A couple weeks ago Tesla Motors held their yearly shareholders meeting. As always it was chock full of good information, and in general a big love-fest between shareholders and Tesla Motors. Aside from the people requesting that Tesla Motors offer an interior which doesn’t involve the deaths of animals (leather-free-cruelty-free interiors), the most interesting question had to do with Tesla’s battery swap feature. Tesla Motors designed this into the Model S, and discussed the feature back in 2010 in SEC filings, but didn’t say much or anything about it to the public until demonstrating roboticized battery swap at a 2013 event.
One reason Tesla had to actually deploy a battery swapping system was to capture additional ZEV credits, because CARB has a ZEV Credit bonus for vehicles with battery swapping capability.
In June 2015, CARB held a meeting to discuss proposed regulatory changes related to ZEV Credits for fast refueling by swapping battery packs. In 2013 CARB staff had proposed eliminating this additional credit, but by 2014 the CARB Board directed the staff to come up with different rules that kept the door open to ZEV Credits for battery swapping but to eliminate loopholes allowing a car maker to “game” the system to earn too many credits.
With that in mind comes the question at the shareholders meeting. The questioner asked about how to make an appointment to make a battery swap at the single solitary battery swapping station at Tesla’s Harris Ranch facility, located along I-5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk answered that they limited invitations for using the battery swap station to Californians. At first they sent out 200 invitations, and got 5 people to use the station, only once apiece. They’ve since broadened this to invite any Model S owner in California to use the battery swap station, but had a similarly low “take-rate”.
“People just don’t care about pack swap .. the Superchargers are fast enough,” to allow a proper road trip, “and it’s free” leading Musk to rhetorically ask “why would you do the pack swap, it doesn’t make much sense.” That’s a great question to ask, especially in light of the Better Place bankruptcy a couple years ago.
Musk said they built pack swapping capability into the car because they didn’t know whether or not people would want it. To support road tripping, Tesla built in two features – Supercharging and pack swap. Where the Supercharger feature was a surprise when it was launched, the battery pack swap feature had been openly discussed (in SEC filings anyway) as far back as June 2010.
The battery swapping feature is so inconvenient compared to the Supercharger that I’d expected a low take-rate, as has been shown to be true. Musk suggested that unless something major happens, they’ll drop support for the feature.
Musk may not be thinking this through correctly. While fast battery swap is not of interest to regular consumers, it should shine in at least usage scenario — taxi service. Taxicab’s rack up lots of miles, and hence an electric taxi would get lots of fast charging. The Nissan Leaf had been deployed for fast charging in Japan, but saw extremely rapid battery capacity degradation. Back when Better Place was still a going concern, they’d started to set up two demo’s of battery swapping taxicabs, one project based at the Amsterdam airport, the other to be based at the San Francisco airport. But of course Better Place since died, and we weren’t able to see the results of swappable battery packs on taxi’s.
The difference to a Model S owner between rapid recharging or battery swap is the amount of time. A full recharge via the Supercharger is about an hour, whereas the battery swap is accomplished in a minute and a half or so. As you see in the video below, Tesla’s fast swap feature can do two swaps in the time it takes to refill the gas tank on a regular gasser car.
So.. Tesla Motors did an excellent job developing this technology. But if nobody wants it….?
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