Electric car: the hell of battery repair

Published on Nov 21, 2023 at 6:17 am

In an electric car, the battery is the most expensive element. The problem is that it is also the most complicated to repair in the event of a problem. While electric cars continue to gain market share on thermal engines in France and in Europe, the question of the repairability of their most strategic organ is becoming nagging.

Aware of the issue, more and more players in the sector are warning about the excesses of certain manufacturers who care little about whether the batteries of their cars, housed under the floor and accounting for 30 to 40% of the value of their vehicles, are repairable. The phenomenon concerns half of the brands in Europe and Asia, according to analysis by Mobivia (Norauto, Midas, Vroomly group, etc.).

At Tesla, 22 kg of sticky foam

Directly glued elements preventing the separation of elements without destruction, very large battery cell blocks or, on the contrary, cells scattered throughout the body without accessibility… “Some manufacturers are rushing towards solutions that are the exact opposite of what would be appropriate to do to produce perfectly repairable batteries,” laments Jean-Philippe Hermine, director of the Mobility in Transition Institute, a former Renault employee.

This concerns, for example, the Chinese MG4 model, a great success in France and Europe. thanks to its unbeatable price , but also the vehicles of its compatriot BYD or the Tesla Model Y. By dismantling this latest model, the engineering firm A2Mac1 discovered that until the end of 2022 the American brand was projecting 29 kg of sticky pink foam around its batteries ( replaced by 4 kg of white foam since 2023) made in one piece. Enough to prevent access to the interior of the pack, which weighs around half a ton…

“You have to make a choice between repairability and construction cost: the more repairable a battery is, the more expensive it will be to emble,” explains Leila Emadi, engineer at A2Mac1. An arbitration quickly carried out by certain manufacturers, in the context of the price war currently raging on the electric market.

European brands appear to be more virtuous. Renault or Volkswagen screw the battery elements, which makes dismantling much easier. And cheaper.

A Megane E-Tech has a battery in twelve modules. If one of them fails, it can therefore be specifically replaced. Which is about ten times cheaper than changing the entire battery. But this increases the manufacturing cost of the Renault model by 10%, compared to BYD’s Seal (soon on sale in France). In view of this differential, some Europeans would consider taking inspiration from less careful Asian methods.

The caution of insurance experts

Auto repairers and insurers insist: electric vehicle batteries and especially their ociated electronic components, like their valuable power management and control systems, must be maintained, even repaired or exchanged. Like any other auto part. As proof, they point to the outages already observed in the most electrified markets, such as Norway.

The fact remains that manufacturers and insurers are still trying to find out in which situations a battery (under warranty for eight or ten years) can be repaired or completely scrapped.

“When the airbags or other pyrotechnic elements are triggered, some manufacturers require the replacement of the battery, generating significant additional costs with the very rapid risk of having a vehicle that is economically irreparable,” illustrates Nadia Bestaoui, technical director of CESVI, the crash center. testing and training of the Covéa group (MAAF, MMA, GMF).

When it is not the insurer’s expert who requests scrapping, for fear of a subsequent fire outbreak. Fortunately, battery breakages are rare, according to insurers. “The repair of electric vehicles will become an increasingly important issue for customers,” warns Sylvain Lage, director of auto compensation providers at Allianz France.

A lack of standards

If there are so many ways to design the battery pack and so many ways to estimate whether it needs to be repaired or changed in the event of a problem, it is because there is currently no standard concerning the battery repairability.

However, work is underway on the ISO standard, which should be finalized by 2025. The European Commission also wants to act on the subject. This should establish what makes a battery repairable and how to repair it. But not before 2025 either.

The development of future standards and regulations is a battlefield. Manufacturers want to keep control over their batteries and its data. However, without access to these, it is impossible for the mechanic to make a diagnosis, let alone repair. Today, “battery repair is a captive market where practically only the manufacturer and its after-sales network can intervene,” laments Nadia Bestaoui.

The dark side

This scheme is inflationary for the motorist and his insurer. The manufacturer finds himself sole judge and party to determine whether or not to change the battery. We understand why: carrying out a simple battery diagnosis brings in more than a thousand euros for Tesla, reports a good expert in the sector.

Consumers risk footing the bill.

Jean-Philippe Hermine Director General of the Institute of Mobility in Transition

While waiting for the implementation of future standards and regulations, regrets Jean-Philippe Hermine, “it is the consumers who risk paying the bill, either that of an impossible repair (via compulsory replacement), or that of a value reduced resale if the battery does not have the disembly guarantees required to be upgraded. And motorists are painfully discovering that the attractive purchase price of a vehicle sometimes hides a much less attractive maintenance cost in the event of a problem.

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