Irreparable, electric revives the idea of ​​the throwaway car

Vselling a car – ideally on the Internet without contact with the customer – seems to have become the Holy Grail for new manufacturers, fascinated by Tesla's innovative model. Distributing cars like hotcakes and then no longer worrying about them is a logic adopted by the American manufacturer, very innovative in its marketing model. This shows that the electric motor is much simpler and more reliable than a thermal engine and that it requires no maintenance. The growth of the electric market was built in part on this criterion which is partly verified, an unappealing prospect for the networks of traditional manufacturers who are already suffering from the drop in workshop attendance due to the increasing reliability of thermal models.

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But if the electric car can rely on its engine(s), do without periodic overhauls and, most often, without a gearbox, it is made up of other traditional elements (chassis, suspensions, brakes, etc.) which are wear more than others due to the higher weight of the vehicle. And, the origin of this excess weight, a bulky and fragile battery, exposed to the hazards of the road and difficult,; or even impossible to repair.

Even if Renault has just acquired workshops specializing in cell repair, this is more a matter of maintenance than a complete restoration. The latter, which would follow accidental damage due to a collision, a perforation or a percussion on the base, leaves the entire intervention chain helpless. From the repairer or the emergency services to the workshop, including the insurance adjuster, it is a complete blur.

And it has a significant cost on which the repair sector is not very verbose. The insurers themselves, faced with the explosion of repair costs and, consequently, sooner or later premiums, are tight-lipped. An interesting indication, however, was provided by a recent American study (November 2023) which compared a Hyundai Kona, a very interesting subject because it is available in an all-electric version and in a thermal version and manufactured by a manufacturer who masters his subject very well.

The dead weight of the battery

If the traditional version has higher maintenance costs with consumables (drains, filters, pads, depollution etc.), its repair is much easier and accessible to any good mechanic. This is not at all the case for an electric car, the repair cost of which is 29% higher in the case of the Hyundai Kona studied. The explanation put forward lies in the cost of parts which is 48% higher than that of the thermal Kona.

To produce this evaluation, Solera, the Texan company behind this study, gathered 92,000 files of repairs carried out between January 2021 and August 2023 in around twenty different countries. Matt Moore, vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), said he adjusted the data collected based on the mileage of each car. Although electric car accidents are less frequent, they cause more damage due to the much greater mass. “It's physical, the heavier the vehicle, the more force there is during collisions and therefore more damage,” says Matt Moore, which explains why more airbags are replaced.

A very bad indicator for insurers, because airbag triggering is the manufacturers' alert rating. An airbag deployed and the manufacturer no longer guarantees the efficiency and reliability of its battery. Since it is almost impossible to assess the condition of a battery after an accident, the insurance adjuster, if in doubt, will declare the cell pack irreparable because it equals or exceeds the value of the vehicle. This means that a car that appears to have had little damage will be thrown into the scrapyard due to the high cost of repairs.

The problem has become so crucial that our German colleague Automobilwoche reports that a large number of companies are concerned about the poor repairability of electric cars. And for good reason since workshops capable of restoring them are very rare given the risks linked to high voltage networks, which are difficult to thwart. Insurers are now threatening to sanction the casualness of these brands with much higher premiums, which quickly forget that the life of a model begins from the moment it hits the road.

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