What if the most interesting electric cars weren’t the ones with the greatest possible range? We’ll look at some common misconceptions about electric car battery range and size in this feature.
Traveling by electric car is not always easy, but some connected cars do very well in this exercise. Which formula is best suited to covering hundreds of kilometers as quickly as possible? Is a large battery necessary or, on the contrary, is it preferable to have a car with ultra-fast charging?
We will try to provide some answers by returning to the conceptual differences between an XXL battery and a faster-than-lightning recharge. We will see that some electric cars with a smaller battery allow you to reach your destination faster, even if it means that long journeys are more expensive.
Finally, we will talk about innovative solutions, such as changing batteries to minimize travel time when they exceed the vehicle’s actual range. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a large built-in battery in an electric car.
Large battery does not necessarily mean long autonomy
We might think so naively to increase the autonomy of an electric vehicle, it is necessary and sufficient to increase the size of its battery (expressed in kWh). This is because the energy needed to drive an electric car is stored in the battery, and the more there is, the longer the car can drive. But a big enemy comes with a bigger battery: weight.
The current energy density makes it possible to equip medium-sized cars with a battery of around 70 to 80 kWh, as is the case on a Tesla Model 3, Hyundai Ioniq 5 or even the MG ZS EV, while showing a total weight between 1,700 and 2,200 kg. These battery packs weigh around 450 kgand a significant increase in their capacity would be equivalent to offering increasingly heavy vehicles and thus entailing higher consumption.
A vehicle that weighs more than 3 tonnes and which, for example, would have a battery of 210 kWh, would not allow it to drive 800 kilometers without stopping, as shown by the examples of electric pick-ups that carry a huge battery in order not to ultimately not have a significantly greater range than smaller vehicles .
This is the case for the Hummer EV with its range of 530 km on the US EPA cycle (about 600 km in European WLTP) and its 212.7 kWh battery. In comparison, the Tesla Model 3 Long Autonomy and its smaller battery of 80 kWh offers a similar autonomy thanks to its more moderate consumption.
However, a larger battery in certain vehicles that optimize their consumption has a real interest, which is why we find variants of Renault Mégane e-tech, Kia EV6 or Tesla Model Y with different battery sizes. Note however that the increase in autonomy is not in the same ratio as the increase in battery size.
For example, a Tesla Model Y Long Range has a 33% larger battery than the Tesla Model Y Propulsion (80 kWh versus 60 kWh), but a autonomy only 17% greater (533 km against 455 km). The consumption thus goes from 14.9 to 16 kWh to drive 100 km, due to the increased weight (+ 247 kg), but also of the second engine (for the four-wheel drive), which adds a little consumption.
We will also see that carrying a larger capacity battery pack is not always the key to arriving at your destination as quickly as possible during long journeys.
Bigger battery does not mean faster driving
During our examples of long trips in different EVs, we highlighted the fact that some trips ended up being longer with a vehicle that had WLTP range and a larger battery than another.
Charging speed is of course taken into account when you drive several hundred kilometers and there is a need to recharge the vehicle, but efficiency is also a significant factor. This is why we find especially the Tesla Model 3 Propulsion in the examples of vehicles that are considered masters of fast charging, while it only has a 60 kWh battery.
If, for example, we compare it with a Volkswagen ID.4 with its 77 kWh battery, the simulation of a journey between Paris and Marseille actually gives the Tesla Model 3 Propulsion which arrives in Marseille in the lead with almost fifteen minutes’ advance. Consumption is 33% higher on this trip for the Volkswagen SUV, which does not allow it to take full advantage of its advantage in terms of battery capacity.
The best of both worlds in terms of efficiency and battery capacity is currently found in the Mercedes EQS, which so far has no 100% electric rival. Traveling 1,000 kilometers in an electric car is never faster than with the German sedan, but you will have to accept its XXL price.
And if you also take into account the charging speed, it is the Kia EV6 that can best handle long journeys as quickly as possible. It actually manages to recover 70% of its battery in 18 minutes, compared to 30 minutes for the Mercedes EQS. Provided you find such fast charging stations on your route. The future Hyundai Ioniq 6 should do well with a potential first place for its speed on long trips.
We will see that it is possible to save money on long trips when you use a larger battery.
A higher price to buy, but savings in use
There are indeed vehicles equipped with an XXL battery of great interest, whether for daily use without having to recharge often, or to limit stops during long journeys. As the price of fast charging only increases, being able to travel hundreds of kilometers at once can be very economical.
Charging at home thus corresponds to a price of between two and three euros per 100 kilometers. On the highway, fast chargers convert the bill to 10 to 20 euros per 100 kilometers.
These savings in use, which can be around 70 euros for a journey of 500 kilometers, should be taken into account when buying a vehicle to give you an idea of the cost of use. We also have a series of files simulating journeys through France in various electric vehicles, summarizing the associated costs.
However, the daily consumption will be higher with a vehicle with a larger battery due to the greater weight. However, this higher consumption will be economically insignificant if you charge at home at night, when kWh are cheap compared to roaming charging operators.
However, be careful not to deceive yourself, the roughly 17,000 euros that separates, for example, a Tesla Model Y Grande Autonomie from a Propulsion, will not be filled until hundreds of thousands of kilometers of highway trips. Economically and in the medium term, the cheaper versions remain more interesting, even if it means putting a little more in the pocket during the few annual trips that exceed the vehicle’s autonomy.
However, the future of fast charging looks set to be even more expensive than today, and vehicles that allow you to arrive safely without stopping to recharge are becoming increasingly attractive. Another way to travel starts tipping the nose tip that doesn’t require recharging: changing batteries. Let’s see if this service has a future in our region.
Exchange of batteries, a service of the future?
Coming straight from China where it has had some success, battery swapping is a simple concept that allows you to get back to 100% in moments. This requires having a vehicle designed for this operation, such as the Nio ET7 or ET5, or even the future electric vehicles from the MG group.
In practice, battery swapping only takes about five minutes to see its newly connected battery at 90% charge, where a quick charge will take about 18 to 30 minutes to only be 80% charged. The main advantage therefore lies in the speed of the maneuver, which can be compared to the duration of a full tank of gas.
But while fast charging is still more expensive, battery replacement is not necessarily cheaper. In fact, manufacturers that currently offer battery replacement only do so on the condition of renting the battery in their vehicle at a cost of around 1,600 euros per year (price of the Nio ES8).
In addition, the density of battery exchange stations is currently very low when we are not in a country that does not yet offer them. If in the medium term more than 1,000 stations are planned by the giant CATL in Europe and elsewhere, there are currently only a handful in Norway, which greatly limits the interest of the inhabitants of the old continent. A new station has just opened in Germany.
The future will tell us if this battery exchange service will be popular outside of China or not, but to date, it definitely does not exempt you from having a large battery, since the stations are so rare.
In fact, if we take the example of the Nio ES8, the electric car managed to cover 1,000 km on the highway in 9 hours thanks to the battery replacement. But 11:25 on the same trip with fast recharges (without changing batteries)! Compare with the 9h15 needed for the Tesla Model 3 Performance to complete the same exercise with fast recharges.
As we have seen, a larger battery in an electric vehicle does not only have advantages. The theoretical autonomy shown is greater, but in practice, if the consumption is higher due to the greater weight on board, you will not arrive at your destination faster.
Smaller batteries have the advantage of allowing a vehicle to be offered at a more reasonable price, and the additional costs incurred during long journeys remain negligible. A large battery is actually synonymous with comfort and peace of mind in everyday life and on long journeys rather than a necessity for travelling.
The density of fast charging stations has increased significantly in many months, with new players entering the market, making the concern about charging while roaming obsolete. Finally, in order to limit the electric car’s CO2 footprint, it makes sense to choose it with a smaller battery : from manufacture to use, it is more ecological than a larger battery.
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