Tesla Sales Surge, But Battery Swapping On The Back Burner

teslaSo Jo and I were just like, totally wrong. I guess we got our hopes a little too high, as the Tesla press conference had nothing new or exciting to share. In fact, the Tesla Model X SUV wasn’t even on hand at all. Instead, Tesla execs used the soapbox to brag about higher sales and an expanding network of Superchargers. But what about battery swapping?

First let me give Tesla its due lip service. Sales of the Model S soared by some 20% in the fourth quarter of 2013, despite road fires and a NHTSA investigation. More than 6,900 Model S units were moved in October, November, and December, which works out to a production rate of some 600 cars per week. Production has definitely ramped up, and will continue to do so. Tesla also says that there are now over 25,000 Model S sedans on the road right now, in just 18 months of sales. Collectively, Model S sedans have driven more than 168 million gas-free miles.

Tesla’s Vice President of Worldwide Sales & Service Jerome Guillen then went on to discuss the Tesla Supercharger network, which is rapidly expanding across both the U.S. and Europe. The cross-country Supercharger network is nearly complete, with some 81 Superchargers now open, and another 24 coming soon. Guillen also talked about how Tesla retail and service centers are set to double in 2014, and right now the California automaker is in need of many more employees…so anyone looking for a new job might want to check out Tesla. Oh, and as you already know, the Tesla Model S is the best-selling car in Norway, a fact Tesla made sure to repeat.


Some other factoids Tesla threw our way included an estimated 7.5 million driving miles that have been charged at the free Superchargers, saving some 300,000 gallons of gasoline in the process. Finally, Tesla said that engineers were working “furiously” on the Model X to ensure it’s ready for primetime, though its absence in Detroit certainly is suspect to say the least. The Tesla Model X release date hasn’t even been set yet (though it has been delayed), and the only Model X-specific news to come out of Tesla was in November, when it was announced the electric SUV would be slightly more expensive the Model S, and come with all-wheel drive standard. Where’s the hype machine for Tesla’s next big launch?

Also absent from the presentation was any mention of the Tesla battery-swapping technology, which CEO Elon Musk said would be deployed by the end of 2013. I myself asked this question, and the answer was along the lines of “We’re working on it, but people REALLY like the Supercharger…” Which is all well and good, except the Supercharger still takes an hour to fully-charge your car, while battery-swapping is done in 90-seconds, beating the refill time of even gasoline cars. This is supposed to be a major breakthrough for the electric car industry…so where is it?

That’s not to say the Tesla battery-swapping idea is dead and gone, but it does appear to be delayed indefinitely. Same with the Tesla Model X; just because it wasn’t on hand doesn’t mean there’s a problem per se, but if I were a betting man, I’d say those falcon-wing doors are proving troublesome.instead of coming away from the Tesla press conference brimming with confidence, I have more questions than answers. Probably not what Tesla wanted, but if anybody can make battery swapping and falcon-wing doors work, it’s Tesla.

Christopher DeMorro

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.