How have EV batteries evolved over the years? Considerably well

Today's batteries have improved on size, capacity and weight since the first EV

Published: December 11, 2019, 4:30 PM
Updated: November 17, 2021, 3:44 PM

Volkswagen ID.3 platform

The heart of any electric vehicle is not the motor or motors that make the power to turn the wheels, but the batteries that make the motor(s) hum. Literally.

The modern lithium ion battery has come a long way since the lead-acid battery pack that supplied energy for the first GM EV1 (the first mass-produced EV from a major manufacturer) and even from the Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) units of the second generation EV1.

The changes are evident in charge times, driving range, vehicle weight and occupant space.

The size issue dictated that the EV1 (an awkward-looking compact coupe roughly the size of a Hyundai Veloster) could only accommodate two occupants, once the space was used up to hold batteries and other EV ancillaries. Today’s Volkswagen ID.3, for example, covers about the same footprint as the EV1 but can accommodate five people and their daytrip luggage.

The EV1’s driving range on lead-acid batteries was from about 112 km to about 257 km. It weighed in at 1,400 kg. When the batteries were changed over to NiMH, weight went down to 1319 kg and range was boosted to 255-370 km.

That in itself is not much different from the range of many of today’s electric vehicles, but the time it took to charge up those batteries is very different. The EV1 took upwards of 15 hours to charge from a standard household outlet, and three hours on the “fast charge” connection to a 220-volt outlet. By comparison, connecting many of today’s EVs to a 110-volt outlet will recharge lithium ion batteries of equal capacity in about 3-6 hours; a 220-volt connection would lower that to 2-3 hours and direct current chargers would get the job done in about an hour.

The ID.3’s 77-kWh battery system stores enough juice for a 550-km range, and about a half hour of DC charging at a charging station will add roughly 290 km. The battery “floor” is made up of up to 12 battery modules of 24 battery cells each, and the car weighs in at 1,600 kg.

And, the compact battery cells in the ID.3 take up far less space than the lead-acid and NiMH units in the EV1 (or even the lithium ion battery pack of the electric Golf from 2013), allowing them to be spread out over the floor area with minimal intrusion on passenger space. That also provides the ability to add more battery modules, which increases range a bit at a time, allowing customers who drive longer distances to easily increase their energy storage without decreasing people room, or order fewer modules and reduce purchase costs.

The result is a car that can be used in much the same manner as a Volkswagen Golf (pretty much the same size) instead of being restricted to urban environments in moderate climate, as was the EV1 — which is really the reason the EV1 was killed off. And though it is gone, it is not forgotten, remaining the pioneer that made today’s EVs possible.