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Summary:

To plug, or swap — one day that could be the question for electric car drivers. Tesla has developed battery swapping technology to offer more options for a bigger range for its cars.

Tesla battery swap tech

Electric car maker Tesla Motors swapped out the batteries of two of its Model S electric cars on stage during an event at its design studio near Los Angeles on Thursday night. The demonstration was created to show that swapping out a battery of one of the Model S cars can take 90 seconds, or considerably less time than it takes to stop for gas in a gas-powered traditional car.

During the event Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla plans to provide battery swap options at some point at its Supercharger stations, which will eventually be called “Tesla Stations.” The choice for the customer will be “free” (the electricity from the Supercharger is free) “or fast” (the 90-second battery swap), said Musk during the event.

While I wasn’t able to attend the battery swap demo in person, what isn’t clear about Tesla’s battery swap tech is how much it will cost to use, and how it will work since Tesla car owners own the batteries of their cars. Batteries are the most valuable part of the car, and degrade over time. If you have a new but discharged battery in your Model S, you won’t want to permanently replace it with a several year old, fully charged, battery.

This Forbes article has more information on the cost and process. The article says the swap will cost around the “price of about 15 gallons of gas at the going local rate,” and if you’re doing a return trip, you can do another swap on the way back for the same price and get your fully charged battery back again. If you don’t want to get your old battery back, then Tesla will bill you for the difference in value, or will transport your old pack back to you at a charge. It’s unclear how much those costs will be. The battery swap stations will each cost $500,000 to build.

Elon MuskStartup Better Place tried to make the battery swap car tech work in Israel but the company recently filed for bankruptcy, after failing to sign up enough customers to buy its cars and use its infrastructure. Better Place could only convince one car maker, Renault, to make a car with a swappable battery, and that car is the under whelming Fluence. Tesla’s business model, on the other hand, is more like Apple’s with the iPhone: sell a sexy car and offer the infrastructure along with it.

Tesla designed the Model S to have a swappable battery from the beginning if the company decided to use that option. We’re eager to hear more details about how the service and economics of Tesla’s battery swap system will work. Musk said that the battery swap tech uses the same technology that they use on the factory floor in Fremont to swiftly turn the bolts on the bottom of the car.

This article was updated at 2:29 BST with more information on the price and service.

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  1. I think that Tesla is on the right path with their electric vehicles (and no Government help). Somehow there needs to be a move to standards (maybe a few models) of battery packs utilized in all electric vehicles. Then battery swap stations would be viable, maybe something along the lines of an automatic car wash. Just pull your car on the conveyor, and 90 seconds or so later you come out the other end with fully charged batteries. Easier then filling your gas tank.

  2. Is there a possibility of a Nuclear Battery?

  3. He didn’t even mention the $99 price of the other fill up. Or the real cost in pollution and foreign imported OIL!
    This is priceless !

  4. Ivana Trump Friday, June 21, 2013

    He also didn’t mention all the pollution from creating and disposing of those swappable batteries. Nor did he say what it costs to replace a 3 year old battery with a new one.

    1. Who is disposing of the batteries? They are swapped out, recharged, and put in another car.

  5. Comparing 4 minutes against 90 seconds isn’t quite a fair comparison. With the Tesla battery swap stations having your credit card on file, negating the need for you to get out of your vehicle, wave a credit card at the machine and wait for it to be authorized (around 30 seconds in the gasoline video), a better comparison would be to measure how long it took to actually pump that gas.

    10gal/min should take 139 seconds for those 23.221 gal, and the video shows it took 152 seconds to do so (from 0:33 to 3:05). Battery swap is still faster than filling up the full tank, even if you’re using a special valet fill-up gas station.

  6. But with the Audi (I think it’s a A8) you get 483 miles (23 gallons x 21 miles/gallon) before you need to stop for refuel. The Tesla S is out of power again in 310 miles (best case).

  7. They say the bolts that hold the battery pack tray are auto factory torqued. But if you have a owner that use’s this exchange system a lot you would see a higher rate of failure of the nuts and bolts that secure the battery tray for one simple reason those items were designed to be used once every 3 years to replace the pack not swap it once a week.

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