Electric Car Battery Costs, Don’t Believe What You Read

If you want to know when electric cars are within reach of everyday car shoppers, keep your eye on the cost of batteries. According to projections from the Department of Energy and others, the tipping point for mainstream adoption of electric vehicles is around $350 per kilowatt-hour. That’s why electric car enthusiasts took notice when the Times of London reported last month that the cost of the 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack in the all-electric Nissan Leaf, due out later this year, is $9,000—or $375 per kilowatt-hour.

Is it time to cue Kool & the Gang and pop open the champagne? Not quite, say a number of experts—including some leading EV advocates.

Trade Secrets

First, they question how anybody can report a number because the carmakers consider battery cost figures to be top secret. “For the auto companies, it’s the most tightly guarded data. They take their cost information and lock it away in Fort Knox,” said Mark Duvall, director of electric transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute. He was speaking yesterday at Electric Car 2.0, a clean technology conference in San Francisco.

Pinpointing the price is complicated further by the various stages of battery production. “You always have to ask is $375 the cell number or the system number,” Duvall said.

John Gartner, an industry analyst with Pike Research, which has published a number of studies about plug-in electric battery costs, agrees that battery pricing is not an exact science. “Carmakers won’t disclose the installed cost, and it is hard to calculate because
in many cases the manufacturers, such as General Motors, Ford and Nissan, are assembling the packs and designing the battery management software themselves.”

According to Gartner, the installed cost of plug-in vehicle batteries includes not only the battery pack, but also the wiring and configuring of battery packs into a battery array, plus the battery management system that monitors and manages the battery performance. “Cells do not include any management software or hardware, and therefore the cell cost is much lower than the pack or installed price,” Gartner said.

Still, What’s the Number?

Based on his extensive research, Gartner estimates the cost at around $900 today, but expects the price to come down by down by 10 to 15 percent per year, reaching $470 per kWh in 2015. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Pacific Crest analyst Ben Schuman pegged today’s cost at about $1,000 per kWh, but believes that the cost “could get down to $600 to $700 fairly quickly,” and optimistically to $350 in three to five years.

Nissan Leaf
Coda Electric Sedan

The battery pack for the Nissan Leaf (above) reportedly costs $375 per kilowatt-hour. Coda says the pack costs more than $1,000 per kWh. Actual costs are a guessing game.

One carmaker willing to share a number is Coda Automotive, a small California-based electric car startup. Dan Mosher, the company’s chief financial officer, also spoke at Electric Car 2.0. “The $375 price might be fiction, but it’s a fact that the costs are coming down quite dramatically. Today, we might still be around $1,000 to $1,200 per kilowatt-hour,” Mosher said. He expects the price to reach $375 per kilowatt-hour in the next five to 10 years.

Mosher cited advantages that Coda might have, because the company manufactures offshore (in China)—but that benefit pales to the advantage enjoyed by major carmakers. Nissan, by virtue of its joint venture with Japan’s NEC Corp., has decades of experience in mass-producing lithium ion batteries. The company is projecting first year global production of the Nissan Leaf at 50,000 units.

“Can somebody really build a vehicle where they pay $375 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, I would say that’s pushing it,” Duvall said. “What they may see is forward pricing and they know their 50,000th or 100,000th vehicle will have that pricing. There’s no physical reason, based on materials and price of production, why that can’t happen.”


  • simon@syd

    What is this ‘per kilowatt-hour’? Or more pertinantly, what does it mean in absolute dollars for the cost of the car?

  • ex-EV1 driver

    A Kilowatt-hour (KWhr) is the basic measure of stored electrical energy. Think of it like gallons of gasoline.
    Its the amount of energy that can provide 1 Kilowatt (1000 watts) of power for 1 hour. ie, it can light ten 100 Watt lightbulbs for one hour or one 100 watt lightbulbs for 10 hours.
    An efficient EV can probably go between 3 and 5 miles per KWhr depending on vehicle efficiency and aerodynamics.
    The Tesla Roadster has a 55 KWhr battery, the Leaf has a 24 KWhr battery for comparison. This enables the Tesla roadster to go about 55 X 4 = 220 miles on a full battery charge while the Nissan Leaf can go about 24 X 4 = 96 miles on a charge.

  • james smith

    im a high school student i dant know what this all means but i think i could use it can you try to some it up for a 10 grader please

  • usbseawolf2000

    You also need to add the cost of warranty too. If the pack would last only half the lifetime of the car you need to multiply the cost by two.

  • kalikgod

    The Coda Automotive executive is quoting $1000-$1200 per kWh and the pack on their car is 33.8 kWh. The asking price is supposed to be $35k and they say they are going to be immediately profitable? Am I missing something here. Something in that statement isn’t truthful.

    Tesla said at one point their total pack was about 30k for 55 kWh.

    http://green.autoblog.com/2009/01/17/tesla-offers-laundry-list-of-new-options-12k-prepaid-battery-r/

    That is about $550 per kWh. It wouldn’t shock me that Nissan could get theirs down to $375 with mass production, lower cell count, and a simpler battery management system.

    Tesla is offering a $12,000 pre-purchase of a replacement pack. That means they expect the cost to be $220 per kWh before these packs expire.

    Isn’t it surprising that the researchers have no problems publishing their “findings”, but will admit they don’t know what they are talking about (“battery pricing is not an exact science”). Ten minutes on Google beats their “studies”.

  • TexHooper

    Maybe Coda is receiving govt. money or private funding to make the car. If not, there is no way they will make a profit if those numbers are all true. Unless the Chinese are paying them to make the cars.

    If you take the lower price for the batteries, you would have a shade over $1k per car left. That is not including any of the other costs (other raw materials, employees, etc). Unless they can stretch $1k like it’s the 60′s or 70′s, there is now way a profit will happen.

  • Octavius

    To James Smith:

    I saw that no one had addressed your post, and found the following link on this same site. Possibly it will be helpful in figuring this all out.

    http://www.hybridcars.com/types-systems/electrical-power-terms.html

  • Rocky

    One significant factor being left out of the equation is the size of the electric motor or in your example the difference between powering a 40 and a 100 watt light bulb. The Tesla has a 248 horse power electric motor and I believe the Leaf had something like a 90-95 horse power motor. The expectation that the leaf will produce the same distance per KWhr is flawed. I think this is one of the mistakes the Chevy Volt can’t get past is that the motor has to have enough horse power to cart around 1000-1500 lbs of drive train besides the additional weight of more battery cells to support the minimum distance. I’m curious though about just how big the guard band is on the leaf mileage. Critiques all ask the question on what happens in temperature extremes? By the same token, what happens when you load the car with 5 passengers car pooling at -10 degrees? I’m sure they will keep it a dark secret but as a consumer of rechargeable lithium batteries in my DeWault tool set, I know that a battery will last half as long in my jigsaw(bigger motor) than my drill!

  • Pierce

    Interesting read… Here is the solution. A little known American Electric Vehicle company called Goss132.

    If you are wondering about EV batteries, and what choices you have I would highly recommend this site. http://www.goss132.com

    Simply awesome.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Rocky,
    You’re right about motor size but I suspect the relationship is contrary to what you are thinking.

    I suspect that if you took the Tesla’s 248 hp capable motor into a Leaf, you’d get more miles/KWhr than with the Leaf’s wimpy 90- 95 KWhr. Unlike with ICE, bigger electric motors can be easily made to more efficient than little electric motors.
    I suspect that the Leaf will probably get about the same miles/KWhr as the Tesla Roadster because the Leaf’s body has less air drag than the Tesla Roadster but a less efficient motor. I’m predicting that Tesla’s Model S, while heavier than the Roadster, will get better miles/KWhr than the Roadster because it has a similar motor but less air drag.
    Weight of an EV doesn’t hurt it as much as weight of an ICE because of the inefficiencies of the ICE at accelerating and the ability of the EV to use regenerative braking.

    This is another thing I like about EVs: Powerful doesn’t mean less efficient >:-)

    caveat: USING the available power in an electric motor will decrease your fuel efficiency. This is probably what you’re seeing with your Dewalt drill and jigsaw: the jigsaw probably requires a lot more torque to reciprocate the blade than the drill does to spin the bit, hence more consumption. A drill with a bigger motor could last longer than a drill with a smaller motor – if designed properly.

  • Anonymous

    when will one come out for around 16000.00

  • Anonymous

    ” Nissan, by virtue of its joint venture with Japan’s NEC Corp., has decades of experience in mass-producing lithium ion batteries. “

    I’m not sure the author meant Nissan or NEC. Nissan may have decades of experience in electric vehicles or a decade or so experiment of electric vehicles with lithium ion battery. NEC? Correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think it is a significant producer of Li-ion batteries, nevermind Li-ion batteries for autos.

  • Freddie Y. Brown

    I have solid proof that bette3r expensive batteries are not the answer to the problem of attaining lomg distances. The fact is I can produce an electric car that can do 1,500 miles+++ without recharging if the present EV manufacturers will take up the challenge.
    I will use 4 of 12volts of ordinary liquid batter using distilled water and beat every Li-ion battery in the market.

  • Freddie Y. Brown

    I have solid proof that bette3r expensive batteries are not the answer to the problem of attaining lomg distances. The fact is I can produce an electric car that can do 1,500 miles+++ without recharging if the present EV manufacturers will take up the challenge.
    I will use 4 of 12volts of ordinary liquid batter using distilled water and beat every Li-ion battery in the market.

  • calvin

    NEC is a major electronics and IT company. They’ve been involved with everything from early pre-WW2 microwave communications research to the manufacturing of electronic switching equipment to computer processor design to cutting edge science like silicon nanotube technology and quantum computing. In 2002 they installed the Earth Simulator, which until 2004 was the fastest supercomputer in the world.

    So I would not be surprised if NEC also has extensive experience or R&D investment in the field of battery technology.

  • Octavius

    One more hopefully helpful factoid.

    Most people (at least in the USA) understand that 200 horsepower is an amount of power that will make most cars move in a sprightly fashion, but don’t know what the same amount of power is when expressed in kilowatts.

    The converson is:
    1 horsepower = 0.746 kilowatts, or,
    1 kilowatt = 1.34 horsepower

    Thus saying a battery can store 10 kilowatt-hours of power can be equivalently said to store 13.4 horsepower hours.

  • Dougie Quick

    Some excellent points and comments. Electric Cars should be a very exciting thing to come along and with many advantages we are only starting to realize …well except for one dreadful problem that just throws a huge wrench into the works. In case you have not been paying attention or else are trying to sluff the whole thing off as “nonsense” or whatever, the fact is that in just a few very short months Judgment Day shall be ushered in on us. Yes that’s Judgment Day as in the FINAL judgment of God on Mankind! In fact a couple of hundred million people, will on May 21 be “taken up” by Christ as in GONE right before the eyes of a startled and humiliated world what on earth are we going to care about electric cars on May 21? Or even right now for that matter!? I don’t know about you all but as for myself…I REALLY need to stop all this looking at all this “stuff” and focus on the Bible, focus on begging God for mercy. What about you? Electric Cars or this world’s demise as a point of focus?

  • Time 4 truth

    I’ve read about this company a couple years ago. I never forgot about them.

    The great thing about them is they are “…not in the battery business”, and will basically provide some kind of universal rack system in the car, and distribute the specs to battery manufacturers so they can compete on quality, weight, output of said battery packs.

    This seems like a very sensible EV production system, and will encourage virtually every battery maker in the world to make something for the vehicle. I think their problem is they are struggling with initial funding because they will not be “instantly profitable” – they wouldn’t be able to get away with some overt ( almost obscene ) leverage with “battery systems” as a way to hike ‘more over’ control consumer options. My guess it will be a slow growth operation, but honestly I would LOVE to be on-board when they release their first model. It does look sweet.

    For a company like Goss132; most the engineering would be in the motor, battery management systems. Battery efficiencies are left to the battery experts in the business.

    The more I think about it; the more interesting it gets. With that kind of system the Goss132 EV would probably have the option of permitting lower energy storage batteries to work with the vehicle so someone like me who only drives; say… less than 25 miles a day wouldn’t have to pay for a 250 mile rated battery system. It’s like filling your tank half way when you know thats alll you need.

    Wow… I could probably “rent” a larger system for the car while I’m on long trips. Swapping batteries when I need them etc. Genius I tell you. More sensible.

  • Joy

    What does a Think car batterie cost and how long does it last??

  • Joy

    What does a Think car batterie cost and how long does it last??

  • kitakuminia

    why can all the nation just get along and make us all a car for cheap then jack up the prices later to give them there money back?

  • Bruce Baker

    Just one question, when the battery pack needs replaceing, how much will it cost? The batteries will wear out, all batteries do. After spending enough money to purchase a magor lugery car, for a glorafied golf cart will you have to come up with anothe very large sum to keep it running?

  • Bruce Baker

    Just one question, when the battery pack needs replaceing, how much will it cost? The batteries will wear out, all batteries do. After spending enough money to purchase a magor lugery car, for a glorafied golf cart will you have to come up with anothe very large sum to keep it running?

  • bob reynolds

    your a fucking idiot.

  • Mary Parisi

    What happened to 2 guys kicking it in a garage until they had their concepts completed from paper to fruition.

    This story is very telling of all the green efforts(a new way to charge more for the same products).

    Actually, its not the same product, its not apples to apples the same, its generally less productive, at best and big disruption/interruption of production in america.

    What ever happened to the wise saying, “If it aint broke, dont fix it.”

    I guess we have lost all commons sense and replaced it with greed and fear of standing up and asking the simple question,”What the hell is going on and how do we fix this?”

    I believe that sometimes progress means having the wisdom to know when you are going in the wrong direction.

  • bo

    What is the battery replacement cost, and how often if ever does it need to be replaced. Can I buy one at Autozone?

  • Harvey Moore

    what is the original cost of an electric car against a similar gasoline driven car ? That is what we have to consider when buying the auto. How long will it take to recoup the extra price

  • tapra1

    plus the battery management system that monitors and manages the battery performance. “Cells do not include any management software or hardware, and therefore the cell cost is much lower than the pack or installed price,”Tech Blog

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  • Ivan R%yan

    I will be better qualified to answer your question on May 22 .As a christian myself I know that we are told we do not know the exact hour or day when all of this happens . So quit making silly statements and go buy a hybrid.

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  • Major Tom

    I haven’t seen any reference to “Battery Life Expectancy” or to the cost of daily recharging of the battery packs.
    So far, all of the answers given here (and bravo to all of you who have given answers!!) I am left with only one conclusion……buy a bike, learn to ride and use the extra money for your other living expenses!!!
    ‘Nuff Said!!!

  • KTate

    I purchased a used Think three weeks ago……for less then a replacement battery pack. The cost to replace the pack? Electric cars will never become a mainstream source of transportation at todays prices for the cars and replacement packs. It doesn’t make economical sense at todays prices to drive an electric or purchase one, unless you can buy a used one cheap. I’m not talking about people who make six figures and can afford a Volt or for that matter, a Tesla. I’m talking about mainstream, middle class people. To take out a car loan for a battery replacement? What reason? When mine dies, it’ll probably be sold for another gas hog. The drive trains on electrics are much simpler. Why so expensive? It’s not new technology.

  • KTate

    It costs much less to drive to work these days in the EV. Little maintenance as compared to gas cars from what I gather. I had a rough time getting financing on the Think though. The only concern that I really have regarding the ownership of a EV these days is the battery replacement. The cost. The real questions are how much and financing the battery pack, if I keep the car past the spent battery. Will it then be cost effective vs. a compact gas car with good gas mileage? As compared to gas….I like the car allot. I may not be saying that, when the battery fails.

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