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What Should You Consider Before Buying an EV?

When buying ICE cars, most people ask about power, fuel consumption, roominess, build quality, price, servicing, and a few other personally essential aspects. For those who think it works the same way for EVs, I must tell you that this will not suffice. Electric cars demand a completely different set of concerns. You should know them before making a decision.
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The first one is range. It is not a matter of choosing the longest one for the money, even if that is a good start. EVs lose range with time and in cold weather, which means you should buy something with more range than you genuinely need. The lowest warranty in the market is for battery packs to retain 70% of charge capacity after eight years or 120,000 miles (193,121 kilometers). With that in mind, you should think about a range that is 30% higher than what you will need.

If you need 300 miles of range, the minimum range you should get is 390 miles. StoreDot promises a battery pack with constant range, but it is not clear how the company plans to offer that nor which automaker will be the first to sell a car with such a battery pack. That said, making sure you have more range than you need is all EV customers have. If you can only afford an electric car with 200 miles of range, for example, buying it could be a mistake.

Small battery packs may make a vehicle lighter and nicer to drive, as Mazda claims with the MX-30, but they are also very limiting. Making a road trip would require multiple stops. Daily life with it would demand more charging sessions. There’s also no way to upgrade them apart from buying something else, which should not be the plan when you just purchased an EV. That said, pay extra attention to range.

Once you can get a car with enough range for your needs, make sure you know who supplies the battery pack and if there have been fire episodes with the EV you want. LGES (LG Energy Solution) has been involved with two massive recall cases due to battery defects. They have obliged Hyundai and GM to replace all battery packs respectively to the Kona Electric and the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Apart from these two companies, LGES delivers batteries to Volkswagen, Ford, and Lucid. Although the Korean supplier may have improved quality control since then, a Volkswagen ID.3 caught fire in Groningen, the Netherlands. The cause is still under investigation, but only Volkswagen seems to be worried about it.

While these episodes can be discouraging, it is not difficult to find battery suppliers with better records. SK Innovation has not registered any blazes so far. It is Kia’s supplier, and the Hyundai Ioniq 5 also uses batteries made by it. Ford and Volkswagen will use batteries from this Korean company in their EVs made in the U.S.

For such a crucial component as batteries, most automakers have very little control over them. GM intends to start making these components in Ultium factories in partnership with LGES. Although that could be reassuring, it seems it did not help much in BYD’s case. Producing its own cells did not prevent the Qin Pro EV from suffering some fires with BYD’s ternary cells. That leads us to another point of attention: battery chemistry.

BYD is pretty proud of the Blade Battery, a cell pack made of LFP (lithium iron phosphate) cells that would last for 1.2 million km (745,645.4 mi). LFP batteries are not as susceptible to thermal runaways as ternary cells, which makes them much safer. They are also cheaper, implying both that they power more affordable vehicles and that replacing such a battery pack will not cost you more than the car itself.

Their handicap is being less energy-dense – hence heavier – than ternary cells. BYD minimized that with CTP (cell-to-pack). This building technique makes cells be part of the battery pack structure. Energy density rises if you can save weight on the structure: you can have more cells for the same volume occupied by the battery pack.

Multiple cell suppliers are investigating this solution to start offering LFP. Tesla gets them from CATL. Even QuantumScape plans to mate them to its solid-state cell platform when that solution is ready for production. QuantumScape promises it will increase its energy density, allowing lighter battery packs with this chemistry.

Solid-state cells are an important promise for electric cars. They will not present the same fire risks that ternary cells do while highly increasing energy density. In other words, it is as if you could have double the energy of current ternary cells for the same weight as the best existing batteries in a much safer way.

At the same time, SSBs will also represent a menace for present electric vehicles. When these cells are finally available, they will make all the electric cars with current cells obsolete, which is something you should also consider if you are willing to buy an EV.

Toyota said that it would sell electric cars with solid-state batteries by 2024. We have the impression that this is why the company did not fully commit to EVs: it would be waiting for SSBs to be production-ready before it can phase out combustion engines or pledge to go carbon neutral in the future.

In other words, it seems Toyota first wants to have what it considers the suitable cells for its electric cars. In that sense, the bZ4X would be a different sort of compliance car: it would help Toyota comply with society’s climate change concerns – not with legal requirements – while it prepares its SSBs.

Curiously, the bZ4X has a relatively low operation voltage: 355V. That makes charging speeds be lower than if it worked at 400V, 800V (like the Porsche Taycan, Kia EV6, or Hyundai Ioniq 5), or 924V (like the Lucid Air). If you plan to travel a lot with your future EV, that is something you can’t ignore: the higher the battery pack’s voltage is, the faster you can replenish it.

Luckily, some prospective EV buyers have two options regarding charging speeds. They can either select EVs with higher voltages or those with swappable battery packs. NIO offers that choice in China and now also in Norway. Other Chinese manufacturers such as Geely may also propose battery swapping abroad soon.

Battery swapping is not only a quicker solution to get more juice than fast charging. It can also allow battery packs to charge more slowly, at lower voltages. Although high voltages are favorable for fast charging, they are a safety hazard. Toroidion plans to sell EVs with 48V swappable batteries with diverse profiles (one for the winter, one for the summer…) to improve their safety and lifespans.

The last thing people willing to become EV owners have to consider is servicing. You may believe that they need a lot less maintenance, right? Rich Benoit already proved this is not true with the Electrified Garage: it is expanding due to more and more demand. Even if it were, this is not how you should think about it. Your concern should be what happens when you do need to service your car.

Tesla owners have been complaining about how hard it is to make appointments with their Tesla Service Centers or mobile service. Some of them even attempt to escape that need by trying to fix their cars on their own even when serious problems emerge, as the tweet below shows.

To make matters worse, Tesla has a poor reliability record, and quality control is not exactly what made it famous. That means you will have to contact service centers, whether you want that or not.

In that sense, a carmaker with an extensive dealership network may work better for you, but how many of them are prepared to deal with EVs? Have they been adequately trained? Do they work on EVs often? That’s something you should check before making your decision.

EVs have other peculiarities, such as energy efficiency, charging efficiency, and other elements that may help you make a decision, but the most important ones are covered here. Range indirectly includes the first two I just mentioned.

I know this is quite a lot to consider. Yet, I’ll probably have to update this in a few months, thanks to the pace of change the automotive industry is going through. The point is that this can be the difference between making a well-grounded decision or learning from pain. I hope this text can save you from the last possibility.

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