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Should I buy an older EV to upgrade the battery in the future, or a new EV now? – The Driven

Hi Bryce,
I have been following your articles on The Driven for ages and greatly appreciate your information. If you have time to reply, I am wondering about a couple of things.
Firstly, if I bought a second hand Japanese import Nissan Leaf through a group buy scheme, if I buy say an earlier 24kWh, 30kWh or 40kWh model now, but at a later stage (say 2 – 5 years on) when battery tech is more advanced, would I be able to replace the battery with a modular, cheaper, much longer range Nissan battery that fits into the same connections.
This way, an older low range car becomes a high range car but is still modern and capable, i.e., it just fixes the current low range. A Leaf that could travel say 600 km on a charge would be amazing, even if it was a 5 – 10 years old. This way we could get an EV that barely gets us to the city now, but which becomes very suitable in the fullness of time, AND works as a backup for home power. 
Best wishes, 
Hi William – first-up, as your email contained two really good questions, I have edited your letter to separate out the second question. I’ll address that part in a separate answer once I get a few more answers re the capacities of the BYD (and other) V2L (vehicle to load) systems.
In the meantime, I’ll address your first question about EV battery upgrades. This answer comes in two parts.
a) Factory backed upgrades
In relation to the possibility of Nissan in the future offering a factory battery upgrade (rather than just a replacement) for existing models: the short answer is somewhere between ‘extraordinarily unlikely’ and ‘no’. On past experience, Nissan have never done that for their earlier models and it would be very surprising if they changed their policy any time in the future.
The reason is simple. In our throw-away consumer society, manufacturers of all things techy offer new and improved versions for one reason: to tempt you to buy a new one! In the past it was as superficial as bigger chromed fins in the new model year. Currently it’s faster charging speeds and better batteries – but soon it will be the evolution of bidirectional charging (V2X) from vehicle to load (V2L), vehicle to home (V2H) and finally vehicle to grid (V2G).
My guess is that between all those, the auto marketing departments should be kept busy till at least 2030 …
b) Aftermarket upgrades
I do need to say at this point (for existing owners of older Leafs and iMiEVs) ‘do not despair’. As EVs age and leave their warranty periods (currently around 8 years for EV batteries) and battery cell prices fall, enterprising businesses are developing new and upgraded replacement units.
One is already available here in Australia for the Mitsubishi iMiEV that effectively doubles its original factory range. A New Zealand company is also offering (in New Zealand only) battery swaps from 24kWh to 30, 40 and even 62kWh depending on the Leaf model and configuration.
As EVs age and battery technology improves, it is inevitable that such developments will continue and more companies jump on board. I do know of several businesses in Australia who are working on developing upgrade packs for the earlier Leafs – but none are quite yet ready to announce.
By the way: I always add the caveat that if an EV range meets your needs in its current form, it is unlikely to drop away any time soon to need a replacement: it is a Furphy to think that EV batteries last only eight years. Apart from the early Nissan Leaf (and to a lesser degree the Mitsubishi iMiEV) – EV batteries are proving to be very robust. I for one am enjoying owning a 13 year old Mitsubishi iMiEV with its remaining 70-ish km range as a town run-around.
In fact, it’s more likely that the battery may never need replacing for the life of the vehicle. As an example, the largest number of EVs on the road currently are Teslas. For these, on average they lose only 1 – 2% capacity a year, with Tesla predicting that most of their batteries will last the life of the car.
On the other hand – you could be waiting a while for an upgrade battery to get a Leaf that does nearer 500 km: even the 62kWh Leaf e+ has only a 385 km (WLTP) range. (For more on EV range estimates and why they differ, see my earlier article here). As the e+ was only first introduced (overseas) in 2019 (and here in 2021), getting an aftermarket battery upgrade which will do more than that is likely a fair way off.
Personally, for the current price of a second-hand 40 or 62 kWh Japanese Leaf and a possible (but distant) long-range upgrade to 500+ km, you would be better off looking at the available and coming crop of cheaper priced Chinese built EVs with ranges closer to 500 km now.
Given the battery in these new cars is likely to last a good long time and be much the same price of a second-hand Leaf plus later battery – if the BYD or MG4 range suits you now, why put up with an older car with poorer range whilst waiting on a replacement battery option?
In addition – many of these new cars offer the V2L capacity you are after in an easier format that the Leaf does (a cheap adaptor instead of a very expensive DC to AC inverter). For instance, the MG4 is going to have V2L, a 450 km range and be priced somewhere in the $40k to $50k bracket.
However, the V2L capacities of the Leaf through the CHAdeMO plug versus the BYD, MG4, Ioniq 5 (and a growing list of others) through the CCS plug I’ll leave to the next article.
Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector since 2008 and is currently working as EV electrical safety trainer/supervisor for the University of Melbourne. He also provides support for the EV Transition to business, government and the public through his EV Transition consultancy EVchoice.
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