Nissan Global EV Chief: Battery Swapping Likely Won’t Work in U.S.

Editor’s Note: This is part one of an exclusive sit down I had with Hideaki Watanabe, Nissan’s Division Manager of their Global Zero Emission Business Unit, at last week’s U.S. debut of the LEAF in Los Angeles. Part two is devoted battery leasing, part three to the quietness and safety of EVs, and part four to the different zero emissions directions of Renault and Nissan within their alliance.

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The Renault-Nissan Alliance’s strategy regarding battery swapping has been somewhat unclear to the public as of late. On the one hand, Renault has partnered with battery swapping stars Better Place in such countries as Israel, Denmark and France to develop a purpose built car for those battery swapping markets. On the other hand, Nissan has ignored many other potential battery swapping markets, such as the U.S., and has remained quite non-committal in those areas.

In a rather open conversation with me, Hideaki Watanabe, Nissan’s Division Manager of the Global Zero Emission Business Unit, explained why.

“For the battery swapping, we don’t know what’s going to happen to EVs in the future,” he said. “We will not be able to control everything. But what we have to do is to be able to respond to various solutions that may come up. One option is the battery swap. Within the alliance it’s important to have someone working on that. But reversely, it doesn’t make sense for the two companies to do that. We’ve allocated that resource to the Renault side. If there’s a market or a business model which is favorable for the battery swap system, we can get the technology through our alliance.”

After I pressed him a bit on why the Renault-Nissan Alliance has largely ignored other batter swapping markets, Mr. Watanabe said, “In Israel the battery swapping system works and my team in Renault is working on the Israel deal. Does it seem reasonable now in Japan? Not yet, at least. But if there’s a market in the future that requires battery swapping, can we comply with it? Yes we can.”

When asked particularly about the prospects for large scale battery swapping in the United States and whether he envisioned a future market for battery swapping here, Mr. Watanabe responded, “In the US, not very much because the land itself is so huge. But it may be applicable for limited city applications—for taxis, for example.”

That answer was the first time I’ve heard anyone at a high level within a major manufacturer who is planning on marketing and selling electric cars say that they don’t think the battery swapping model will work on a large scale in the U.S.—and I have to say I agree whole-heartedly.

It’s the same reason why building a nationwide high speed rail system is hard to do. Our country is just so huge that, economically, it doesn’t make any sense. Given the current range of EVs (and even the ranges into the foreseeable future) there would have to be an extraordinary amount of battery swap stations all over the US in the middle of places where no one currently lives for it to be successful. Logistically, I just don’t see this happening.

Other Posts in This Series:

Disclaimer: The author’s travel and lodging expenses were paid for by Nissan to attend the Los Angeles unveiling of the LEAF.

Image Credit: Nick Chambers

 

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.