Elon Musk knows how to wow a crowd, and last night in front of a crowd of reporters and techjunkies, he certainly wowed ‘em with Tesla’s new battery-swapping technology. In just 90 seconds, the Tesla Model S swapped its depleted battery for a fully-charged one, and Musk says these stations will be deployed alongside Supercharger stations by the end of 2013.
However, unlike the Supercharger stations, the battery swaps will not be free. Rather, it will cost about the price of 15 gallons of gas, between $60 and $80. That negates the whole “gallons of light” cheap energy advantage of the Model S, but it also provides a lot more convenience. The Supercharger stations take about an hour to fully charge a Model S, while a battery swap is supposedly faster than L.A.’s fastest gas pump.
But after you swap batteries, what then? Those packs are expensive, and degrade over time. According to Musk, you’ll be able to return to a swapping station and retrieve your pack, fully charged, for the same price as the new one you took off with. Or you can keep the new pack, and be charged the difference in value between the new pack and your used one. All of this will use an on-file credit card to automatically charge you. Tesla will even ship your old battery back to you at a later day, for an undisclosed fee.
Check out the video below of Elon’s presentation as the Tesla Model S races against a Tesla team member filling up an Audi sedan. Skip to the 8:45 mark on the video to see the swap in progress, and stick around for the surprise that follows shortly after.
At a cost of $500,000 or so per swapping station, this isn’t a cheap investment for Tesla Motors. But as Musk notes, in order to convince people to buy EVs, you must address the issues that keep them away. Whether battery swapping will stick around or not, Musk is unsure, and Tesla has invested heavily into its Supercharger fast-charging network as well. Charging technology may one day make battery swapping obsolete. But with the option of free or fast, Tesla owners will no longer feel inconvenienced by long charging times.
The first battery swapping stations will be installed along the I5 corridor in California between L.A. and San Francisco, followed by the Boston-DC corridor by the end of 2013. 2013 is turning out to be a huge year for Tesla Motors. Can they carry this momentum forward into their next vehicle launch though?