Jill Pestana is a California-based battery scientist and engineer who recently shared on X that she was researching electric vehicles because she intended to buy one. It’s quite rare to have an opportunity to see what a battery scientist might be considering when conducting EV buying research, so it seemed like a good opportunity for an interview.
— Jill Pestana (@jillpestana) September 11, 2023
Fortunately she agreed and shared some observations and insights with CleanTechnica. (She also has narrowed her options and you can find out which EVs interest her the most.)
What vehicle do you have currently, and why did you decide to research electric vehicles to purchase one?
I currently drive a Hyundai Elantra 2013. I bought the car used in 2014, and it’s beginning to have more technical issues, so it’s time for a more reliable car. As a battery scientist and engineer, I have wanted an EV for the last decade, but lived in rented apartments without home charging and the options were a bit out of my price range at the time. Now that I want a new vehicle, have home charging, and a higher income, I decided to research electric vehicles to purchase one. As a scientist and consultant in the EV and battery industry, of course I took this opportunity to research my options to learn more about the current state of EVs on the market.
As a battery scientist and engineer, what were your primary electric vehicle battery considerations, such as battery chemistry, battery size, degradation, charging rate, etc., and why are they important to you?
As I went through my process of selecting an EV, I created a spreadsheet to track specifications. I wanted to value aspects of the vehicle like battery format and chemistry (as I geek out over the technologies), but as I evaluated my options I found certain things stood out from a practical standpoint regarding my lifestyle needs.
Living in Santa Barbara, California, I go on monthly road trips for work and family visits to the Bay Area, San Diego, Yosemite area, and possibly further. Range and charge time as well as charger availability became considerations for me. Luckily, after doing research, battery degradation was not a big issue in the models that interested me. The models on the market for the most part manage the battery well.
One thing I did prefer was a low voltage battery. I’d prefer under 400V because the higher voltage designs have a higher risk of thermal runaway due to corrosion damage and other pack-level failures. Lucid EVs were definitely not for me with the high price tag and 900V battery design, for instance.
Which electric vehicles did you consider, which did you test drive, and if you have selected one, which is it?
I test drove Kia’s EV6 and Niro, Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 and 6 as well as Kona Electric, VW’s ID.4, and Tesla’s Model 3, S, and Y. I still have yet to test drive Ford’s Mach-E! I am 90% sure I’ll be getting a Model Y long-range, though I’m reluctant to select this one because it’s basic and I’ve never been a fan of Elon.
Why did you choose it?
I’m 90% sure about the Model Y long-range for several reasons. After test driving, I was very torn between the EV6 and Model Y. Both had fast charge and the range I’d like, and both were very fun to drive. I also like their appearance, inside and out. When it came down to choosing between the two, a few factors broke the tie. There’s a service station for Tesla close to where I live. The closest Kia dealership is almost an hour away. Plus I had an awful experience there test-driving the car and never want to go back.
The Model Y is made in the USA (and I do have friends who work at Tesla!). I also like Tesla’s charging network, though I do think that other chargers are available in my area and on the routes I’ll frequent. I do really like the EV6 and those I know who drive it are happy with their decision, so it really came down to ease of serviceability. Plus, it has the lower voltage battery! 400V compared to the EV6’s 522.7V. I still want to drive the Mach-E before making my final decision.
From your battery scientist perspective, what do you think laypeople misunderstand about EVs, and what do you think it might benefit them to know?
I think some believe the risk of thermal runaway (or battery fires) is high. Statistically, ICE cars catch fire more often than EVs. Also, there are fears around the battery losing capacity over time, but the data shows that battery capacity loss is often less than what is even predicted.
What really amazed me when I’d go on EV road-trips with friends is that an EV changes your lifestyle compared to an ICE. To me, it feels like you’re living in the future! I felt myself breaking out of ingrained and limiting belief systems the more that I experienced EVs, and I see purchasing one as a step toward a more healthy lifestyle. The ICE car is like the telephone, and the EV is like a smartphone. It’s transforming and redefining what a “car” is fundamentally, which is exciting!
From the same perspective, are you anticipating that EV batteries will continue to gradually improve in energy density, range, and cost?
Yes. One of the main goals in the near-term is to lower the cost of battery cells so that overall vehicle cost decreases. This requires establishing a sustainable supply chain of battery materials, improving manufacturing efficiencies, using lower-cost battery materials like LFP (lithium iron phosphate cathodes), and improving the energy density of cells. There are many new battery chemistries in development that aim to improve on existing cell technology. I used to work as a senior scientist researching and developing one of those “next-generation” battery chemistries. These new battery chemistries can be promising, but do require years of development and lots of capital investment to scale production, which is a major technical and economic challenge.
Range is an odd specification to maximize from a practicality standpoint; most people don’t need more than a 60-100 mile daily range. I was, honestly, content with a range of ~230 miles to get to and from my parents’ house on a single charge. Selecting a long range Model Y is more of a luxury than a necessity. However, people want a longer range than even an ICE car, so that is a target for EV manufacturers. Lucid is working on making cars with a 500+ mile range. I can’t imagine driving 500 miles without a bathroom or food break! It sounds uncomfortable.
What EV incentives are available for your EV purchase, and about how much will they reduce the sticker price?
With a Model Y, I would qualify for the $7500 tax rebate. It was interesting when looking at the various incentives and discounts how EVs that don’t qualify for the tax rebates are still discounted by the dealer by that amount. When I was at VW, the salesperson was saying how if I lease the ID.4 I would immediately get $7500 off the price, but he was using ALL the sales tactics on me so I felt like it was a scam to purchase the vehicle. I had a really miserable experience at all of the dealerships I went to except for Tesla! Jasmine at the Camarillo, CA, Tesla dealership redeemed my test-driving experience. Also, over summer Costco was offering a discount for some EVs that did not qualify for the tax rebate, which was interesting. It’s pretty amazing how you can get thousands of dollars off whether you qualify for the government incentives or through other means. I wouldn’t trust dealerships to provide information on price reductions. Searching online for vehicle prices and the various discounts is a better way to go so that you can go to the dealership prepared to negotiate!
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