Clean Transport

Published on September 3rd, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


Study: Offer EV And PHEV Buyers Different Battery Sizes

September 3rd, 2014 by  


We’re nearly four years out since the launch of the first-generation of electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF. In that brief time, the auto industry has learned some hard lessons when it comes to EVs and plug-in hybrids, with upstart automaker Tesla stealing the show late in the game.

What can traditional automakers do to recover? Well Green Car Congress reports on a study from Germany’s Institute of Vehicle Concepts, which says that automakers should pursue modular batteries that offers different “storage capacity” choices for an EV. Gee, ya think?

In fairness, hindsight is 20/20, especially following the unexpected success of the Tesla Model S, which at launch offered three battery pack options; 48 kWh, 60 kWh, and 85 kWh. The smallest battery pack was dropped a few months later for the luxury EV, but so far no other automaker has thought to offer different sized battery packs to offset the high costs. Thankfully, both Nissan and GM appear ready to do just that with the LEAF and Volt, respectively, though this study also suggests automakers adopt a modular design.

What’s that mean? It means a design where components can be easily swapped out to accommodate different bodies, equipment, or drivetrains. The modular batteries should be offered in three flavors, for low, average, and high-mileage drivers. A modular design would allow the same battery pack to be easily adopted into one of three pre-set configurations, and could also allow automakers to adapt to external factors like extreme temperatures.

It still kind of seems like a “duh” moment that drivers might want different battery sizes, the same way they want different engine sizes. I wonder how much this study cost to conduct…

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • AddaBoy

    I came back from China where they have electric vehicle car share with
    enormous vending machines for EVs…they are basing it off bike share to
    get around the short term pitfalls of EVs. It has expanded to Shanghai
    and will be spreading to other cities. You can see it here in this video

    • Bob_Wallace

      Most interesting. Thanks.

      Looks like a major solution for many of the world’s cities.

      • AddaBoy

        I agree. Even with battery technology and charging infrastructure currently keeping EVs from competing head to head with gas cars, EVs can still be a major force in cities in places like China with EV car share and other interesting applications.

    • Thanks. Yeah, love that idea. Covered that in December:

  • Brian Donovan

    Good article and great comments.

    I would add that all electric car makers really need an emergency/long range portable generator. I have had all electric vehicles, and getting stuck is a nightmare.

    Of course this basically makes it a plug in hybrid, and that’s a good thing.

    • GCO

      Different people have different needs and preferences. The gas engine which is apparently important to you would have been a deal-breaker for me, so I’m glad both PHVs and EVs are available.

  • Roger Pham

    Three most important things to ensure a mainstream car will sell well:
    1. Generous trunk space
    2. A full rear bench seat for 3, and foldable rear seat
    3. Competitive price tag.

    HEV, PHEV, or EREV are no exception. As such, the engine must be downsized to 2 cylinders to make room for some battery in the front, and to cut cost and weight. The fuel tank must be halved to make room for the rear battery pack, in order to ensure a full trunk space. Get rid of the spare tire to open up more trunk space..

    Those wanting more battery capacity may be able to add them to the trunk as an option. However, the trade off is that that would degrade handling and acceleration, reduce load capacity, and take away trunk space, while increase the cost. Twice-a-day charging for PHEV with 20-mi electric range is a better idea to keep down the battery pack size, when batteries are still heavy, bulky, and expensive.

    Tesla’s battery technology is a notable exception to the above, that is lighter, more compact and less than expensive than the rest. A hypothetical Tesla Model S PHEV, if properly designed, would easily carry 20 kWh of battery for about of 60-mi of commuting range with a single charge, and still has very generous internal space exceeding that of all its ICEV competitors, with full trunk space, while weighing no more than 3,000 lbs. If this Super PHEV is charged twice daily for 120-mi all electric daily driving, the ICE would only be needed but a few times a years for only long-distance trips. Can save 90% of gasoline while using only 1/4 of the battery capacity of a Model S BEV with 85-kWh battery pack.

  • GCO

    no other automaker has thought to offer different sized battery packs

    How uninformed (or biased) you are. Without even researching this, I can think of multiple counter-examples:
    Mitsubishi offered 10 and 16 kW⋅h i-MiEVs since the beginning, just not in the US.
    Zero Motorcycles sells 3 battery packs options.
    A previous Nissan survey (2013?) also asked people how much extra they’d pay for a 150-mile Leaf, so that blatantly obvious idea of offering range options must have crossed their minds as well…

  • Marion Meads

    If GM-Volt have more battery range choices that are higher than the 40 mile range, I would buy more of it for my kids. The biggest blunder of many EV afficionados is to force you to use smaller battery packs and live with it because majority of the trips are short. This is a big mistake. Rather, ask how many drivers would have the need to use particular ranges of battery packs. If you do 90 short trips in a week that are under 25 miles and you have two trips that are 100 miles in a week, would you buy two cars? It is like “Einstein” building one pet door for the small cat and another one for the dog. Offering the different size battery ranges would settle this debate once and for all.

  • MrP

    or even better: create an industry standards based on battery technology. Untie the battery from the car and benefit from an independent battery industry and marketplace.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    There is a problem. If car manufacturers would offer compelling EVs it could send a singnal for consumers and politicians that EVs are truly serious alternative for ICE cars. And this means huge change in markets and change in is always risk for the established car manufacturers.

    Imagine what fully optioned LEAF could be as a competitor for Merceds A45 AMG? The simplicity highly powerful electric AWD drivetrain may off-set the high cost of batteries.

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