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Elon Musk: Tesla to demo battery swap technology on Thursday

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Electric car maker Tesla Motors (s TSLA) has long discussed making its cars able to have their batteries swapped out, but has yet to actually enable the tech in its cars. But now, following many rumors of an impending battery swap announcement, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to twitter on Tuesday to say that on Thursday night, Tesla plans to publicly demo that technology for the first time at its design studio near L.A.

We drive the new Tesla Model S Thumbnail

Musk writes:

Live pack swap demo on Thurs night at 8pm California time at our design studio in Hawthorne. Seeing is believing. . . Video of battery pack swap will be posted to the Tesla website around 9:30pm, so those attending will see this first.

Battery swapping tech is a system that the beleaguered startup Better Place was trying to make popular. It entails essentially making the car chassis able to be quickly opened so that a battery with a low charge can quickly come out, and be replaced with a fully charged battery. The idea is to solve the problem of range anxiety (current electric cars can only go 200 to 300 miles on a battery) with a solution that takes minutes, or the equivalent time it takes to pump gas at the gas station.

Better Place Batteries Expected to Cost Almost $12K ApieceBut getting battery swap stations implemented has proven difficult. Better Place was only able to persuade car maker Renault to make one model, the Fluence Z.E., with a battery swap component. Building out the infrastructure technology has also been expensive, and Better Place spent hundreds of millions on its infrastructure.

If Tesla starts installing battery swap stations around its Super Charger stations, it could pull off what Better Place failed to achieve. Many people in the electric car industry still support the idea of battery swap technology as an answer for electric car infrastructure.

Tesla made its Model S car with a battery that is swappable, Peter Rawlinson, former VP and Chief Engineer for Vehicle Engineering at Tesla, told me during a factory tour back in 2010. But Tesla has yet to implement the tech.

18 Responses to “Elon Musk: Tesla to demo battery swap technology on Thursday”

    • It’s nearly impossible to do this from the grid. It’s more possible to do it from batteries that you’ve charged that you then dump into the car. I think the logic here is that, well, if you pre-charged batteries on site, why not just put those into the car rather than trying to push them from 120 kw (which is already high) to, say, 250 kw. At those charge rates, the interface might need to be exotic, whereas a battery swap might not.

      Eventually, if the better batteries do become available, perhaps we’ll see that while you could select a 500-mile battery, the vast majority of people will go for a battery like today’s 265-mile one (perhaps upgraded to an even 100 kw-hours), albeit one that weighs about 600 lbs. instead of today’s 1800 lbs. It’s not hard to imagine that you could either swap your base battery in that scenario or >not< swap it, but add a range extender….

      Then you'd be able to run close to 500 miles, swap the borrowed range extender, recharge eventually… And so long as you had power to get home, you could drop off the range extender at the last swap/drop station….

      It's a bit Rube Goldberg, except that everyone could have a 500-mile car for the price of a 250, buy extra distance only when needed (meaning you'd only get one of these on about 1% of trips), and with a 500-600lb. battery, it might be possible to make the swap stations fairly simple in design….

      • kotedo

        I understand that you’re pondering about range. But .. realistically my Grand Cherokee HEMI 5.7 got 278 miles out of its gas tank with GOOD driving habits. The average MPG was about 16 – 18MPG. A Tesla Model S with a range of something between 260 and more miles is either “right there” or even beyond it. At the 260 mile mark in the GC I was sweating bullets. One step too harsh on the gas and it would be over.

        I am sure there are other cars that are like the GC, but I can only speak for my experiences.

        If Tesla can pull that off to have even more range than what they already have, man, it’s a (already) no-brainer. And seriously, I can’t just sit and drive 500 miles w/o having to see a bathroom. But my MPG is not up for discussion. :)

        Swapping a battery at 260+ miles or waiting 50 minutes for a FULL charge for free, heck, yeah, any time!

        My next car is a Tesla, no matter what. My times of paying for (gas-) fuel are definitely over, once and for all. My Nissan LEAF made that crystal clear.

    • Paul Drake

      A quick review of the units involved with electricity seems to be in order. The base Tesla S has a 60 kWh battery that the EPA considers to have a 208 mile range. These values provide an energy usage of about 3.5 miles per kWh. Charging at 1000 watts for 5 minutes is 1/12 of a kWh or a little over 1500 feet of range. I find electric cars interesting, but there are significant bottlenecks in delivering charge to a battery. A typical household consumes about 31 kWh a day, so a Tesla S can suck up 2 to 3 households worth of electricity in 20 minutes.

  1. Derek Kerton

    Interesting. I have a model S, and I would NOT want to do the swap, since I maintain and treat my battery well. When I swap out propane tanks, I often get painted over rusty relics. That’s OK for propane…but not my car.

    OTOH, if Tesla also offers a financial option where the battery is NOT yours, but is rented or bought as a “service” (BaaS?), then the reluctance to swap out MY battery is reduced. Knowing Musk’s style, I expect the financial aspect of this will be as innovative as the mechanical swap.

    • Nathan Hazout

      The way BetterPlace offered it was a “BaaS”. You don’t own the battery at all. You pay for a subscription (number of miles per month) and you can swap away as often as you want.
      You don’t care about the quality of the battery because it’s not yours.

  2. I for one believe this is a good answer to more of a political point raised by nay sayers than an actual thing Tesla is seriously pursuing.
    Elon is trying to put a nail in the coffin of a bunch of idiots who just cant wait 20 mins to get their car charged, between 4 hour stretches of driving! To top that off, its free!! what sane person would say no I’ll pay $70 for a tank of gas thats filled and paid for in about 5 mins but I wont take it for free if I had to wait for 20mins!
    The superchargers are enough, more than enough in fact in my opinion, if these fools wanna pay the gas go ahead, more tesla charging spots for me, you people will never be convinced and I’ll watch oil prices punish you while I whisk by in my Model S and laugh in a few short years. You wanna see the future of gas prices? take a quick look around Europe and most of the rest of the world.
    Of course if Tesla went all out with this technology (as wide spread as superchargers) then it would make sense, and the battery would then become a service part which is great because the owner doesn’t worry about getting a new pack or using up their battery’s life, its guaranteed for 10 years regardless of the battery and if you feel a battery you got at the swap was no good you go in for another one and Tesla takes it out of service, keeping the fleet of rotating battery packs performing at their best. I dont want the battery I want the energy thats in the battery, to me the device itself is useless its the utility it gives me that I need. Its like owning a $100’000 camera because you wanted to shoot a home video once, its stupid. Just rent one, shoot your video and save your money!

  3. This is a win-win situation. It will be great for customers who might be wanting to travel 800 miles a day on a cross country trip. And Tesla will be able to repair any problems with their battery packs transparently to the customer. (Tesla’s image to be without peer and their resale value much higher than any car in automobile history.)

  4. r00fus

    Tesla/Musk are definitely determined to push forward electric cars.

    If we all had cheap nuclear/solar/wind, the MPGe would go through the roof (and charging/battery-swap stations could sell cheap ions and still be incredibly profitable).

    In the meanwhile, it seems Tesla is ALL IN, and making it easier and easier for Tesla fans to be bleeding edge.

  5. Huge difference in costs between installing a SuperCharger which takes up little room, and building out infrastructure like this battery swap. Maybe in the long term, but certainly not now.

    The best approach to mainstreaming electric is to have a gas generator backup. Put development dollars into very small engines. That would alleviate the distance anxiety.

    • In the long-ish run, a 500-mile battery should be realistic that costs half as much as today’s 265 mile battery and weighs half as much too. That would seemingly render most of the need to swap it out moot, given realistic charging scenarios for the majority of people.

      This feels like a bridge technology, although as you say, an expensive one and hard to roll out over a large area.

    • focher

      I have a Volt and have done 90% of my driving in EV mode. It was designed to cover something like 80-90% of people’s driving habits, and GM definitely has collected a lot of data with Volt drivers to see where the sweet spot for battery could be. For sure, a range of 250-300 miles on battery would give me a 100% EV usage situation.

      The issue of “mainstreaming” electric is that most people are unrealistic about their needs. An electric range of well under 100 miles with home charging is more than enough for somewhere well about 90% of drivers, but most people won’t accept that because they think about the rare situation where they might need to drive further. I think what Tesla is doing is brilliant. I suspect it usage of the battery swap will be rather uncommon, but they are taking away the excuses people use not to have a pure EV one-by-one.

  6. Electric battery cars are great, but the battery power / mileage range quoted are unrealistic and from my experience not achievable.
    And charging points are hard to find. Ab

    I would really like a electric car, but not just yet

    • Voltair

      Test drive a Chevrolet Volt. It has, in practice, unlimited range because the onboard gas generator takes over when the battery is drained. It’s operating costs in electric mode are extraordinarily low, and in gas mode, it’s like a standard car that gets decent gas mileage.

    • r00fus

      So you don’t own an electric car, but you expect us to believe you have “experience”?

      You need to elaborate or most people won’t believe you.

    • kotedo

      Right, I have a Nissan LEAF and I can achieve 100 to 110 miles fairly easy. You’re right it’s unachievable. Uhm, what?

      Long distane travel, I give you that, is a challenge when you’re in the wrong state, but in States like CA, OR, and TN it’s already possible.

    • Steven Graff

      When compared to the muscle cars of the 60s the range of the lowest cost Tesla or other electrics is not much different; if a battery swapping infrastructure is developed in a similar fashion to what took place with gasoline and the interstate system these current 100+ ranges would be no different than attempting to drive a ’68 Camaro from LA to SF or route 66. There are numerous shuttered filling stations along interstates that could take on a second life as battery swap stations. Most remain on the grid and often are sited in solar appropriate locales.