Need A Better EV? Upgrade Your Batteries, Muses Renault

Yesterday, we told you that French automaker Renault was struggling somewhat with poor sales figures so far this year. With tough competition from its nearest rival the Nissan LEAF, one electric vehicle down on last year’s fleet and with its two-seat Twizy and multipurpose Kangoo Z.E. sales in freefall, things aren’t exactly easy for Renault right now.

Yet Renault might have had a secret up its sleeve all along to help it gain a stronger market share: technology upgrades.

Longer, further, faster, better? Renault is considering battery upgrades for existing owners, apparently.

Longer, further, faster, better? Renault is considering battery upgrades for existing owners, apparently.

According to WhatCar? Renault’s EV boss Beatrice Foucher is open to the idea of offering existing EV customers battery pack upgrades at some point in the future, extending their car’s usefulness well beyond the current normal lifespan of a petrol-powered vehicle. 

‘The technical possibility exists,” she said. “I have asked the engineers to make sure this is the case.”

Unlike other electric automakers on the market today, Renault only sells the car to its customers in order to keep initial purchase costs down. Then, it leases customers the battery pack inside the car for a set monthly fee. If the battery pack falls below a pre-determined capacity or state of health, Renault replaces the battery under the agreement, ensuring owners never have to worry about the cost of a battery replacement when their car begins to age.

While other automakers — like Nissan and Daimler — offer battery leasing or outright purchase, the only way to own a Renault EV is to lease the pack.

Because the battery packs are leased rather than sold, Renault is in a unique position. As long as its customers continue to lease the battery pack, it will continue to manufacture and replace battery packs as required. As battery technology improves, so too can the battery packs Renault puts in customers cars, improving range, reducing weight and ultimately giving the customer a better car than they originally had.

From a technological point of view, it’s also easier for an automaker to make one type of battery pack in various different sizes than it is to offer different cell types, chemistries and configurations, meaning it would probably be cheaper for Renault to offer upgraded battery packs to original Zoe drivers in ten years time than it would be to offer them original spec units, for example.

Replacing a car’s battery pack with a newer, improved one isn’t just a drop-in replacement, however. As Foucher told What Car?, other parts of the car would need to be upgraded to make use of the extra capacity.

More range? Just upgrade the pack!

More range? Just upgrade the pack!

“It’s not a simple upgrade, because you have increase energy density in the batteries and then the car’s electronics and control systems need to be upgraded to take that into account,” she said. “However, it’s certainly achievable.”

Since there are far fewer moving parts in an electric car compared to one powered by an internal combustion engine, an electric car with a newly-upgraded battery pack should last far longer than any comparable ICE car of a similar age.

Based on conversations we’ve had with various automakers over the years, we have to admit that the idea of replacing an older battery pack with a more advanced one isn’t exactly new. We’ve certainly talked with engineers from most major electric automakers about the prospect of doing just that. And while none are quite as open in their committal to the idea as Renault, we think a future where owners of first generation electric cars have battery upgrades to make their cars more capable isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem.  

Moreover, Foucher hinted, a future where customers could ‘upgrade’ their battery pack for a longer-range one when the need presented itself was also a possibility, although we think she was referring to permenant rather than temporary upgrades.

With electric vehicles requiring less servicing than gasoline ones, offering battery upgrade services could be just one new form of revenue stream for traditional dealers.  But what do you think? Let us know in the Comments below.


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  • Matt Beard

    Someone has been studying Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Our strength grows out of our weaknesses”nnnOne of the biggest weaknesses of the Zoe is the perpetual battery lease – this is a way to turn it into a strength. Renault may never really offer battery upgrades, but by planting the seeds of this the battery lease now can look like a strength.

  • Surya

    I asked my dealer in January if this would be the case, and he told me back than that this is indeed the intention. Which makes me happy, because I had just bought the ZOE

  • Matt Beard

    Other sites reporting this story are including the following quote:nn”It could be that when we get down to the costs involved, buyers decide that they will trade in their 200km-range EV to get an all-new version with a 300km of range. Then we have the other car, which could be suitable for someone who knows they only need 200km – or who wants a cheaper entry point to the technology. There are all sorts of possibilities.”nnso when you scratch the surface of this deal the plan is to allow a driver to part-exchange their existing Zoe for a new model with a higher range. I don’t see how this is any different to what Nissan are planning to do.

  • Chris Brooks

    At first I thought this was a great idea and so I got a Twizy. However as the batteries only get replaced when they deteriorate to 70% and this is likely not to be for over 10 years of renting then owners may as well buy the Battery. Additionally as there will be a cost involved in changing the charge circuits and firmware then the cost would be the same to battery owners (minus the up front cost of a battery which could well be cheaper in 10 years).nnI don’t see where Renault have the advantage here.nnAs Matt points out – unless the battery swap is cheap enough you may as well trade in and get a newer car and battery.

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