Tim Slusser, Director of Smart Mobility Initiatives
Whenever I speak in front of a group of people, I typically ask a simple question: “How many people here have driven an electric vehicle?” I’m no longer surprised by the lack of hands raised. The fact is that most people still believe that an electric vehicle cannot meet their needs. Let me help you understand why battery life doesn’t need to be one of those concerns.
I’ve been working with batteries and electric vehicles since 2008. To be honest, it was something I stumbled into after pursuing a career in engineering for the automotive industry. When I first started out, I could not help wondering how automakers were going to get batteries to last longer in vehicles than they did in my cell phone or laptop. Of course, I wasn’t the only one. And what I learned has helped me convince my friends, family, and colleagues throughout the years.
OEMs design for long life.
Vehicle OEMs put their battery packs through rigorous cell cycling and stress testing. Back in 2008, I was part of General Motors research team identifying failure mechanisms of candidate batteries for various electric vehicle applications. Our research was thorough and the team engineering battery packs was able to leverage our data to optimize life by controlling parameters such as charge/discharge rate and temperature. GM also made the decision that above all else, customer experience was the most important factor. For the recently discontinued Chevy Volt, this meant providing owners with the same exact EV range on day one as day 2,920 (eight years later). And batteries have come a long way in the last decade, which means engineers have even more capable technologies to work with.
Software has improved.
Predictive tools used in 2008 were highly unproven. The batteries going into electric vehicles were brand new innovations that didn’t resemble the technologies in cell phones and computers. This meant that there was absolutely zero long-term data on how these batteries would age. Manufacturers turned to software that would predict the accelerated aging of various battery designs and chemistries. However, the lack of real-world data meant the models powering the software were also unproven. More than 10 years later we can breathe a sigh of relief as it appears that these models were accurate enough. And software developers have been able to incorporate that real-world data into model updates and improvements.
Increased Investment Means Continued Progress
The industry has made huge investments in batteries and electric vehicles and recent announcements from OEMs and suppliers across the globe show that they have no intention of slowing down. All of this investment means more research, new technologies, and ultimately better products that will eventually hit the marketplace.
Automakers have generally been successful with battery technologies and owners of EVs haven’t had to endure the same battery fate as the cell phones and laptops of years past. The industry continues to push forward and share lessons learned at events like the upcoming Plugvolt Battery Seminar, July 16-18 in Plymouth, MI, and The Battery Show, returning to Novi, MI, September 10-12, 2019.