By Paul Homewood
h/t Ian Magness
LONDON/DETROIT, March 20 (Reuters) – For many electric vehicles, there is no way to repair or assess even slightly damaged battery packs after accidents, forcing insurance companies to write off cars with few miles – leading to higher premiums and undercutting gains from going electric.
And now those battery packs are piling up in scrapyards in some countries, a previously unreported and expensive gap in what was supposed to be a “circular economy.”
“We’re buying electric cars for sustainability reasons,” said Matthew Avery, research director at automotive risk intelligence company Thatcham Research. “But an EV isn’t very sustainable if you’ve got to throw the battery away after a minor collision.”
Battery packs can cost tens of thousands of dollars and represent up to 50% of an EV’s price tag, often making it uneconomical to replace them.
While some automakers like Ford Motor Co (F.N) and General Motors Co (GM.N) said they have made battery packs easier to repair, Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has taken the opposite tack with its Texas-built Model Y, whose new structural battery pack has been described by experts as having “zero repairability.”
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
A Reuters search of EV salvage sales in the U.S. and Europe shows a large portion of low-mileage Teslas, but also models from Nissan Motor Co (7201.T), Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS), Stellantis (STLAM.MI), BMW (BMWG.DE), Renault (RENA.PA) and others.
Unless Tesla and other carmakers produce more easily repairable battery packs and provide third-party access to battery cell data, already-high insurance premiums will keep rising as EV sales grow and more low-mileage cars get scrapped after collisions, insurers and industry experts said.
“The number of cases is going to increase, so the handling of batteries is a crucial point,” said Christoph Lauterwasser, managing director of the Allianz Center for Technology, a research institute owned by Allianz (ALVG.DE).
Lauterwasser noted EV battery production emits far more CO2 than fossil-fuel models, meaning EVs must be driven for thousands of miles before they offset those extra emissions.
“If you throw away the vehicle at an early stage, you’ve lost pretty much all advantage in terms of CO2 emissions,” he said.
EV battery problems also expose a hole in the green “circular economy” touted by carmakers.
At Synetiq, the UK’s largest salvage company, head of operations Michael Hill said over the last 12 months the number of EVs in the isolation bay – where they must be checked to avoid fire risk – at the firm’s Doncaster yard has soared, from perhaps a dozen every three days to up to 20 per day.
“We’ve seen a really big shift and it’s across all manufacturers,” Hill said.
The UK currently has no EV battery recycling facilities, so Synetiq has to remove the batteries from written-off cars and store them in containers. Hill estimated at least 95% of the cells in the hundreds of EV battery packs – and thousands of hybrid battery packs – Synetiq has stored at Doncaster are undamaged and should be reused.
It already costs more to insure most EVs than traditional cars.
According to online brokerage Policygenius, the average U.S. monthly EV insurance payment in 2023 is $206, 27% more than for a combustion-engine model.
Quite apart from the extra cost of insurance, the issue of CO2 emissions rears its head. As emissions are much higher for building an EV, as opposed to a petrol car, the fact that EVs may be scrapped prematurely is a double whammy, both in terms of the emissions involved in battery production as well as the car as a whole.
Personally I don’t think I’d fancy driving an EV with a “repaired” battery anyway!