If you drive an electric car, the chances are you’ve experienced at some point the fear that your car will run out of charge before you reach your destination, otherwise known as range anxiety.

But what about the fear that the battery pack in your new electric car will suffer rapid degradation in the amount of charge it can hold?

If that sounds familiar, you’ll be pleased to know that you’re not alone: even electric automakers are keeping tight tabs on how electric cars and their battery packs perform. 

Here’s how just three automakers, Nissan, General Motors, and Tesla, are using remote monitoring to help customers keep their plug-in cars healthy and to improve electric car technology.

Remote monitoring

If you’ve purchased an all-electric car in the past few years, it probably comes with a smart Internet-connected informatics system that enables you to monitor your car’s state of charge, pre-heat the cabin and even unlock the doors via a smartphone app.

But while companies like General Motors, Nissan, and Tesla offer customers basic connectivity to their cars to make owning and charging an electric car easier, the two-way connection enables automakers to delve even deeper, monitoring your car’s systems 24 hours a day. 

Keeping an eye out

Nissan Leaf Carwings feature

Nissan Leaf Carwings feature

As Nissan Executive Vice President for Research and Development Mitsuhiko Yamashita recently disclosed, Nissan is using the Carwings system found in every Nissan Leaf to monitor how Leafs are performing around the world. 

Provided the owner has consented, Nissan is using the data to help it improve on existing electric car and battery design.

“Leaf drivers don’t know that they are connected, but our system is watching them everywhere, every time - what’s happening to the car, is there any kind of problem, what is the battery status or whatever,” Mitsuhiko said. “We are monitoring it.”

LIke Nissan, General Motors uses its OnStar system to collect data about the Chevrolet Volts on the road. 

Connected by default, OnStar collects data from each car, allowing GM to real-world data about the plug-in hybrid is being used. 

That data, however, stays within GM, which uses it to keep an eye out for potential problems and improve on next-generation plug-in cars.

“Our customer’s privacy is paramount to us,” said Paul Pebbles, Business Service Manager for Fleet - Volt at OnStar. “We don’t share [data] with any third parties, we don’t share with any others. One of the advantages of OnStar in general is that we get a deep understanding of how cars perform in the real world.”

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5

Got your back

Most of the time, collecting anonymized data from plug-in cars in use allows automakers to keep a general eye on how plug-in cars are performing in the real world. 

But in some cases, built-in telecommunications systems can be used to make sure that your own car stays healthy and happy. 

Take Tesla, for example. 

Earlier this year, we heard from an owner who had a battery problem with his 2010 Roadster. 

“I had a call from Tesla, telling me something was wrong with a battery cell,” said Kevin Sharpe, roadster owner and founder of ZeroCarbon World  “The on-board diagnostics system had detected a problem, and Tesla had acted to schedule a service appointment before I even knew there was anything wrong.”

For Volt owners, an opt-in feature of OnStar provides them with a monthly usage report, detailing miles driven, charging history and gas mileage, but it also lets owners know if there’s something wrong with their car. 

OnStar Volt Monthly Report

OnStar Volt Monthly Report

The service report can list everything from a required software update to even detailing an abnormal tire pressure, but can help Volt owners maintain their cars to a level never seen before.

Remote assistance

Even those who don’t opt for OnStar’s monthly email can get help remotely, however. 

”You can press the OnStar button, and our advisor can do a real-time diagnostics on the equipment,” said Pebbles. “The advisor can then give the customer the best advice on what to do next. They can even schedule a service appointment at a local dealer if necessary.”

Meanwhile, while Nissan doesn’t offer monthly emails to customers about the health of their Nissan Leafs, it can drill down to remotely diagnose a problem when needed.

“We can detect any kind of small symptom of quality problem or customers’ complaints, and we can tackle it very quickly,” Mitsuhiko said. “This is one example. Sooner or later this technology will be applied to other vehicles as well.”

Connected future

With more and more cars -- electric and non-electric -- using on-board diagnostics systems and informatics systems to report back to automakers on their health, the days of the head-scratching mechanic troubleshooting a problem could be behind us. 

Do you think collecting information about existing electric car use helps automakers perfect plug-in technology, or are smart, connected cars nothing more than a security risk waiting to be exploited?

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments below.


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