second life.

Stellantis – parent brand to everything from Peugeot and Citroen to Vauxhall, Fiat and Alfa – is skilling up UK dealerships to do simple repairs on batteries, take apart components and put them back together. And if a rebuild is required, the battery can be shipped off to be remanufactured. It's then returned to the customer, who’s given a courtesy car in the meantime, as they would be with a more extensive engine rebuild rather than a simple part repair.

As time goes on, and OEMs train their employees to deal with every aspect of electric-car life, the ownership proposition becomes more and more akin to that of a petrol or diesel car. This is the message we need to get through to consumers as we ramp up to 2030.

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