Innovative Technology Solution Offers Significant Upgrades for Ageing EVs

It is well known that the capacity of electric vehicle (EV) battery packs diminishes over time. Temperature and charging cycles, as well as other factors, all play their part in wearing down the pack’s lifespan, and most EV owners can expect it to be nearing the end of its useable life powering their vehicle after about a decade.

At that point, to get the car back to straight-from-the-factory condition likely means going back to the manufacturer and getting a replacement battery pack. That is not a cheap exercise – a like-for-like replacement costs thousands of dollars.

But what if there was a way to not only replace the battery pack of your aging EV, but upgrade it, giving the car more range and making it more responsive, while at the same time installing functions and features that are seen only on the most modern cars?

The team at OZ Electric Vehicles (OZ EV), a new business based in Brisbane, has developed just such an innovative and exciting solution.

The man behind the company, Graeme Manietta, is well known in the Australian EV community. He is the former Chairman of the Queensland branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA) and has, through his other business called OZ DIY Electric Vehicles, been converting and repairing EVs since the mid-2000s. And what Graeme and his team at OZ EV have developed is, potentially, a game-changer for the EV industry and EV owners.

A combination of hardware and software, the solution effectively boils down to replacing tired battery packs with new, advanced batteries, while installing a small plug-in computer board and software that ‘piggybacks’ on, and ‘talks’ to, the car’s existing computer system, giving it new instructions.

It’s a deceptively simple-looking system that emerged after many months of research and which can be tweaked, said Graeme, to work on any EV model, and it is already being installed on one of the earliest entrants to the Australian EV market, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

The little i-MiEV made its debut in 2009 and was available to the public as a hatchback or as a van. It’s a solid little car with a 16kWh lithium-ion battery pack and a 47kW electric motor – a package decent enough to push it to a 130km/h top speed and deliver a real-world range of something between 120km and 160km.

While just a few hundred i-MiEVs were sold here, they were amongst the first EVs on Australian shores and that is why, 10 years on, Graeme and his team at OZ EV looked at the i-MiEV as the foundation for the development of their universal upgrade solution.

“We saw a need for these older EVs, like the Mitsubishi i-MiEVs, to have a battery upgrade at some point,” said Graeme. “Quite a few of them are starting to have degraded batteries, which means they have a much shorter range, and so we decided we’d investigate. Could we do something with the battery packs? Could we upgrade them somehow? There were a couple of options, but we decided that we could do something better.”

The direction the OZ EV team chose to follow was to have battery cells manufactured that were lighter and had better chemistry and density than the originals, offered 30kWh instead of the original’s 16kWh, and which could be dropped straight into the i-MiEV’s existing battery pack frame.

“Owners do have the option of going back to Mitsubishi to buy an original battery pack, but a new battery pack will give them their original 120km or so of range, and will set them back about $16,000,” said Graeme.

“Our mission was to come up with something better, and what we have done is deliver 220km to 240km range for the same money.”

Actually, that’s not quite true. Thanks to the fact that even old EV batteries can still be used for purposes other than powering a car, the OZ EV team sell the old cells to a contractor who uses them to meet other energy needs. This means the price of the EV upgrade comes in at $12,950.

That seems a pretty good price, but there is much more going on here than just better batteries. The really clever stuff is the technology – software and hardware in the form of that small plug-in computer board – that enables the humble i-MiEV to be upgraded with modern features.

It is, said OZ EV Project Lead Jacques Hickey, a solution that is easily installed, easy to remove, and easily upgradeable.

“Essentially, you can think of it as a piggyback computer,” said Jacques. “It talks to all the existing ECU modules within the vehicle and allows us to read the information from them and send them messages telling them what they need to do. It uses the vehicle’s existing communication system and existing CAN protocol, and the whole kit has just four plugs. It is a plug-and-play solution.”

For the i-MiEV, this plug-and-play system enables one-pedal driving, ‘no-creep’ cruise control, and hill hold – options not available on the i-MiEV out of the factory.

And the computer card at the heart of the solution is expandable, meaning even more features can be added to the car should a customer wish it. You want to add cameras, LiDAR, Radar, or other hardware to give you access to some of the latest driver assistance features? That can be accomplished.

And thanks to the ability to send over-the-air software upgrades – the OZ EV team can develop updates and deliver them straight to the car, just as major manufacturers do with their latest models. That is very cool stuff.

“If you can think of it, we can make it happen,” said Jacques. “We have full access to all the ECU controllers inside this vehicle, so even features like vehicle-to-grid and advanced driving such as lane control assist are all possible and can be added.”

While initially developed for the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the OZ Electric Vehicles’ solution is being further developed to be available for any make and model of EV.

“We are looking at other models and are currently doing R&D on the Nissan Leaf battery pack,” said Graeme. “After that, we’re looking at the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and we’ve also had people asking us about the BMW i3. They’re getting on a bit too and there’s a lot of interest there.”

As the EV market continues to mature, there will be many more makes and models that start to feel the age of their battery packs and many more owners looking for the ways in which they can get more life from them. With that in mind, Graeme is developing the resources that other workshops and businesses across Australia and internationally can use to install the OZ EV upgrade.

And the potential business that could be built from offering that solution is enormous. For example, while the i-MiEV sold in small numbers in Australia, in Europe and North America more than 50,000 were sold under various names – including the Citroen C-Zero and the Peugeot iOn.

And when you consider the number of EVs across the world that are reaching 10 years of age, the size of the market begins to get very large indeed.

Which is why Graeme is preparing to make the OZ EV system available to the European and North American markets early next year; is developing installation manuals, training courses and licensing agreements for potential installation partners; and is actively looking for Australian and New Zealand businesses that want to get involved as installers of the solution.

“We’d like to see it be someone who’s got a mechanical and electrical/auto-electric background. And businesses that already do electric vehicle conversions would likely be the installers in their area,” said Graeme. “If the licensing goes okay here in Australia and New Zealand, we will be rolling it out early next year to Europe and North America.”

A long-time advocate of the benefits of electric vehicles, Graeme has spent years researching the sector and developing new technologies and tweaking established ones to make EVs deliver more for their owners. The OZ Electric Vehicles upgrade solution – the culmination of years of work – could be the technology those owners have been waiting for.

“Everything we do, we look at value-adding,” said Graeme. “If it’s got batteries, it’s our gig.”

To find out more about OZ Electric Vehicles and inquire about licensing and installation opportunities, go to the website at www.ozelectricvehicles.com 

VIDEO: OZ ELECTRIC VEHICLES INNOVATIVE EV UPGRADE

VIDEO: OZ ELECTRIC VEHICLES IMIEV UPGRADE TEST DRIVE

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