Can EV battery swap stations really go mainstream?

Let’s face it: wrapping your head around EV charging infrastructure can be confusing. And actually waiting while your car gets filled with juice? No thanks.

But what if you didn’t have to charge your vehicle at all? What if there was another way? And what if that way was battery swap stations?

Way back in 2013, Tesla proposed the idea of a 90-second battery swap shop. Two years later, Tesla quit the effort. It switched its strategy, focused on the Supercharger network, and declared that battery swapping was a dead-end.

But is it really? Let’s dig in.

How do battery swap stations work?

The idea is simple. You drive up to a car wash-sized station and you hand your vehicle over to the valet — or even stay inside. The workers and/or the machines do the rest: bolts are unscrewed, the battery is removed, a new one is replaced, and everything is reassembled.

That sounds like it should take forever, right? But based on the swap stations we have so far, the whole process only takes one to three minutes (more on that later). That’s a full ‘charge’ in less time than it takes to drink an espresso.

What are the pros?

Besides saving time, you’d also save money. The cost of the car can be separated from the cost of the battery pack, making EVs more affordable for some drivers.

Plus, you wouldn’t have to worry about battery degradation or warranties. And your vehicle could have a longer life if it’s not attached to its battery. Remember, it’s the batteries that have an expiration date, not the car itself.

Similarly, swapping makes it possible to always have the latest battery tech installed in your vehicle. 

And the cons?

For starters, manufacturers would need to produce compatible batteries for all brands. This means that the battery pack would need a very specific universal design.

What’s more, we’d need a greater number of batteries to power the same number of EVs. Not to mention the changes required for an entirely new infrastructure.

China in the lead

Battery swap stations seem to be picking up pace in China, at least.

In December, NIO reached 700 stations across the country, having provided 5.3 million swaps to NIO car owners. Its swap stations are fully automated and can do the job in three minutes.