Supplemental Battery Modules–a Solution to Many EV Challenges?

A few months ago I bought my first EV, a 2019 e-Golf. I selected the e-Golf not only because the price was quite attractive (even before the expected $4,000 tax credit) but because I like how it drives with a solid structure, excellent outward visibility, and composed-yet-agile handling. The last is partly due to the e-Golf’s curb weight. At under 3,500 pounds, it’s considerably lighter than most EVs. This curb weight is in turn possible because the e-Golf has a smaller battery pack than most current EVs. It can only go about 125 miles on a charge. (Pre-2017 e-Golf’s had even less range, about 80 miles). Then again, I rarely need to drive far, so why lug a super-heavy battery pack good for 200+ miles even when I only need to drive 20 miles? Charging on the road isn’t much of a solution. Even with the fastest current systems recharging to even 80 percent takes much longer than filling a convention car with gas, and rapid charging isn’t great for battery pack longevity. This got me thinking: ideally I could supplement the e-Golf’s built-in battery pack with additional modules. The more I thought about this solution, the better it seems.

Some companies have tried exchanging the primary battery pack as an alternative to rapid charging. The problem is, such packs are too large, heavy, and complicated for such exchanges to be quick or cheap, when then need to be both. The primary pack has to be complicated because it has to be capable of rapid charging and discharging, both of which require high voltage and produce considerable heat. Ideally the primary battery pack includes active thermal management to enable very rapid charging and discharging without damaging the battery (though the e-Golf’s does not). There’s no quick easy way to swap out such a pack.

But what if the exchangeable modules only served to recharge the primary pack at a relatively slow rate, so they didn’t have to be high-voltage, thermally managed, or otherwise complicated? Simple modules could be relatively small and light, for quick and easy swaps. Need more than one can provide? Then design the vehicle to use more, much like devices use varying numbers of AA batteries. Small modules would also enable a standardized module to be used by many different vehicles from different manufactures. Swapping these modules could be quicker and easier than filling a conventional car with gas. How long does it take to change the batteries in a flashlight?

This would have benefits beyond enabling EVs to get back on the road more quickly. Recharging EVs doesn’t only take a lot of time. It will also require a lot of space. If it takes even five times as many minutes to charge an EV as it does to refill with gas, then recharging facilities will have to occupy five times as much space as gas stations currently do. This clearly isn’t a great idea.

But if you’re only recharging modules that are far smaller than an entire car, much less space would be required. This could even be done well off the highway. What’s more, it could be done relatively slowly and thus at a lower temperature, which would be good for both energy conservation (heat is wasted energy) and battery pack longevity.

These modules would also provide a solution for people who cannot charge an EV at home. Pick up some modules and let them charge your car overnight wherever you park it, then return them later.

One concern I can envision involves theft. The battery modules would be fairly valuable and if they can be swapped quickly and easily then can also be stolen quickly and easily. Clearly each would need some sort of tracking and theft prevention system built-in, along with a way to disable modules reported as stolen. This seems doable enough. But would this lead to concerns with privacy? Perhaps, though many current cars are already connected to the internet.

So, I can think of many advantages to the above system and just one concern which doesn’t seem to be a insurmountable. Why isn’t this a better way to go than large, heavy, expensive built-in battery packs plus rapid (but far from quick) recharging?

Annual surveys still aren’t a good idea

In the past, we conducted the Car Reliability Survey every quarter because people’s memories didn’t seem good enough to go much longer between surveys.

Well, we now have proof that solid stats cannot be derived from annual surveys–even though both Consumer Reports and JD Power have long relied on these.

The survey conducted earlier this year covered all of 2021. Here’s how many repair trips members reported for each month:

Dec: 704
Nov 695
Oct 629
Sep 517
Aug 503
Jul 512
Jun 494
May 344
Apr 276
Mar 326
Feb 216
Jan 248

Even a semi-annual survey would be much better than an annual one. So we’re planning to conduct another round next month.

The stats on the site for the survey covering all of 2021 are now final, but when viewing them keep in mind that repairs were very obviously underreported, and that we did not have sample sizes as large as in the past.

To get to these stats, check the box for “Members-only access to our latest car reliability information” on the reliability start page.

Updated Car Reliability Information, Through the End of 2019

We’ve continued to survey a small number of models (mostly Teslas) every six months, and now have updated stats on these covering through the end of 2019.

Looking good:
2017-2018 Audi A4 / A5 / etc.
2017 Audi Q7 (no repairs reported by 20 owners during 2019),
2018 Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain
2018 Honda Accord
2016-2018 Mazda CX-5
2017-2018 Subaru Impreza
2018 Subaru Crosstrek
2018 Toyota Camry
2018 VW Tiguan

About average:
2018 Ford F-150
2017-2019 Tesla Model 3
2016.5-2017 Tesla Model S
2016 Tesla Model X
2018 VW GTI

2018 Audi Q5
2018 Honda Odyssey
2012-2015 Tesla Model S
2016-2017 Volvo XC90

In the danger zone: 2018 VW Atlas

At this point our sample sizes are small of quite a few of these. But it does seem clear that Tesla’s reliability issues are largely behind it, and that repair frequencies of new ones should be close to the industry average.

To view the updated results (login required) go here.

Updated Reliability Stats for Select Car Models Through the End of 2018

Truedelta recerntly surveyed owners of a select number of models and model years, most of them recently introduced. We thought our reliability information on these models would most benefit from a special survey covered through the end of 2018.

We surveyed all Tesla models. When data from the second half of 2018 are added, the 2017-2018 Model 3 improved from a calculated stat of 111 repair trips per 100 cars per year to 88. The latter is still high, over three times the average, but within the range we tend to see with upscale European cars.

More promising: Tesla Model 3s sold in the latter half of 2018 with dual motors and other new features scored much better, 41 repair trips per 100 cars. We have a smaller sample size for these, 18 cars, but the improvement is so dramatic that it’s almost certainly a real one and not sampling error. In other words, Tesla might be getting its stuff together, at least on the reliability front.

Tesla Model Ss through the 2016 continue to require repairs two to three times as often as the average car, with stats ranging from 60 (for the older, out of warranty cars) to 88 for the 2015s. The 2016.5-2017 refreshed Tesla Model S, though, scored 31 for all of 2018, close to the average for all 2017 cars and even better than what we’re seeing for recent variants of the Model 3, suggesting that the improvement isn’t limited to the Model 3 or a fluke.

The 2016 Model X remained unreliable, if much less so than early on in its run, with a score of 77.

Moving on to Audi, the latest A4, A5, S4, S5, and allroad continued to be very reliable, with scores about 15. The redesigned 2018 Q5 improved somewhat, but remained close to double the average with a score of 47. The 2017 Q7 remained neaer the average with a score of 31.

We wondered if the redesigned 2018 Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain would remain reliable as the months past. They have, with a score of 11.

The updated 2018 Ford F-150 remained close to the average, with a score of 29.

After some initial glitches, the redesigned-for-2018 Honda Accord and Odyssey both improved, the former from 47 to 28 and the latter from 30 to 23. Our stats do not include software issues, and the minivan’s entertainmet systems might suffer from some.

The redesigned 2018 Mazda CX5 has been extremely reliable for a new model, with a score of 6.

A common problem with the rearview camera in the redesigned-for-2017 Subaru Impreza inflated that model’s score to 47. But no repairs at all were reported for the 2018 Impreza.

The redesigned 2018 Toyota Camry has been extremely reliable, with a score of just 4.

The new Volkswagen Atlas improved in the second half of 2018 from a high repair frequency of 69 to a less worrisome 37. Our sample size was somewhat small, 23 cars. The redesigned Tiguan has been much better, with a score of 8 (based on data from 22 cars). The updated Golf GTI and Golf R also scored 8 (23 cars). If the scores for the latter two models remain this low as the cars age, they could finally put VW’s reputation for reliability nightmares to rest. But it’s early.

After a rough first couple of years, the 2016 and 2017 Volvo XC90 improved in the latter half of 2018 from scores of 60 and 71, respectively, to scores of 48 and 45. Still nearly twice the average, but earlier they were three times the average.

Car Reliability Survey Results, 48th Round

At the end of August we updated our car reliability stats for the 48th time. The stats now cover through the end of June, 2018, putting them over a year ahead of the car reliability information you’ll find elsewhere. These stats include the Tesla Model 3 plus the redesigned Accord, Camry, and Equinox, among others. Which have been reliable?

With a calculated repair frequency of 115 repair trips per 100 cars per year, Tesla Model 3 has required repairs over four times as often as the average 2017-2018 car. The larger Model S, introduced back in 2012, used to require as many repairs, but lately has required repairs only about twice as often as the average car. The Model 3’s reliability should similarly improve in future years.

Most of the reported repairs involved cosmetic and trim issues, which is usually the case for nearly new cars. Looking only at powertrain and chassis repairs, the Model 3 required 23 repair trips per 100 cars per year, which is over three times the average. As always, we post the description of every reported repair.

Both the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry were fully redesigned for 2018. The new Honda Accord’s requires repairs 67% more often than the average new car. Nearly half of the problems involved body and trim, including rattles. The new Toyota Camry? Just 43% of the average, far better. Honda, like much of the industry, doesn’t often launch a glitch-free car. A common problem with the new CR-V is especially worrisome: gasoline has been leaching into the engine oil, diluting and overfilling it. Both the Accord and Civic use the same 1.5T engine, but for some reason members have reported this problem only for the CR-V.

Toyota isn’t the only car maker of launching a new model without glitches. The fully redesigned Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain have been faring as well as the redesigned Camry, with repair frequencies about less than half of the average. This is a big improvement over the previous generation. But, while the stat for the 2018 is promising, sometimes GM models do start out well then require repairs after they’ve been on the road for a year or two. We saw this happen model year after model year with GM’s large crossovers. Hopefully the new Equinox won’t follow in their footsteps.

Looking at other models redesigned for late 2017 or 2018, the Mazda CX-5 has had an oustanding start, the Honda Odyssey has had an about-average first model year, and the Audi Q5 has been running double the average (though with no obvious problem areas). The Audi Q7, which had a good start in 2017, then worsened, appears to be doing much better in its second model-year, with no repairs reported yet. We have a somewhat small sample size for the Atlas, but VW’s new large crossover appears to be having problems. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid requires repairs much more often than the regular Pacifica. Finally, the Volvo XC90 remains far worse than average even in its third model year.

For reliability stats on these and many other cars, go here.

The End of the Quarterly Car Reliability Survey, and of Free New Memberships

A big thank you to everyone who has helped with TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished together. Over the past twelve years we’ve helped countless people.

Unfortunately, maintaining traffic and revenue (on top of operating the site) has become far too much work for two people. So we’ve made the difficult decision that the July 2018 round of the quarterly survey, the 48th, will be the last for a while, and likely ever.

What Is Changing, What Is Not

We’ll also no longer update the site’s car features and pricing section after the 2018 model year.

All other parts of the site will continue. You’ll still be able to maintain a car maintenance and repair record, track fuel economy, write reviews, and ask and answer “My Next Car?” questions.

Even without additional rounds of the survey, the site’s car reliability information will remain relevant for years. You’ll continue to find information here you can find nowhere else. And stats based on our July 2018 survey will remain more recent than you’ll find elsewhere through at least October 2019. (Some other sites rely on repair data that’s many years old.)

We’re also still going to add a new area to the site, to report which problems are most common.

New Memberships

Have friends and family who might be interested in the site’s information, but who have never joined? They have until mid-June to join for free. Starting around June 15th, all NEW members will have to purchase a subscription for full access to the site’s information.

How to Keep Your Free Membership

You can retain your free membership by responding in the upcoming JULY 2018 round of the survey (which will actually run from June 26 through August 26). Since the resulting stats will have to last, let’s make participation the highest ever!

Unlike in the past, all models and model years will be included in the July 2018 round, so it will then (but not yet) be possible for everyone to respond.

Might the Survey Resume in the Future?

We have explored various ways to keep the survey going. We’ve talked with many potential buyers, and one could still come through, but we do not expect this. It is also possible that so many people will purchase subscriptions that we can hire specialists to do the work we could not do sufficiently ourselves, but we also do not expect this.

If one of these unexpected events occurs, then the survey could resume–so keep your email address current. Until then, and for as long as we continue to operate the site, participants in the upcoming July 2018 round will retain free memberships.

Car Reliability Stats–Now Covering Through March 31, 2018

We’ve posted the 47th update of our car reliability stats. These cover through March 31, 2018, so about 11 months ahead of those you’ll find elsewhere.

Some quick observations:

The redesigned Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain rarely required repairs. Congrats to GM for a clean launch.

The Chrysler Pacifica has worsened in its second model year. I’ve been meaning to split out stats for the hybrid, but haven’t yet. A higher percentage of hybrids could be the cause.

Limited data on the redesigned Toyota Camry indicate an about average number of repairs.

Limited data on the new VW Altas, redesigned Audi Q5, redesigned Honda Accord, and redesigned Honda Odyssey put them all in the red zone. We’ll have more solid stats on these in three months.

A very small amount of data on the Tesla Model 3 suggest it’s having problems, but not as many as the Model S and Model X did early in their runs. Instead, the Model 3 appears to be having about as many problems as the more mature models have been having lately. But–a very small amount of data. More in three months.

Among 2017s no repairs at all were reported for the following models:

Hyundai Sonata
Toyota Prius

Almost no repairs were reported for a few more:

Toyota Camry
Subaru Impreza (impressive for a redesign, though owners are having software issues with the infotainment system)
Toyota 4Runner
Mazda CX-5 (impressive for a redesign)

For all of our car reliability stats, check here.

First Domestic Chinese Auto Maker to Sell Cars in the U.S.?

You can already buy a few Chinese-made cars in North America, including the Buick Envision, Cadillac CT6 hybrid, and Volvo S60 Inscription, but not yet any from a Chinese company. Which of the many Chinese auto makers will be first?

Based on a presentation at NAIAS (the Detroit Auto Show), GAC now seems to be the leading contender.

Who’s GAC? They’re based in (and controlled by) the city of Gaungzhou, the capital of Guangdong, a province in southern China that happens to be the country’s largest and most economically productive. Westerners used to refer to Guangdong as Canton. It once included Hong Kong and Macau. Continue reading “First Domestic Chinese Auto Maker to Sell Cars in the U.S.?”

Most Disappointing New Car at the 2018 NAIAS

Most disappointing new car at NAIAS: the 2018 Ford EcoSport.

Ford dragged its feet on importing this small crossover from India (a first for the U.S. market). But the segment has become so hot that, like Chevrolet with the Trax, it decided it had to offer it.

Ford claims to have thoroughly upgraded the EcoSport to make it suitable for North America. Even so, I found some extraordinarily cheap, loose, and/or poorly fitting interior pieces inside both cars on the show floor, including the overhead sunglass holder, the visor mirror covers, and the door trim.

Hopefully the bits that cannot be seen are better designed and sturdier.