One of the fears prospective electric car buyers have is the myth that their batteries only last 3 to 5 years and cost up to $20,000 to replace. If that were true, of course, nobody in their right mind would buy an electric car. Over the past decade, that fear has been squashed. As more electric cars take to the streets, there have been few reports of battery failures. There are now lots of electric cars with 200,000, 300,000, or more miles on the odometer.
Still, longer lasting batteries are good for business. Lately, Tesla’s Elon Musk has been dropping hints about his company having a million-mile battery. General Motors says it is closing in on having a million-mile battery of its own. This week, Contemporary Amperex Technology, commonly known as CATL, announced it is ready to begin manufacturing a battery that will last for 16 years and power an EV for 2 million kilometers (1.24 million miles), according to a report by South China Morning Post.
“If someone places an order, we are ready to produce,” said Zeng, 52, without disclosing if contracts for the long-distance product have been signed. It would cost about 10% more than the batteries now inside EVs, said Zeng Yuqun, founder and CEO of the company.
That comment is revealing. CATL has signed a 2-year contract with Tesla to supply batteries for the Model 3 cars being manufactured in Shanghai, so it is safe to assume the million-mile battery is not the same as the battery Tesla will use in those cars. Also, Zeng says the long-life battery will cost about 10% more than a conventional battery. Tesla is focused on reducing the cost of the Model 3 so that it continues to qualify for China’s newly revised EV incentives.
The automotive industry has been hit hard by the economic downturn created by the coronavirus pandemic, but Zeng is optimistic about electric cars. “The pandemic may have a lasting effect throughout 2020, but won’t be a major factor next year. We have great confidence for the long run.”
The Tesla Connection
The question is whether Tesla is sharing the fruits of the research being done by Jeff Dahn and his team at Dalhousie University with CATL, or CATL is coming up with its own innovations and sharing them with Tesla.
Zeng tells SCMP he often shares insights with Musk and the two frequently exchange text messages about developments in technology and business. CATL is strengthening its relationship with Tesla, particularly with regard to developing cobalt-free batteries, he says. “We’re getting along well and he’s a fun guy,” Zeng says of Musk. “He’s talking about cost all day long and I’m making sure we have the solutions.”
CATL is building a battery factory in Germany and has established ties with several German automakers, including BMW, Audi, and Porsche. Asked about a factory in the United States, Zeng demurred, saying he is not ruling anything out.
What Do You Do With A Million Mile Battery Afterwards?
Imagine if gasoline engines lasted for 1 million miles. Few cars go that far before they are scrapped. What would we do with all those leftover engines? Forbes asks the same question about million-mile batteries and suggests they could be repurposed to power other electric cars. Stop and think about that for a moment. In 10 years, we have gone from worrying that batteries won’t last for 3 years to thinking about using them again in new EVs.
Those used batteries could also make great energy storage units for homes or businesses, or could provide uninterruptible power supplies for remote facilities like hospitals or wildlife monitoring stations. The possibilities are endless and we can expect to see new business opportunities to exploit them.
Battery research is proceeding at a feverish pace. Today’s headlines will be yesterday’s news. Prices will come down. New battery formulas will reduce the use of expensive minerals like cobalt. Battery recycling will need to ramp up to handle the demand. But as the fear of expensive battery replacements fades, the number of people willing to switch to electric transportation will increase, driving the EV revolution forward faster than any of us dared hope just a few short years ago.