A prototype battery module packing 38kWh and up to 200km range aiming to keep early model all-electric Nissan Leafs on the road is being developed by New Zealand electric vehicle dealer and rental company Blue Cars.
The new prototype builds on a previous battery pack that was developed by the company with funding from NZ’s Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund (LEVCF).
Based in New Zealand’s north with offices in Auckland and Waiheke Island, Blue Cars focus is on replacing the ageing batteries in the substantial fleet of early model Nissan Leafs in the island nation.
“At the moment we are targeting at the moment the Generation 1 Leafs which are less efficient but will need batteries first … as they are coming to an age where the batteries will need replacing,” director and operations manager of Blue Cars Bill Alexander tells The Driven.
While the original 30kWh prototype – which was a proof-of-concept and not commercially available – boosted the range of an older Nissan Leaf 24kWh battery by 45 per cent, the latest version of the battery pack goes even further.
The newest 38kWh improved battery pack prototype, which has now been successfully tested using third party cells, could boost the range of 2011-2012 models to up to 200km range, a 70 per cent increase on the first generation Leaf’s original 117km range.
However, newer model Leafs could benefit from an even longer range, says Alexander.
“In the newer cars the technology will work the same but they may get better range due to [features such as] improved efficiency due to regenerative braking,” he says.
With an improved design focused on a simpler assembly process, Blue Cars is now undertaking further testing with a view to commercialising the modules with the next 12-24 months should an application to a second round of funding from the LEVCF be successful.
If the funding application is approved, the company may find itself inundated with orders for the replacement battery packs.
In April, Blue Cars also opened up pre-orders for the battery pack on the condition of the second round of LEVCF being successful.
Within days over $NZ20,000 worth of deposits were received and over 50 customers expressed interest in buying the packs once they become commercially available.
Additionally, thanks to a previous report by The Driven in early June 2019 on the original battery proof-of-concept pack, Blue Cars has now fielded considerable interest from potential partners from all around the globe including Australia.
But first, securing the second round of funding is crucial, says Alexander.
“We will hear about in next two months and are very much hoping that will give us the money we need to complete the next stage of testing and put us into commercial production.
“It’s an important step that we do get batteries for older Nissan Leafs available in the next year or so because we are working on these things, and we are beginning to see [the range of] batteries is down and they’re not resellable for customers,” he says.
While a price has not yet been set, Alexander impresses that customers need to be realistic about what the end price of the batteries may be – but it will be worth it.
“If you look to upgrade an older leaf to a newer leaf with a similar range, the price will stack up – there will be value there,” he says.
The question of what to do with the old batteries is also a topic the company has been considering.
“Currently we are disposing of old batteries into solar storage market,” says Alexander.
While it is not known if that market will be sufficient once the replacement battery packs go into commercial production, Alexander says the lithium cells are still good for use in a second life, and may be able to bring down the price of going off grid.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.