Apparently some of the upcoming commercially available electric vehicles will separate the battery pack and vehicle purchases. Famously that is the business plan of Project Better Place who is proposing that customers lease the battery pack and buy the car. Nissan has not made a clear decision regarding the LEAF over how the purchase arrangements will be made (see Some Nissan LEAF questions answered).
The reasoning is that because car-sized lithium-ion battery packs are expensive the customers eyes will pop out of their sockets when they see the vehicle price resulting in them buying something else. By separating the battery pack into a lease the initial purchase price is made to seem more rational.
Some experience from the electric vehicle conversion community could prove educational. Owners of EV conversions routinely replace the battery pack several times over the life of the vehicle. This is partly due to the prevalence of lead acid battery packs which have shorter lifetimes than the usual lithium ion battery pack. In any case it demonstrates a truth about electric vehicles, because they are driven by electrons the power storage can be anything which holds electrons. The electricity in an electric vehicle can be stored in a lead acid battery pack, a nickel metal hydride battery pack, a zinc-air battery pack, a lithium ion battery pack, or a hydrogen fuel cell.
Theoretically an electric vehicle could be designed to use different battery chemistries. For example a manufacturer could offer several models which differ on battery chemistry, offering a vehicle with lead-acid batteries to cost conscious customers and a different model with lithium ion batteries for those who can afford more. And as battery technology improves over the years the vehicle owner could swap out the pack for one with more performance. Theoretically. To make that a reality requires some sort of standardized battery pack designs in geometry, voltage, and battery management systems.
Those standards do not exist as yet. Without such standards the future customers of electric vehicles cannot mix and match battery packs, and instead are stuck with whatever battery pack the original manufacturer manufacturer sells.
There isn’t a straight analogy between this scenario and any equivalent scenario in the world of gas cars. Battery packs differ from gas tanks in several ways making it a poor comparison to the gas tank. For instance electric vehicle performance has as much to do with the battery pack as it does the controller and the motor, whereas in a gas car the gas tank has little to do with performance.
This world that’s coming is different from the one to which we’ve grown accustomed.
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