It depends; there’s no better answer yet. Like all batteries, those powering electric cars will degrade as time passes and with use. We’re used to mobile phones and laptops losing battery capacity after as little as a couple of years.
While those in cars use similar lithium-ion technology; they should last a little better than they do in other applications. Nissan warrants those in its Leaf model for five years/60,000 miles. Volkswagen backs those in its e-Up! city car for eight years; Tesla for 125,000 miles or unlimited mileage, depending on model.
As ever with warranties, it pays to scan the small print carefully. Nissan’s, for instance, promises only 75% efficiency as it nears five years. So a real-world per-charge range of 80 miles maximum when new could reduce to just 60 miles and you as owner would have no comeback. And, should it fall below that, Nissan undertake to repair your car only so that it will perform as expected for its age: there’s no promise of a new battery.
Keep that in mind and Renault’s lease-battery scheme begins to seem more attractive. This makes electric cars cheaper to buy/lease but adds an £80-£100 monthly to lease the batteries, payable for as long as you run the car.
Will constant use of rapid chargers shorten battery life?
Answers differ here. When it launched the Leaf in the UK, Nissan advised that 30-minute rapid charging, which takes the batteries from near-empty to about 80% of their capacity, should not be used routinely. Since then the industry view has changed, and the ‘official’ line is that using such quick top-ups should not reduce battery life.
Some industry engineers continue to express doubts on the subject, however.
Is there a risk of a world shortage of the metals batteries use?
Lithium is a key ingredient and it’s currently mined in few countries. A third of world supply comes from Chile, but Bolivia and Afghanistan also have sizeable deposits. However, the consensus view among academics is that we’ve enough raw materials available for decades yet, even if there’s a huge surge in electric-car ownership.
How much will a new battery cost?
Three years ago, Auto Express reported that replacing the Leaf’s batteries could cost £19,000. That, if accurate, is clearly uneconomic. However, the cost only becomes an issue once owners must themselves pay for replacements. That’s unlikely for some years, by which time costs are widely expected to have fallen to a fraction of current costs.
But there’s also the possibility that a leap ahead in capacity to allow journeys of several hundred miles between charges will render today’s vehicles obsolete – unless battery upgrades are made possible for them, too.