The Tesla Motors battery swap lives!
Pack swap now operating in limited beta mode for SF to LA route. Can swap battery faster than visiting a gas station. Tesla blog out soon.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 19, 2014
Honestly, the Tesla Motors battery-swapping pilot program has got to be one of the more questionable sides of Tesla’s business. In June 2013 (yes, 2013), Tesla Motors had a big event introducing its fast battery-swapping technology… well, sort of. It talked about it and gave a live demo, but no one could actually see the details of the swap that took place.
The first battery-swap stations were supposed to be rolling out within months (probably in the 4th quarter of 2013). It’s now the 4th quarter of 2014, of course, and the first station is finally opening up between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Operation beings in the coming week.
Despite all the fanfare around the 2013 “demo,” many figured that the battery-swap idea was just being rolled out for regulatory reasons, and that it was dropped as things changed for Tesla with those. “It’s been suggested the only reason Tesla even made it in the first place is to still be eligible for California’s ZEV credits, as California was considering making a 5-minute refill time a requirement for the credits,” as Chris DeMorro summarizes on GAS2. “However, ZEV credits have become an increasingly small part of Tesla’s income portfolio, as other automakers are able to earn the credits on their own. With 140 Superchargers in the US alone, and most charging done at home anyways, battery swap stations seem like they might be viable in limited numbers and locations.”
But Tesla has decided to move forward with the battery-swapping idea, at least as a pilot, or “exploratory work.” In other words, we’ll see if this actually goes anywhere. Tesla yesterday wrote on its blog:
Starting next week, we will pilot a pack swap program with invited Model S owners. They will be given the opportunity to swap their car’s battery at a custom-built facility located across the street from the Tesla Superchargers at Harris Ranch, CA. This pilot program is intended to test technology and assess demand.
At least initially, battery swap will be available by appointment and will cost slightly less than a full tank of gasoline for a premium sedan. More time is needed to remove the titanium and hardened aluminum ballistic plates that now shield the battery pack, so the swap process takes approximately three minutes.
Initially, the swap just took 90 seconds.
However, even with the new shields on, Tesla thinks it can eventually get the swap down to less than a minute.
The big question is really whether or not Tesla drivers would use this service, and if it is worth Tesla’s money to build more of these. “Tesla will evaluate relative demand from customers for paid pack swap versus free charging to assess whether it merits the engineering resources and investment necessary for that upgrade,” Tesla writes.
It seems to me that many more would choose the free Supercharging, and the use of the battery swap would be so limited that it wouldn’t be worth expanding. But we’ll have to wait and see. For sure, to start with, many Tesla drivers would be curious to use the battery swap just to check it out. I imagine Tesla must be taking that into consideration with this exploratory phase.
For now, here are a bunch of videos from the battery swap unveiling in 2013: