Greg Hassler

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The Used EV Market

I originally wrote this content for the Atlis Motor Vehicles' website blog on May 13, 2019. The blog is no longer published.
Atlis Motor Vehicles is now NXU Energy.

Electric vehicles are a revolutionary rather than evolutionary change to the automotive industry. The disruption will be felt across almost all aspects of the vehicle life-cycle including sales, service, aftermarket, salvage, and much more. The way we interact with vehicles at every level will fundamentally change from our experiences over the past century. Here we will consider some of the impacts of used EVs.

As more and more new EVs are produced and sold across the world, the used EV market will also build over time. They are now becoming available at price points which allow access to an electric vehicle for a wide margin of consumers. As of this writing, older Nissan Leafs are approaching $6,000 and older Tesla Model Ss can now be found for under $30,000 with most other used EVs falling somewhere in between.

When buying used fossil fuel vehicles buyers are often very concerned with the condition of the engine. Has maintenance been kept up? Frequent oil changes? Are the miles mostly city or highway? Is the clutch worn out? Was the previous owner abusive to the engine? How much oil does it burn? When was the last tune-up? Buyers may even want a mechanic to inspect the vehicle.

With used electric vehicles, however, much of this is no longer an issue. Cold starts, city vs highway driving, oil changes, spark plug and air filter changes - all of that is irrelevant. Basically, an owner can't abuse or beat up an electric drivetrain - even if they tried. If you turn on an EV every day in cold weather and immediately floor the accelerator and run it to top speed, it has no bearing on the long term health. Of course chassis and running gear wear-and-tear can still exist - rust, bushings, bearings, tire and brake wear, but all of that is fairly easy to visually or physically assess.

The only real item of concern for a used EV that isn't immediately apparent is the condition of the battery. Most EVs do have a method of assessing the current capacity of the battery in order to evaluate overall capacity degradation from new. If you check on the enthusiast forums for a given model you should be able to find the best way to evaluate the battery - from a readout on the dashboard, to using an ODB-II adapter and some software, or even just draining the battery to a low state of charge and tracking the energy required to fully recharge it.

Electric vehicles will have a much longer useful life than fossil-fuel vehicles. With talk of upcoming million-mile EVs - Atlis' own design goal as well as others - Americans who drive an average of 13,500 miles per year would be able to use a single vehicle for 74 years - likely more than their entire life of driving. Of course few people would want to own a vehicle for that long due to changing needs, changing tastes, and advances in technology. The average length of vehicle ownership is currently around 6 years, which means that EVs in the future will likely see many more owners over the life the vehicle.

Currently, however, batteries aren't capable of effectively lasting to the million-mile mark. The reconditioning, recycling, and aftermarket battery markets will also grow in-step with the number of used EVs - which will otherwise still have useful life. Advances in battery technology will mean that a replacement battery in an EV will actually be superior to the original in both capacity and longevity - the used vehicle will become better than when it was new.

Keeping these used EVs on the road for longer is an easier task with these long-lasting drivetrains. And while drivetrains may not need to be replaced, certainly the interiors will. The life of an EV will be so long that the seats, door panels, and steering wheel will be considered wear items like brakes.

There are many other implications to the longevity of EVs. With EVs dying off at a slower rate than fossil-fuel counterparts, they may overtake fossil fueled vehicles by the numbers more quickly than traditionally predicted - as in fewer EVs need to be produced to achieve the same overall market share. Old business models will fall away and new businesses will be created. With ride-sharing and vehicle-as-a-service models, EVs may acquire miles more quickly, meaning fewer vehicles may be needed overall.

- Greg Hassler

Originally written for Atlis Motor Vehicles