Nissan Leaf Plus. Source: Nissan
Nissan Leaf Plus. Source: Nissan

Hi, I’m keen on getting an EV shortly but have a question in relation to how much of the vehicle is “upgradable”?

For example,

  • if you purchase a vehicle with a 40kWh battery, can you change it to a 64kWh battery when you need to replace the battery?
  • if the vehicle has a 7.2kWh charging limit can it be upgrade to 11kWh?
  • do all batteries have the potential to do V2H or V2G and, if not, could you ensure you replace your battery with one of these when you upgrade?
  • how much of the battery management is managed by software updates and not unchangeable hardware.
  • what else could I update that I may not have thought of?

I’m trying to future proof a very expensive purchase as my previous car lasted [is still lasting] well over the life of an EV battery. [IE I’m one careful lady owner that lives in a regional area.]

Thank you,

Cindy

Hi Cindy – you ask a series of fascinating questions that reflect the old and new approaches of the auto industry.

Old Auto has long been of the mindset that to upgrade any vehicle feature, you MUST buy a new model.

They then created a paradigm whereby a new ‘model’ was released yearly (often the old one with a few chrome strips or an enhanced feature – like a radio or seatbelts being fitted as standard instead of as an option), and encouraging a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality through advertising designed to create virtual public shaming if you didn’t have the latest and greatest.

As you can guess from my description, this mentality has permeated the auto industry for well over half a century of car making, giving us today the ubiquitous fixed model with no upgradability.

A classic example of this annoying approach is the 30kWh Nissan Leaf. Its battery pack, despite being exactly the same size and shape as the 24kWh one, is not backwards compatible with the earlier 24kWh Leaf. (Not that this has stopped enterprising hackers showing that it is possible to do so: see my article here.)

Then along came Tesla. Tesla is New Auto, and came to cars with a Silicon Valley IT approach. (In fact, some people consider Teslas to be computers first and cars second). From an IT perspective, software and hardware should be made backwards compatible wherever possible.

Tesla have taken this to the nth degree with OTA (Over The Air) updates that can enhance features (or even add new ones) overnight.

In addition, Tesla have streamlined their production processes to such an extent that many optional features are already present in their cars, only needing the payment of the appropriate fee and an OTA update to allow it to operate.

Many of Tesla’s smaller battery options work this way – in order to avoid making multiple battery sizes, many of their packs have been just one size and software limited unless you pay for the bigger battery.

Even when they added larger batteries to their range at a later date (for example the first Roadster), Tesla made them a simple swap for the smaller one along with the requisite software change.

As a consequence, the blinkers that were so carefully fitted to the public by Old Auto have fallen away, and people have now realised that many so-called ‘fixed’ features in modern-day cars/computers are in fact readily changeable via software and/or a component swap, but only IF the manufacturer has the will to design it so.

This is just one more way that Tesla has pushed the auto industry to get away from planned obsolescence to create cars that endure without needing to be thrown away because of exorbitant parts replacement costs or deliberately impossible to repair items.

So back to your questions (that appear to be all related to the Nissan Leaf as it is here now versus what is currently available overseas):

  • If you purchase a vehicle with a 40kWh battery, can you change it to a 64kWh battery when you need to replace the battery?
    For the Nissan Leaf currently sold here and the 63kWh Leaf 3.0 e+ that is sold overseas: Probably not.
  • If the vehicle has a 7.2kWh charging limit can it be upgrade to 11kWh?
    For a Leaf or Kona or any other non Tesla EV sold here, almost certainly not. Even for Teslas, it is a hardware change, not just a software one.
  • Do all batteries have the potential to do V2H or V2G and, if not, could you ensure you replace your battery with one of these when you upgrade?
    Currently only CHAdeMO offers V2G publically, and only in those (few) markets where it is legal to do so. (Australia is NOT one of them yet). By the way, V2G systems are further advanced for CHAdeMO DC than CCS DC, but CCS is catching up. Therefore all EVs may eventually have V2G capability.Whether you will actually use, or even want it, is another matter. The auto manufacturer touting the system also studiously avoids quoting the cost of upgrading the home electrics to enable V2G. This cost is currently more than simply fitting a fixed home battery system!
  • How much of the battery management is managed by software updates and not unchangeable hardware.
    Technically almost all of it is software controlled, however only Tesla take advantage of this. As a precautionary tale: be careful what you wish for.Nissan in a service software update DOWNgraded the early Leaf systems to reduce the regenerative braking function. VERY annoying to those Leaf owners that this was imposed upon without being informed/asked if they wanted it.
  • What else could I update that I may not have thought of?

Having now told you of the tale of Old Auto versus New Auto – the interesting part is in the ending. Because Tesla have exposed the Emperor as having no clothes, some of Old Auto are beginning to at least talk about adding OTA updates to their vehicles.

GM are closest, talking about adding OTA updates beginning in 2020 and rolling out to most of their products by 2023.

However, many other manufacturers are also talking of adding some form of OTA capability ‘soon’.

Given vehicles will be adding more and more driver assist features into the future, it has been noted by industry experts that OTA will become essential as vehicles get closer and closer to autonomous driving capability (and that is the likely reason why Tesla have been first in the move to OTA functionality).

Thanks,

Bryce

We are encouraging questions from readers about electric vehicles, and charging, and whatever else you want to learn. So please send them through and we will get our experts to respond, and invite other people to contribute through the comments section.

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