New startup Recurrent brings transparency to EV batteries, reducing risk in used car shopping

Scott Case with Dave Griffin, owner of Island E Cars on Washington’s Orcas Island, and one of Recurrent’s first customers. (Recurrent Photo)

Used electric vehicle buyers can kick the tires and look under the hood of potential purchase, but what they really need is to peer into the black box that is the battery.

“When the battery goes bad, that’s the whole thing,” said Scott Case, CEO and co-founder of Recurrent. Replacing it in a used car can cost as much as the vehicle itself. If the battery’s no good, “you basically bought a brick.”

Case this week is unveiling a Seattle-based startup that’s the first company to generate independent reports on used EV battery performance, akin to reviews by Carfax, Autochex and Carchex for petrol-powered cars.

“There is a rich tradition of third-party evaluation tools in this space,” Case said.

Recurrent has built a machine learning algorithm that takes into account the unique chemistry and configuration of a specific EV’s battery, as well as information about how it has been used, including whether it was juiced up via fast chargers, and the temperature during driving and charging.

Scott Case, CEO and co-founder of Recurrent, was previously COO at EnergySavvy. (Recurrent Photo)

The company generated its performance models by collecting data from volunteers willing to share information automatically pulled from their own EVs.

While key to deciding on a used-car, battery life and range over time is information that’s tightly held by EV automakers. Mechanics and dealers can tell shoppers if a battery is performing within its warranty, but not necessarily details about its condition. Recurrent fills in the blanks for used EV shoppers.

The startup, which officially launches Wednesday, is initially marketing to EV-only dealers in the U.S. It has three dealerships signed on for the service, which costs $50-250 a month based on the size of a dealership’s inventory. Case said the platform could in the future readily expand to international markets.

The Recurrent team includes some experienced startup veterans and battery expertise. Case was previously chief operating officer at EnergySavvy, a company that supports clean energy use. The business raised $30 million and was acquired last year.

Case was eager keep pursuing climate-related tech and became entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute where he sparked on batteries and kicked around around startup ideas with experts at the facility’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. In March, Case also became an entrepreneur-in-residence at the startup studio Pioneer Square Labs (PSL).

Recurrent’s co-founder is Chief Technology Officer Kyle Rippey, whose background includes Seattle startups, Estately and Avvo. The company has technical advisors from the UW, Stanford and Columbia universities, and Lawrence Berkeley Labs.

A sample vehicle report from Recurrent.

The startup received seed funding from PSL Ventures. Mike Galgon, PSL managing director, is a member of Recurrent’s board of directors.

“Electric vehicles are where all the growth in the retail auto industry is,” said Galgon in a statement. “Recurrent’s timing as the first mover here is perfect.”

The first EVs in the U.S. started rolling out en masse about a decade ago with the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. While drivers initially expected EV batteries to last about eight years, they’re going for about 11 years, Case said. A battery’s performance degrades around 1-5% annually, depending on conditions and use.

While building a company during the COVID-19 pandemic creates challenges, the current conditions could benefit Recurrent. This week, New York Times reported a surge in used car sales as people are looking for alternatives to mass transit and ride hailing services due to COVID. Car dealers in June sold 1.2 million used cars and trucks, according to the Times, an increase of 22% over the previous year.

Case expects other companies to start developing their own tools for generating EV battery reports. But he’s bullish on Recurrent’s future given its location in the Pacific Northwest’s battery tech hub, as well as being first to market.

“We’re going to have an insurmountable lead,” he predicted.

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