EV Battery Basics for Fleet Managers

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Everywhere you look these days, it seems like someone is talking about electric cars — and while there’s a lot of excitement about these new EVs, there are a lot of questions too, especially among fleet managers. EV fleet managers will inevitable have questions about the range, longevity, and environmental friendliness of electric cars, and those questions will have to be answered before businesses are ready to spend on a new technology for their fleet.

The good news is that almost all of those questions have been answered — and we’ve partnered with the industry-leading fleet management experts at Comdata® to compile those answers in this “EV Battery Basics” explainer, below.

EV Battery Basic FAQs

What are Electric Car Batteries Made of?

Most modern electric vehicles use lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries, which are made from a combination of lithium (obviously), graphite, cobalt, and manganese, along with a few other “filler” elements.

What Are Some Advantages of li-ion?

Compared to the traditional lead-acid batteries in your gas car or golf cart or even the nickel-metal hydride batteries found in early EVs and hybrids, li-ion batteries store many times more energy by weight, and can do so in a smaller overall package. Li-ion batteries also charge much more quickly than older battery technologies. That said, they’re also more expensive than some of those “older” batteries.

Are There Other Benefits?

Absolutely. The biggest benefit of switching to a li-ion battery architecture is that the materials used have a much lower lifetime carbon cost than fossil fuels. That word, “lifetime,” is the one that you need to pay attention to.

It is absolutely true, for example, that there is a significant carbon cost to getting the raw materials for EV batteries — the lithium, the graphite, etc. — out of the ground, and that it takes a significant number of miles driven in an EV to offset that initial carbon cost with the reduction in tailpipe emissions…but that’s just a (very) small part of the lifetime of those materials.

See, once the batteries live out their life cycles in an electric car or truck (more on that in a bit), the batteries can be put to work again in a situation where rapid charging is less critical — and we’re already seeing a significant number of used EV batteries being used as battery power backups at hospitals and other, similarly critical points of infrastructure. The real advantage is this: batteries can be recycled again and again. That’s sustainable.

Once you pull a barrel of oil out of the ground and burn it, it’s gone forever. That is not sustainable.

How Long do EV Batteries Last?

Despite electric cars being a relatively new concept in the minds of many people, there is actually a significant amount of data and information out there regarding the longevity of electric vehicle batteries — and that’s thanks, in large part, to the success of the first modern, commercially successful hybrid car: the Toyota Prius.

First launched in 1997 as a 1998 model year vehicle, the Prius has been in constant production for twenty-five years, making up the lion’s share of the more than 15 million hybrid cars, trucks, and SUVs that Toyota has put on the road since … and those cars? There are still thousands of those 20+ year old hybrids still on the road, on their original batteries.

In more recent years, cars like the Tesla Model S (which made its public debut all the way back in 2009) and Nissan LEAF (2010) helped popularize li-ion battery technology, and– while these EVs carry 8 year, 100,000 mile warranties– several examples have been driven hundreds of thousands of miles on their original batteries, serving as company staff vehicles, taxis, rentals, and more.

That said, it’s important to realize that EV batteries, like all batteries, do degrade over time. That means that a car that had, for example, 250 miles of range when new, may only have 225 mile range after 4 years on the road.  A recent report showed that the average decline in energy storage is 2.3% per year. For a 150-mile EV, you’re likely to lose 17 miles of accessible range after five years.  Newer batteries with smarter controllers and charging systems have made tremendous progress in improving the longevity of EV batteries, and the experts (like JB Straubel, one of the inventors of the battery tech used in the original Tesla Roadster and founder of Redwood Materials, an EV battery recycling company launched as a JV with Toyota) are banking on EV batteries lasting about 15 years before they need to be replaced.

Can the Life of an EV Battery be Extended?

Even with the latest, smartest EV battery technology in your fleet vehicle, there are still some common-sense steps to stretch out the life of an EV battery.

When possible, avoid extreme temperatures when parking an EV. That could mean trying to find a shady (or, better yet, covered) parking spot on a very hot day or parking the car in a garage on a very cold day.

Don’t let drivers charge to 100% full. This is often the most difficult change of mindsets for drivers of traditional fleet vehicles, who tend to think of their cars in terms of “full” or “empty”. In practice, however, it’s very easy to manage, since most EVs (and all the modern ones) already have advanced battery management systems that avoid extreme states of charge (0% & 100%). Even though a full charge will give the maximum operating time and range, it’s not a good idea for the overall lifespan of EV batteries.

Reduce the amount rapid or Level 3 charging as using these chargers can degrade the battery more quickly.  As useful and convenient it is to charge an EV in 25 minutes, minimizing the use of these types of chargers will extend your battery life over the long haul.

When Will There be a Need to Buy a New Battery?

The short answer to this question is: potentially never. In the same way fleet managers probably don’t ask how often they need to buy a new engine or transmission for a traditional vehicle.

The longer, better answer to this question is maybe, if you keep the vehicle for many years or use it heavily, eventually fleets may be faced with the need to buy a new battery for an EV vehicle. That will happen when the battery’s capacity deteriorates to the point where it’s no longer convenient to charge it up as frequently as needed, or when there is damage to a number of the battery’s cells, or sections.

When that happens, some independent shops will try to replace the bad cells with good ones — repairs that could run as little as a few hundred dollars — or suggest a replacement of the battery altogether. For a Nissan LEAF (225 miles of range, when new), a new battery is priced at $5499. A first-gen Chevy Volt is a bit less, about $4,000.

Charging, Maintenance – Who Pays for it All?

While it’s true that charging up fleet vehicles with electricity may be less expensive than filling fuel tanks, and that the maintenance costs of EVs can be greatly reduced compared to conventional cars and trucks, that doesn’t make those things free. From a fleet fuel cost perspective, having employees charge up at home and on the road can complicate cost tracking and payment systems, and that’s where the Comdata® EV and mixed fleet solutions come in.  Comdata® provides mixed fleet payment solutions for EV charging and fuel. Fleet drivers can charge at-home, at-work, or on-the-road and fleet managers have the same controls, reporting, analytics, and fraud prevention as with their traditional fleet solution.  

Reach out to Comdata® directly to learn more about how their solutions can help your fleet transition to electric vehicles today.

This article is supported by Comdata®.

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