2011 Nissan Leaf
2011 Nissan Leaf

A couple of recent reader’s queries has sparked the question as to whether electric vehicles will have the economic lifespan that internal combustion engine (ICE) cars have had in the past.

The average age of the Australian car fleet is 10.1 years (current Australian Bureau of Statistics data) – but we all know of cars that are well over that age still going strong as ‘daily drivers’.

For instance, in my preparation for buying a long-range EV soon: I am about to hand-over my 24 year old ICE Renault to a new owner who is going to do it up and put it on ‘Historic’ registration in 12 months time.

It is, however, still going extraordinarily well. (And reliably so with my doing a Melbourne/Brisbane return trip to the … ahem … EV Expo & Conference in it only a few months ago).

The mechanicals of a battery electric vehicle (BEV) are certainly capable of that sort of life – and well beyond given BEVs have a much reduced number of moving parts and items needing regular oil or component changes as compared to ICE vehicles.

It is the battery that is the potential weak link. Most manufacturer guarantees for the battery pack are for something around 8 years/160,000 km to still have 70% of their original capacity.

(By the way, after that the battery packs are not ‘dead’. At that stage of their life, they’re just not up to the rigours of continuous highway speed use or do the original range.  But they are still perfectly good for energy storage applications for another 8 – 10 years before finally being recycled).

Some of the early mass-market EVs are now reaching that age – the Nissan Leaf (introduced in 2011) and the Mitsubishi iMiEV (introduced late 2010) being the main examples.

Mind-you, my now 8 year old 2011 Nissan Leaf still gives me a reliable 100km driving range. (Which is only about 30km down from its original real-world range).

So the question therefore arises: is it worth replacing the batteries when the battery packs do reach the end of their EV life? In the US and Japan – for a Leaf the answer is a definite ‘yes’. US dealers offer a US$6,200 (AU$8,750) replacement pack program for the early 24kWh batteries.

(That price covers fitting and they keep the old pack).

In Japan, you can buy a guaranteed, refurbished second-hand pack on an exchange basis from the recently opened Naime (in north-western Japan) lithium battery recycling centre.

(The Naime plant is operated by the 4R Energy Corporation, a joint venture between Nissan and Sumitomo Corporation). A pack from there pack costs US$2,850. (AU$4,000).

In Australia – anecdotal reports are that dealers are inflating replacement pack prices well beyond these numbers – which is not a good look.

If manufacturers price the packs well beyond their cost of production to ‘encourage’ people to buy one of the new crop of EVs coming into Australia instead of maintain their old one – then the whole EV industry will suffer a set-back.

It would also cause potential buyers to seriously reconsider an EV purchase that would effectively become worthless after 8 years. That could create quite a backlash as these lost EV buyers hold-off on EV purchases till the issue is resolved.

The knock-on effect would be a slowing down in our move to cleaner, less carbon emitting transport and a further delay in Australia’s currently woeful action on climate change.

(By the way: Given the costs of new or refurbished battery packs can only decrease as new battery production comes online – and the stock of old battery packs becomes larger – those pack replacement prices should only come down, not go up!)

Let us hope that Australian dealers of the older, first generation, EVs do not go down that route – it does not benefit our environment to throw away cars in otherwise excellent condition that just need a replacement part – nor does it help their own reputations as good corporate citizens.

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