Electric Car Dealers Must Address Concerns about Batteries

By · April 16, 2013

Nissan LEAF dashboard

First-time EV buyers might not know that total driving range of an electric car diminishes over time.

Car shoppers visiting a dealership to buy a conventional gasoline-powered car know what to expect from the vehicle when they drive it home: things like routine maintenance, life expectancy of major components, and how they will refuel it. These topics rarely need to be discussed at the point of sale anymore. But electric cars are different.

Most shoppers going to a dealership to look at an electric car today have never owned an EV. Many have never driven in one. This makes the buying process infinitely more difficult for the sales team and is the reason why some dealers sell significantly more EVs than their competitors in the same market.

It takes a commitment on the dealer’s part to properly train their sales team and provide them with the tools to deal with the unique issues and questions that potential EV buyers are likely to have. However it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to provide the dealer with the information and answers to those key questions.

Top of Mind: Battery Concerns

Perhaps the most challenging questions facing EV sales staff are about expected battery life. The battery is by far the most expensive and important component of an electric vehicle, so customers can ask a lot of questions about it. And they should.

I believe manufacturers need to make a greater effort to help explain how to properly care for the battery—and what to expect regarding performance over the life of the pack. I also believe they need to warranty the pack against capacity loss to help the consumer feel confident they won’t be stuck in a couple years with a battery that has been severely degraded and is expensive to replace.

Nissan recently announced it’s going to warranty the LEAF’s battery pack for capacity loss after the well-documented problems they had with LEAF battery packs driven in hot climate regions, particularly Arizona.

Under the terms of the warranty, during the first five years or 60,000 miles, Nissan will "repair or replace the battery under warranty with a new or remanufactured battery to restore capacity at or above a minimum of nine bars." When a LEAF drops below the 9 bars (out of 12) triggering a warranty, according to the LEAF owners manual, the battery capacity is 66.25% of its original capacity. To me, if the capacity drops below 75% in a car with under 60,000 miles on it there is a problem, so while I applaud Nissan for offering a capacity loss warranty, it could definitely be more robust.

I’ve had my BMW ActiveE for only 15 months, but I drive a lot. I’ve put 44,000 miles on it already and charged it a little more than 1,000 times. I record various data every time I plug in. My records indicate I have lost about 8% of the battery capacity so far.

Robert Bosch Battery System

Bosch battery system used in BMW ActiveE and Fiat 500e.

I’m impressed with the performance of the ActiveE's nickel-manganese-cobalt cells, which are made by Robert Bosch Battery Systems. They are exactly the same batteries used in the Fiat 500e and will be also used in the upcoming BMW i3 and i8. I have done plenty of deep discharges and I charge to 100% all the time, both of which are not the best way to ensure long battery life. In the case of the ActiveE however, it doesn’t matter as BMW will take these cars out of service after only a couple years anyway.

If this was an EV that I purchased and planned to keep for a while, I would have treated the battery with more care and possibly have even more than 92% of the capacity left. That being said, only losing 8% of the capacity after 44,000 hard miles and more than 1,000 recharges is pretty good in my opinion.

Setting Expectations

Most EV buyers don’t know what to expect. What kind of performance is reasonable after three years, 45,000 miles, and about 1,000 recharges? Should the dealers in hot climates like Arizona offer more conservative expectations than dealers in more moderate climates? The manufacturers don’t seem to have a handle on how to present this information to their customers yet. This can lead to problems a few years down the road as battery capacity is inevitably lost.

Here’s what I’d like to see:

  1. Every dealership needs to have at least one specially trained sales consultant that is an expert on EV batteries: how to properly care for them and most importantly what to expect over the lifetime of the car.

  2. Offer a robust warranty like Chevy and Nissan has (8 year/100,000 miles) plus a capacity warranty that guarantees 70% capacity for 6 years or 75,000 miles.

  3. Provide a LOT of information. Make graphs available that take into consideration a lot of variables like temperature and charging habits that show the expected capacity over time and mileage. These will obviously be guidelines, not exact predictions, but they will help the customer understand what to expect a few years down the road and how they can help to ensure a long, useful battery life (perhaps by not charging daily to full capacity).

    Making sure the customer understands this is vital, because in three years when they suddenly can’t make the round trip from their home to the office because of capacity loss and they weren’t told this will happen, there will be a lot of unhappy customers to deal with. Don’t let a customer drive off the lot in their new EV without fully understanding what to expect as far as battery life and you’ll save your self a lot of headaches (and lawsuits) a few years down the road.

What information would you like to have provided to you when you are shopping for an electric vehicle? Many of you have already shopped for and bought an EV, how did you find the overall experience? Was the information you were looking for readily available at the dealer? Was the sales person able to answer your questions?

New to EVs? Start here

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