"Better Place went bust and Tesla walked away but there's growing interest in this alternative to plug-in electric vehicle charging," wrote Megan Lampinen in her Automotive World article about battery swapping for electric vehicles.
Now there’s Nio, the Chinese EV start-up that is using battery-swapping functionality as a key differentiator in an increasingly crowded segment. In October 2020, the Nio Power battery swap service in China marked the 1 millionth swap. The network has been expanding and now offers 155 stations in Nio’s home market. China as a whole is making hefty investments in battery swap. Earlier this year, a group of 20 Chinese organisations — including Nio — signed a declaration to collaborate on building an “Eco-circle for the Body-to-Battery Separation Model of New Energy Vehicles.” The government is behind it as well. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a statement to Bloomberg in January, confirming it would “actively promote the demonstration application of battery-swap mode and improve the system and standardisation.”
“You might see this work with robotaxi and shared ownership fleets,” says Doron Myersdorf, Chief Executive of StoreDot. The Israeli start-up is developing ultra-fast charging technology for EVs, potentially slashing charging times to just five minutes. Despite what he says about fleet potential, Mysersdorf is not a backer of swapping. “People want to own the battery. It is an important part of an EV,” he told Automotive World. “It also accounts for about one-third of the cost. People don’t want to share this or have others fiddle around with it on a regular basis.”
Myersdorf added, “The sort of technical compliance required is not easy unless you are working with something like a taxi fleet where all the taxis are the same.” China, the leading market for battery swap, is tackling the problem head on. At the moment, the country’s top four EV suppliers with battery swap services are limited to brand-specific swap stations, i.e. a Nio won’t work in a Beijing Electric Vehicle Marketing Co location or vice versa. The Chinese government is reportedly developing standards for battery-swapping services to address this. How this plays out in the long run, though, depends on various factors. Economic analysis by MIT a couple years ago suggested that the expense of a battery swap taxi fleet was slightly lower than conventional charging, if you assume the cost of the taxi driver as well. “If swapping happens it will happen in this area but as charging rates increase, even that segment could see itself eradicated,” added Jon Salkeld, Technology Director of BP’s Advanced Mobility Unit.