Skip to main content

The Big Electric Car Debate: Small Battery or Big Battery

The big debate for me in the Electric Vehicle world is the one for small battery, big battery. Nobody may actually understand this debate but I’m sure many do. The two sides in this debate are EVs with small batteries vs. EVs with big batteries and which ones are better.


There are two schools of thought out there and over time one school of thought might win out and the other will pass away. It’s difficult to tell at the moment which one will prevail but I have my suspicions.
There are many EVs with small battery packs which rely heavily on DC fast charging to take them on longer trips. The benefits of this school of thought are that you do NOT have to lug around extra battery weight and capacity that you will only use once in a while. This keeps the cars initial purchase price low and in many cases can easily satisfy the USAs average distances of 40 miles. This does however, limit you on your year’s vacation trip that is 400 miles from your home. This group of EV pioneers has managed to complete some crazy stories of nightmare DC fast charging ordeals and very long trips indeed because of malfunctions, freak weather patterns and overall neglect.

The Electric cars in this camp are the Mitsubishi iMiev, the Smart EV, the Ford Focus EV and the Nissan Leaf EV.

The second EV big battery school of thought is currently sitting with Tesla. Tesla has the most of any current EV offering and yet also has the highest price tag. It does however, also boast of the lowest cost per watt of energy storage. This makes the 260 miles range Model S has into an EV camel. It can easily travel great distances because of the marrying of Tesla’s Fast Charging network but if these Tesla owners only travel short distances they wouldn’t need the extra battery capacity. I realize there are many other reasons for wanting to own a Tesla but that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

If the average US person drives only 40 miles a day or less, then a double that range battery would satisfy a great deal of the populations needs however that 400 mile vacation would be much more doable in the Tesla S but the rest of the year it is just carrying around extra battery capacity for no reason. You see my point.

As the EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) continues its roll out into America, small battery packs will be much more easily accommodative of small EV battery packs. Once the DC fast charging infrastructure is rolled out, the less difficult it will be to take the small EV battery pack cars on longer trips.

SEE HERE: EV Trip Gone Horribly Wrong


Hippo (not verified)    September 21, 2015 - 11:15PM

Honestly, in the short term larger batteries are better, but in the long term it is the smaller ones. Not because of charge stations being available but other technologies currently being tested such an embedded wireless charging on the highways reducing the need for larger batteries as you will only use it for last mile driving and the lower weight will outmatch any efficiency loss of using wireless technology.

Batteries continue to get smaller but they are not getting much lighter for the same energy density, it isn't practical to look for larger and larger batteries as a long term solution. If any field is going to push bigger and better batteries it will be either aircraft or naval ships, cars simply have other alternatives closer at hand.

Some people have concern over so called health risks of wireless charging, but they are unfounded, mostly because the charging doesn't take place electromagnetically but rather by mechanical resonance as it produces higher efficiency but also because people don't seem to understand how much power already goes through their bodies from TV stations, radio and other sources and that these chargers use a fraction of that power that is already passing though you every second with no proven ill effects over many decades.

Robert DeDomenico (not verified)    September 22, 2015 - 12:05PM

Hippo, you are right that smaller batteries have advantages, even if some of your supporting facts are off. If you want smaller that is really small enough to make a difference, check out CargoFish.

EddyKilowatt (not verified)    September 22, 2015 - 12:55PM

It doesn't have to be either/or, there's room for both in the market. They both benefit from the same R&D and don't steal customers from each other.

The press is so focused on the "range problem", when they could just as easily be noticing HOW MANY (like over half) of U.S. drivers live in multi-car households. This huge market can benefit from 80-mile-range EVs like ~right now~, in a big way... they are already great around-town and errand-running cars. Alas, this huge market will not realize that this fantastic new technology is already upon them, until the press flips from "look at these few things (e.g. 400-mile vacation trip) that EVs can't do very conveniently" to "look at all these things (commute, shop, kid taxi, errands) EVs CAN DO", really conveniently".

Dan Hollands (not verified)    September 22, 2015 - 6:53PM

I live in Rochester NY and have one of the first Focus EV (2012). Most of my driving is someplace and back the longest round trip is 50mi. I do have a focus gas version that only gets used when my wife and I have to be in two different places at the same time. The milage does drop in the winter so a 100mi range instead of 75 would be nice as I have come close a couple of times and drove the last few miles with the heater off.