Automakers Worried About Batteries Lurking In Older EVs

Written by Matt Posky

electric car

After a few years, most of us begin to notice our smartphones have developed an inability to hold a charge like they used to. The fix used to be pretty simple, no worse than swapping a couple of AAs into the remote.

Order a new battery online, pop off the back of the device, and replace the run-down cell with a fresh one.

Unfortunately, this simple act grew more difficult as manufacturers gradually decided to seal off access to your phone’s internals — mimicking the plight facing EV owners whose energy source is losing capacity.

A number of electric vehicles in the United States are about to celebrate their 10th birthday. A bunch of them are Nissan Leafs, the first mainstream BEV made widely available in the U.S. market.

At the same time, customers have begun complaining about diminished range, with some asking for a battery refurbishment program like the one enjoyed by customers living in Japan.

So far, the best they’ve received is a confident “maybe” from the manufacturer. It might behoove them to expedite things and pull the trigger.

Automakers are running behind in terms of establishing a global solution to aging EV batteries, and they’re risking a lot by not already having one in place. 

For many consumers, swapping an old battery pack with a new one is prohibitively expensive. Replacing the comparatively small units found in a hybrid vehicle can cost anywhere between $2,000 to over $7,000.

However, the worst you’ll have to endure on a hybrid up until that point is a slew of warning notifications stating your battery is dying until the car finally fails to start.

In the interim, you might also notice a modest MPG reduction. But you’ll probably have to start worrying about other major repairs by the time that happens, perhaps propelling you into a new car.

Purely electric vehicles are different. Range will gradually become an issue, worsening every year until the car becomes unusable for anything other than a trip around the block. As if that weren’t enough, their larger batteries cost quite a bit more.

Automotive News highlighted this fact in an interview with an early adopter named Ravi Kan-ade. Since purchasing his 2012 Nissan Leaf SL, he’s watched its charging capacity diminish by half over 60,000 miles of driving.

That’s not ideal, especially considering the car’s 24-kWh battery started out with an operational range of just 84 miles. He’s dying for the refurbishment option.

While Nissan said it was considering extending the program to North America when it launched in Japan last year, potentially opening the door for kWh upgrades, nothing has been confirmed.

It might not even make sense for Nissan to expand the program in its current penny-pinching state. But it would instill a warm, safe feeling inside its customer base.

In Japan, the Leaf battery refurbishment costs around $3,000 and units come via a new battery recycling plant inside the country. That’s not cheap, but it’s better than the alternative.

“A refurb program is needed to help owners who were affected by Gen 1 vehicles,” Kan-ade said. “I believe that these early battery failures are part of a learning curve that was passed on to the consumer. Nissan offered a battery replacement program for $5,500, but unfortunately, they quietly raised the price to $8,500.”

Read rest at Truth About Cars

Comments (3)

  • Avatar

    Chris Marcil

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    They probably wont extend it to the US. They do it in Japan because the customer base is small there and large here. This way they can have the rich Americans make up the cost difference. The only way that they could start doing this is here is if they increase the cost of the car. Otherwise this will cost them more than half the cost of the replacement. They knew going in that these batteries would have these issues. It cost some people that I know about $10,000 to replace theirs for a hybrid. EV’s are best used on the golf course. One day EV will become prominent but we first have to find an efficient means of storing electrical energy. Until then gas cars are the way to go.

  • Avatar

    Carbon Bigfoot

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    Having worked in the battery industry in the late 60s and developed a lithium battery prototype. I became thoroughly familiar with the cycle limitations of this battery. What truly amazed me was the proposal to develop this system for EVs. There are serious problems with ambient temperatures below 40 deg. F and that was borne out in Montreal when an Uber-type service with EVs that were uncompetitive for that very reason as Hoserville weather is considerably colder.
    Does that $8500 include ocean freight return to Japan for reprocessing? Lithium does not like water. You have to have ships with significant environmental protections or face fire and explosion issues.

  • Avatar

    Penguinite

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    I strongly suspect that refurbishing auto batteries will not proceed on a commercial basis because it isn’t commercially viable. Plus, refurbished batteries can never be guaranteed to provide an acceptable level of energy. Who, in thieri right mind, will buy a used EV with, say 200000km, on the odo? How can a buyer ever know the number of cycles the battery has processed. Unlike a combustion engine where even a cursory inspection can indicate the potential for a reliable future.

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