Is Tesla Planning A Battery Swap Model?


tesla-model-s-chassisEven the most doubtful haters will soon have to admit that Tesla Motors has done the unthinkable; build a better electric car. While CEO Elon Musk has already hinted at what the future holds for his electric automaker, a recent filing with the SEC revealed a twist to Tesla’s plans; battery swapping.

The idea of fast-swapping the battery out of an electric car is not new, though so far the few large-scale experiments have not been successful. Most famously Project Better Place promoted a battery-swapping scheme that had ambitions of 100,000 vehicles on the road by 2016; currently they’re selling about 100 models a month in Israel and Denmark, after pulling out of America and Australia.

In their recent SEC filing, on page 38 outlining future plans, Tesla discusses what factors may affect the adoption of electric vehicles. Specifically, the filing says that the ability to “…rapidly swap out the Model S battery pack, and the development of specialized public facilities to perform such swapping, which do not currently exist, but which we plan to introduce in the near future.”

What is Tesla thinking getting into battery swapping? Perhaps they are thinking that their Supercharger fast-charging stations just aren’t going to be enough. To truly compete with gas-powered vehicles, electric vehicles need a similar “refill” time. Battery swapping could make that possible, eliminating one of the biggest criticisms of EVs; their long recharge time.

As it stands, the Tesla Supercharger takes about 30 minutes to add 150 miles of range to the Model S, and can fully charge the 85 kWh model in just over an hour. While that is faster than any other method on the market, it is still longer than many people want to wait, and is limited by access to Superchargers.

But if battery-swapping stations were to become more prevalent around major metro areas, well, that could change the whole EV dynamic, and perhaps make battery leasing another option for Model S owners.

Elon has already taken a lot of risks with Tesla, and most of them have paid off. Can he make battery swapping work too?

Source: Green Car Reports

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.
  • I hope it works out, but this sounds risky to me. Dedicated battery swap stations sound expensive to build, keep safe, and maintain. What’s to say battery/charging tech doesn’t advance to 5 minute charge time in the next 10 years? You’d have to be pretty confident in that not happening before you go building all these swap facilities.

    • oil

      Do you think it would be more expensive than:

      1) Duilding gigantic platforms that are able to drill hundreds of miles underground.
      2) Insuring for the risk of catastrophe
      3) Shipping the oil to a refinery
      4) Refining into gasoline
      5) Shipping said gasoline to the stations
      6) Building, keeping safe, and maintaining the entire infrastructure


      • I wasn’t suggesting the oil route is better, just curious to see some numbers on cost to build battery-swap infrastructure vs. waiting (5 years? More? How far are we?) for charging tech to catch up to gas pump times.

        I’d hate to be the guy that took 5 years to build a bunch of “swapperies” only to find that battery charging tech now allows for a 5 minute recharge.

    • drg68

      It shouldn’t be any more expensive than a simple garage with a in floor service bay and a lift. They will be able to offer vehicle inspection services too. I imagine that this will be attractive to owners of Tesla vehicles once they get a few years on their car and the battery pack begins to degrade: swap it out for a new/refurbished one.

      • you’re envisioning a human element. I guess i had an automated swap service in mind & had a hard time picturing it being done cheaply

        • drg68

          There could be a degree of automation at some point, but IMHO, there should be a human involved to troubleshoot the process. The underside of vehicles get nasty no matter if they are electric or not and the potential for damage is always there.

          • UncleB

            no “Plunk in the trunk” possible? MT engine bay for suitcases?

          • drg68

            Have you seen photos of the Tesla sedan? The front where the engine is in normal cars is used for cargo in addition to the trunk. But you can also get optional rear facing seats to put in the trunk (so the kids can wave and make faces at people behind you. 😀 )

    • Jo Borras

      The same is true of gas stations, my friend. You try building a safe building that’s sitting on top of a gasoline bomb weighing several hundred tons day in and day out with jackwagons smoking and yapping on cell phones and back-firing open-pipe motorcycles inches away from vapors just begging to ignite and kill everyone for a hundred yards or more! Just because it got figured out before you were born doesn’t mean it was “safe”. LOL!

  • The cost of service would out weigh the benefit of using an electric car in the first place. I love the idea of having an electric car but the cost of ownership is beyond the 99% peoples like myself. I know we have to take small steps to get there but it sucks to be always looking up at a pie in the sky. Big oil will always be one step ahead in buying up patents that threaten its strangle hold on the worlds transportation system. If Tesla invests money in this direction than big oil will release a battery technology they own and make the investment a financial nightmare. Big oil owns our government and allot of others as well. Tesla is a few hundred years too early. Keep swimming upstream Tesla and eventually you will be caught by one the hundreds of big oil fishermen waiting to reel you in.

    • Christopher – Nissan had a promotional lease offer of $200/month for the Leaf recently. At 1000 miles a month, that runs about $25 in electricity. (4miles/kWh and $0.10/kWh). Many people spend more than $225/month for 1000 miles worth of Gasoline (17.8MPG at $4/Gallon). The only maintenance for electric vehicles is rotating the tires and changing the air filter occasionally. No oil changes, no smog checks, brakes last forever because vehicle uses regenerative breaking, etc. If you have a second car for out of town trips or travel out of town infrequently enough that you could just rent a vehicle for the trip, it is a great solution that is very affordable now. More people just need to be educated on the benefits of electric vehicles.

      • drg68

        windshield wipers wear out as do the light bulbs. Electric motors, shocks, batteries, and other components do go bad, so there still will be maintenance for these vehicles.

        • Jo Borras

          Of course there will be – has anyone been crazy enough to say otherwise?

          • drg68

            if you read what lots of electric car advocates write, yes.

          • UncleB

            Me! Lower moving parts count for the complete power train – it will so last very long time!

    • Jo Borras

      The benefit goes beyond dollars and cents – it’s about keeping the air clean and the energy renewable so we still have a planet to leave our kids. That has value to some people (read: non-a**hats) and they’re willing to pay for it when they can.

      NOTE: not calling you an a**hat. Calling everyone who *CAN* afford to make a clean/green choice and who fails to do so an a**hat.

    • Kent_Purdy

      While I agree that big oil owns our government, I must say that I completely love my Chevy Volt. The money I save in gas covers the majority of my lease payment and it’s amazing to drive. The solution doesn’t have to include a set of compromises.

    • UncleB

      Big Oil has already sold out to the highest bidder – China – and China has lots of U.S. money from U.S. debt repayment – to bid oil ever upwards. (U.S. vicious circle becomes a prickly pear) Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro(micro and mini) Tidal. Geothermal, Biological (methane from manure, humanure) and thorium the cleaner cheaper fission fuel, all can help this cycling situation and release America to domestic energy sources. Electric Cars are on large pathway to less foreign oil imports at Chinese prices?

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  • This is a bad idea in this stage of EV. Perhaps when the day comes when IC Engines are completely gone and EVs are all over the street, then Battery swaps centers would make sense.

    • Jo Borras

      I think they make sense at Interstate rest areas/pit stops. Beyond that (long road trips) I don’t see a need.

      • Wouldn’t it be more efficient to set up charging stations at Rest areas? The Superchargers charge the Tesla Model M for 150 miles in 30 minutes. Battery change would take around 2 hours (I’d imagine).
        Also Charging stations would be cheaper than battery swap stations.
        (But then again, a lot could change in the next few years).

    • UncleB

      Nano carbon super capacitors are but one advance of many on the threshold of breakthrough for the Electric Car takeover. in hub motors already operational in France today. in road inductive charging realized in Spain today and better batteries that take faster charges are already in the works, and we have no idea where the Chinese are in their work on this dilemma? Even hydrogen and energy cells can provide electricity to current electric designs ans provide emergency power at least, recharge Hh2 at best and H2 fills very fast, can be converted to charged batteries as you roll.
      Newer technologies for H2 are on the cusp of practical use, and fuel cells have been around a long time. large H2 capacity and slow charging to existing batteries of Super Capacitors?

  • Jo Borras

    I still count myself among the skeptics, but the faithful are in my living room and I’m reading their pamphlets, unironically. Convert me, babies!

  • Marko Germani

    Biggest problem I see is the setting of a standard. Let’s pray it won’t end like with betamax…

  • t_

    A good idea. It could give them a big boost and critical mass, when the time comes. It is nice to have a 300 mile car and “refill” it for 5 minutes, if you want. The batteries could be leased and the Tesla’s could have a quite attractive price.

  • TK

    Swapping the battery pack does not require rocket science, Tesla just needs to modify the battery housing. Better place has already proven that the battery swap concept works. It is the business model and the economics of it that needs to be worked out. Each swap station may cost about 1.5 million bucks and they need to built a lot of it to make it viable. Better place underestimated the task in building the infrastructure and is fighting a uphill battle with horrendous cost overrun and delays. Shai Agassi’s plan was brilliant but the execution timeline and cost was unrealistic.

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