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This is Why I Want an EV With an LFP Battery Pack – and Battery Swapping Capacity

Car buying advice is one of the automotive writers’ most frequent tasks. Not the ones contained in our texts but rather the tips friends and family ask us. We do not get money for that, but the pay is to see people satisfied with their choices. If anyone cared to ask me which EV I would buy right now if I could, I’d tell them it would have to be one with LFP (lithium iron phosphate) cells and, preferably, battery swapping capacity.
NIO's 75 kWh hybrid battery pack mixes ternary and LFP cells with battery swapping techNIO's 75 kWh hybrid battery pack mixes ternary and LFP cells with battery swapping techNIO's Power Station 2.0NIO's 75 kWh hybrid battery pack mixes ternary and LFP cells with battery swapping techBYD e-platform 3.0 will have LFP cells, as the BYD Dolphin and Han already doesBYD e-platform 3.0 will have LFP cells, as the BYD Dolphin and Han already does
Such a car is now only available in China, so I will wait. The reason is simple: as most car buyers, I want to make the most of any money I have to spend. I have none to spare and could not afford to have to replace a ternary battery pack – with prices that are close to or over $20,000.

The recent explosion of a Tesla Model S in Finland by its owner because of this issue shows it can be a very palpable problem. Blowing up a car just because its battery pack failed is not an option for me, mainly because I prefer to buy used cars. I’d only go for a new one if I intended to keep it for more than three years. In any other scenario, I prefer to own something that already took the massive price dive that happens immediately after it leaves the dealer’s parking lot.

At the current development stage of electric cars, the truth is that they are not made to last. The oldest EVs around are becoming junkyard material in less than ten years. I have been writing about them for quite a while, showing that battery packs sold by carmakers cost more than the entire cars. Although that is natural, early EV makers did not anticipate that or just didn't care. Their concerns were to be the first ones to enter this market.

Think about it: in a $40,000 electric car, the battery pack already costs half of that value. When this vehicle ages and depreciates, a new battery pack will still cost the same $20,000. Why would anyone pay $20,000 to repair a $20,000 vehicle? It makes no sense, which puts current electric cars as relatively quickly disposable goods. When their warranty expires, they are done. That should not happen with LFP battery packs.

The first reason for that is that LFP batteries are much cheaper than ternary cells. They used to be much heavier and had bad behavior in cold-weather regions. The CTP (cell-to-pack) construction method, better insulation, and more sophisticated battery management systems solved most of these issues by improving energy density and heating the battery pack when it is necessary.

If an LFP battery pack needed to be replaced, it would cost a lot less than the $20,000 charged by the ones made with ternary cells. However, these battery packs should last for more than 1 million kilometers. BYD promises the Blade Battery has a lifespan of 1.2 million km (745,645.4 mi). CATL’s LFP cells would last 2 million km (1.24 million mi).

Another advantage LFP cells present over ternary cells is that they can always be recharged to 100%. Tesla actually recommends that Model 3 and Model Y owners of such battery packs do that at least once a week. If you do that with NMC or NCA cells, it will degrade them, compromising the range in the long term. That is also the case for fast charging: LFP cells seem to deal with that much better.

The only exception I would make to an electric car with ternary cells would be the Toyota bZ4X. Toyota’s warranty of 10 years for a 90% capacity retention is reassuring. Despite that, I prefer batteries without flammable electrolytes, even if they are heavier. It also worries me what will happen after the warranty expires. Thinking about that, this may be Toyota’s strategy to retain old battery packs and recycle them: when they drop below 90% of capacity, the Japanese automaker replaces them to get more raw materials.

With such properties, LFP cells are the ones I would choose over any current option. Solid-state batteries may change that, but they are still a set of promises. If they manage to accomplish all of them, electric cars will be in much better shape than they are now.

Regarding the battery swapping capability I mentioned at the beginning of this text, it would be a safeguard against defective or aging battery packs. NIO even sells its cars without the battery pack for a better price. You can either buy it later or use BaaS (battery as a service), which allows you to use the same battery pack for months or to swap it at special stations when you make road trips. I would not swap a battery pack I paid for.

I like the idea that the automaker bears the costs of defects, issues, and charging capacity losses. Until we have a battery pack that can cope safely with all demands electric cars have – such as fast charging and lasting as much as the rest of the vehicle – battery swapping is the best way not to end up with outdated technology or a bricked car.

A while ago, I proposed the discussion about whether or not we were electrifying personal transportation in the right way. My choices here reflect what I think would be a reasonable and safe option for customers in general and me in particular. Hopefully, new battery technology will soon make me think otherwise. For the time being, I would not do this any other way.


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