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Weasel words from the marketing dept.

14 February 2017

How about this... an electric vehicle with a lifetime battery failure warranty!

Sounds great eh?

An EV where you need never worry about the cost of replacing the battery for the life of the vehicle.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, when those words come from the marketing department rather than the engineering department -- plenty!

For a start, take a look at how carefully worded the promise is.

I guess the guys at Hyundai are pitching their 2017 Ioniq model with this fantastic warranty in an attempt to woo folks away from their dino-powered cars and what better way to do so than to back up your battery with a lifetime warranty?

Except it's not a lifetime warranty at all.

Reading very carefully what's on offer you will discover that Hyundai won't replace the battery when it loses so much capacity that you can barely get from the charging station to the highway. No sirree, you'll be paying for a replacement pack out of your own pocket whenever the fitted one becomes tired and worn.

This warranty simply promises a replacement in the event of a "failure".

So, if you go out one morning and find that your Ioniq is dead as a dodo then you might get a replacement. Even then, the cynic in me would wager that the replacement may be a "refurbished" unit rather than a brand spanking new one.

The reality is that we're still not too sure about the actual working life of the lithium ion cells that are the "battery de jour" for EVs so nobody's wanting to give a definitive guarantee that your EV will still have its stated range in two or three year's time.

Based on use in other applications, conventional lithium ion batteries can last up to four or five years, although that lifetime is based not only on the passage of time but also the number of charge/discharge cycles, temperature and abuse. There is no magic number, it varies; it varies a lot.

As with most chemical reactions (which is basically what a li-ion battery is), temperature has a huge effect on the performance and life time of these batteries.

In very cold climates they perform rather poorly, not able to deliver the usual current due to a much higher internal resistance. This can cause significant issues, especially if the cells of the battery are not all maintained at a very similar temperature.

Li-ion batteries also don't like being left for long periods in a full-charged or discharged state. This can cause rapid "aging" of the cells and a shorter service life -- sometimes quite dramatically so. Of course the onboard battery management systems should help reduce this problem but they can only do so much. Leave your car fully charged for several months while you're away overseas on a contract and you may have significantly impacted the health of the battery.

I still believe that the best way to avoid customers bitching about the costs of replacing batteries in their EVs is to lease them. A small monthly fee would cover all contingencies, including loss of capacity, total failure and any other issues.

Personally, I'd much rather pay $100 a month to lease the pack than find myself facing a $10K bill for total replacement five years down the road.

Perhaps we'll soon see a thriving business in after-market battery warranties in the same way you can buy a mechanical warranty for your used car these days.

Battery life doesn't see to be a big issue so far -- but companies such as Tesla have only been selling practical EVs for a few short years. I wonder what will happen when those Teslas currently on the road all start suffering battery failures. Will this throw a spanner in the works of the EV revolution?

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