EV Owners Expect Battery Upgrades

Car executives say that cars are becoming more like electronic devices and less like cars. People want 4G LTE connectivity. They want to be able to control their cars with apps. They want to be able to e-mail and text while they drive. They want to be able to fire off selfies and share them on Facebook. Turns out, a lot of people think they should be able to upgrade their batteries, too, according to Green Car Reports. After all, many of the batteries in our electronic devices are upgradeable. Why not EV batteries?

EV battery upgrades

Of all the manufacturers, only Tesla seems interested in keeping the software in its cars as current as possible. It routinely downloads software updates via the internet, often while owners are asleep. Earlier this month, it rolled out an update that enabled its cars equipped with Autopilot hardware to park themselves in a garage and re-emerge when summoned. No other company does that, at least not yet.

But even Tesla hasn’t thought of allowing customers to upgrade their batteries after the cars are built. Owners with early Model S sedans may have 60 kWh batteries, instead of the 70 and 90 kWh batteries available now. Tesla has put together an upgraded battery for its first car, the Tesla Roadster, but at $29,000, it’s pricey.

Denise Gray is the new CEO of LG Chem Power, the US arm of the Korean battery making company. She wonders why manufacturers equip their cars with large, heavy, expensive batteries designed to last for 10 years or more. She thinks it would make sense to use smaller, lighter, cheaper batteries that would be replaced with newer batteries every few years.

Think back to the dawn of the computer age. Microprocessors were being upgraded every week it seemed. The pace of progress was so fast, new computers were obsolete by the time customers got them home from the store. By the same token, EV batteries are getting better all the time. Why shouldn’t the owner of a 2012 Nissan LEAF be able to upgrade to the new 30 kWh battery available in the 2016 LEAF? Nissan refuses to even consider the idea. Like most manufacturers, its business model is selling as many new cars as possible, not keeping older cars current with new technology.

Gray’s idea may actually have some merit. One of the factors that depresses the market for used EVs is that buyers don’t want to be saddled with obsolete technology. But what if there was a new business model, one that allowed drivers to easily swap their batteries for newer units? The old batteries could be reused for residential or commercial electricity storage. Instead of owning batteries that rapidly become obsolete, drivers would rent their batteries. They could select how much power and range they need and are willing to pay for.

Battery swapping has been tried and abandoned as unworkable. But manufacturers could design cars with batteries that can be swapped easily. New cars would cost less, which would help invigorate the transition to electric cars. Is this an idea that appeals to you? Tell us why or why not in the comments section.


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.