While most cars have an Achilles heel, it’s not common to worry about a 10-year-old gas-powered car having an issue as profound as a bad battery in an electric car. For all the talk about how cheaper it is to service an EV, the flipside is that a huge chunk of the value in an EV is in its battery, and the replacement costs can be existential.
It’s been about a decade since electric cars reached enough of a volume in the United States and Europe to make what happens to older second-, and third-owner cars suddenly interesting to people. Guess what? There’s a race between startups to be the first to solve the used EV battery problem.
Happy Monday, y’all. Well, not so happy, because I stayed up last night to watch the Astros drop another home game in the playoffs. In addition to battery health startups, I wanna give you a UAW strike update, share a cool little bit of tech from the Tokyo Auto Salon, and talk about the unlikeliest of new car companies.
The Battery Health Startup Race
Successful industries create new industries. Just think of the iPhone and then all of those businesses that exist to fix the screens of iPhones. Electric cars create charging networks and charging companies to fill the batteries, and now companies are vying to be the ones to tell you how healthy your battery really is.
Today’s story must be near and dear to our own David Tracy, who had to go through hell and back (i.e. LA-to-San Diego traffic) in order to determine if the i3 he wanted to buy actually did have a functioning battery. The dealership wanted to charge him real money to test the battery.
Eventually, the battery test was done and the car failed, which led to David getting a new, free battery. That’s the least likely outcome and is due to quirks in California law. David also just bought a used Nissan Leaf and its battery is about half as useful as he thought it would be with little recourse in sight.
If you want to know if your car has been in an accident and cared for, you get a Carfax. What do you do if you want to know if the battery – which could represent 80% of the value of the car you’re buying – is good?
Reuters has an article covering what’s at stake here and how it works:
Until recently, there was no way to measure battery health, hampering used EV sales. But that is changing as companies rush to scale up EV battery tests – some of which take just minutes.
One of them is Altelium, a UK startup that has a developed an EV battery state-of-health test and certificate launching this year in more than 7,000 U.S. car dealers and over 5,000 UK dealers through dealer service providers including Assurant and GardX.
“If the second-hand car market doesn’t work properly, the new car market doesn’t work properly and the electric transition won’t happen,” said Alex Johns, business development manager at Altelium, which says it has received interest from other markets including China. “We’re in an implementation race.”
There are a lot of these companies and they use various methodologies and testing/tracking procedures to either make inferences or directly measure how a battery is functioning.
Just for fun, I ran David’s car through the Recurrent system to check what it thought the battery would do. Here’s what that looks like:
Obviously, the range is incorrect! The actual range is more like 20-25 miles on a good day, downhill. This goes to show the real challenge involved here. David’s car, at that age and mileage, in a more temperate climate probably would have that sort of range. In California though? That battery is blasted. We’ll dig into thees services a bit further, and report back in another article.
It’ll be interesting to see which company can become the generic brand for used electric car batteries. There’s a lot of potential value there.
GM And Stellantis Seem Closer On Wages, UAW Strikes Stellantis Anyway
The strike rolls on and both GM and Stellantis have moved significantly in the last week.
Here’s an update from Automotive News:
The strike wasn’t expanded on Friday, but then this just happened:
BREAKING: 6,800 more autoworkers just joined the UAW strike.
These workers have walked off the job at Stellantis' largest plant, Sterling Heights Assembly in Michigan.
40,000 @UAW members are now on strike.
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) October 23, 2023
That’s a big escalation, though, curiously, if anyone seems on their back foot it’s Ford. The company seemed in decent shape at the beginning of the strike and has since slid to the back.
One of the big sticking points in negotiations is over the future of battery plants, which are primarily joint ventures. Both GM and Stellantis are planning to work with Samsung SDI. The Detroit News reached out to the Korean battery maker to see if it had been working through UAW issues and the response was: NOPE.
That seems like a smart strategy. Stay out of it.
Toyota Shows Off NEO Steer, Motorcycle-Style Cockpit
Hand controls for drivers with lower limb impairments are not new. Hell, Robert Wickens, who was paralyzed from the waist down in an IndyCar wreck, just won the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship in a car with hand controls.
Historically, these types of controls are generally retrofits. Toyota’s NEO Steer concept, to be unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show this week, shows what an OEM-built system might look like.
Here’s how it’s described:
A sweeping field of vision made possible by the steering wheel’s irregular profile, and the roomy pedal-free floor space, enable an unrestricted driving position along with smooth entry and exit. The NEO Steer will help foster greater love for cars, and deliver the joy and excitement of mobility for all. Also offers safe, intuitive hand-operated driving for users with lower limb impairments.
Inspired by motorcycle handlebars, this seems like a no-brainer, especially with EVs utilizing more drive-by-wire systems.
The Return Of TWR
I was not expecting to write about the return of Tom Walkinshaw Racing as a “bespoke constructor of automobiles” but here we are.
The company, to be called TWR, will be run by Tom’s son Fergus and will, according to a press release:
“[S]et out to become a world-class constructor of bespoke high-performance automobiles that aim to push the envelope of performance engineering, while also working with class-leading brands to maximise the potential of their own products.
In a rapidly evolving landscape where so many modern performance cars are governed by their electronic systems, TWR seeks to preserve and perfect the analogue driving experience. By blending the best of modern materials and innovative design concepts with traditional engineering, TWR aims to craft vehicles with a perfect balance of performance, style, functionality and quality.”
I’m not sure what any of that means, but TWR is responsible for some of the best race cars in history, including the Bathurst 1000-winning XJS, Volvo 850 Estate British Touring Car, and a bunch of Holden Commodores.
TWR was also responsible for the existence of the Renault Clio V6, Aston Martin DB7, and the Jaguar XJ220.
Am I worried this is another company coming back to life to make another super expensive EV toy? Yes. But with a history like TWR has I’m willing to extend a whisp of a benefit of the doubt.
The Big Question
Tom Walkinshaw’s son Fergus walks up to you and says “We’ve made some of the best race cars ever and it’s up to you to help us pick our first-ever vehicle as a manufacturer. What should we build?” You’ve got all of TWR’s wild history you choose from or, if you want, just make something entirely new. Go! (Alternative question for you non-racing folks: How concerned are you about buying used EVs? Is the battery state of health something you absolutely must know prior to purchase?).