Wilkinson: Will Tomorrow's EV Batteries Cope?

Stephan Wilkinson
by Stephan Wilkinson

Our ’06 Volvo V50’s battery crapped-out three days ago. I jumped it, got 100 yards down the driveway… The dash panel turned into a Christmas tree. POWER SYSTEM FAILURE! SERVICE IMMEDIATELY! The engine, brakes and steering died; the car had to be flat-bedded to the dealer. And then the 2004 Porsche Boxster’s battery lunched. It exhibited so many odd symptoms— power windows flopping up and down, radio mysteriously turning on, baffling warning lights— that I never thought instant battery failure. Independent techs who work on Eurolux cars tell me that Audi and Porsche and Volvo (and the like) batteries are so under-sized (in the interest of economy) and overstressed (thanks to electronic-toys overload) that they’re failing prematurely. If this is the state of the 19th century lead-acid art, what are we to expect when millions of cars are powered by batteries?

Stephan Wilkinson
Stephan Wilkinson

I'm the automotive editor of Conde Nast Traveler and a freelancer for a variety of other magazines as well. Go to amazon.com and read more about me than you ever wanted to know if you do a search for either of my current books, "The Gold-Plated Porsche" and "Man and Machine." Been a pilot since 1967 (single- and multi-engine land, single-engine sea, glider, instrument, Cessna Citation 500 type rating all on a commercial license) and I use the gold-plated Porsche, a much-modified and -lightened '83 911SC, as a track car.

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4 of 18 comments
  • Jonny Lieberman Jonny Lieberman on Mar 21, 2008

    Good post -- my last WRX -- which went 105,000 glorious, violent miles before succumbing to a drunk 19-year-old in a Volvo -- failed to start exactly once. Dead battery at 70,000 miles. About 3-years-in, as a matter of fact.

  • Andy D Andy D on Mar 22, 2008

    SW, do you drive on bad roads? Smaller, lighter batteries have thin plates and smaller suspension hardware. This makes them susceptable to vibration. If a plate gets loose and touches another plate, they short and wipe out the cell. Bad cell = junk battery.

  • MrUnexpected MrUnexpected on Mar 23, 2008

    The old man's '05 911 Carrera S recently had trouble starting, then needed to be jumped to get going. After 3 years and 15,000 miles. Dealer wanted $180 plus install for the same POS battery! It had like 300 CCA! I think our riding mower battery can do that! Autozone had a battery for $120 (part of thier top of the line range), and it had twice the CCA, and twice the reserve... Really, Porsche? how muvh can this possibly be saving you? On a car that stickered for $95k? For shame.

  • Drivin98 Drivin98 on Mar 24, 2008

    It's not undersized. It's the aliens.