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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