Tesla's Elon Musk: First Tesla Battery Swap Station To Go Online in U.S. By End of Year

Back in April 2013, Tesla Motors wowed the world with a technical demonstration of what it said would be a new way to drive a Tesla electric car long-distance: fully-automated battery swapping.

After something of a quiet spell, Tesla's battery swapping technology is back in the limelight.

After something of a quiet spell, Tesla’s battery swapping technology is back in the limelight.

Using a system similar to the one used by now bankrupt firm Better Place, Tesla Motors promised those who wanted a quick way of extending the range of their electric cars could do so by stopping at a fully-automated Tesla battery swap location and, for a small fee, quickly and conveniently exchange their car’s battery pack for a fully-charged loaner pack to continue their journey. Meanwhile, their car’s original battery pack would be checked and charged in preparation for the customer’s return a few hours, days, or weeks later.

Since then, Tesla’s battery swap technology has dropped off the electric car radar, with only the occasional mention of it by either Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] employees or Tesla CEO Elon Musk. But as those eagle-eyed folks at Gas2.org note, an interview given by Elon Musk to Automotive News suggests that the very first Tesla battery swap station will be live by the end of this year.

Battery swapping is the alternative to a 30-minute supercharge.

Battery swapping is the alternative to a 30-minute supercharge.

Given last week, following the announcement of the all-new dual-motor Tesla Model S luxury sedan and autonomous drive features being rolled out into every new Tesla Model S, Musk’s interview with Automotive News contained the biggest piece of information we’ve heard on the fully autonomous battery swap system for many months.

Tesla’s first battery swap station — due to be located somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles — would open some time in the next two months.

Set to be built alongside an existing Tesla Motors Supercharger site, the battery swap station will make it possible for Tesla Model S owners to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco without needing to spend time recharging their car.

At a distance of nearly 400 miles, the route between these two Californian cities is the perfect place for Tesla to test its battery swap technology. Not only is the total distance between the two cities a little more than the real-world range achievable by even the recently-announced Tesla Model S 85D, but it’s a route frequently travelled by Tesla Model S owners.

It’s also a route already serviced by seven separate supercharger sites.

When it was first unveiled back in June 2013, Elon Musk said battery swap stations would allow Tesla Model S owners to switch their car’s battery packs out for a fully charged one in less time than it took to fill up a premium sedan with gasoline. To prove this fact, Tesla swapped the battery packs of not one but two Tesla Model S cars on a specially-constructed stage in Hawthorne, California in less time than it took a Tesla employee to fill a gasoline car tank with fuel.

At the unveiling of the technology, Musk suggested while Supercharging a Model S would remain free, Tesla would levy a small fee for Model S customers wishing to make use of battery swap technology, with extra fees being incurred for those who swapped out their pack for a new one  but were unable to swap back to their own pack at the same station on their return journey.

While most owners will be content to wait for a supercharge to complete, some Tesla Model S owners want the freedom of a super-fast battery swap when they need it.

While most owners will be content to wait for a supercharge to complete, some Tesla Model S owners want the freedom of a super-fast battery swap when they need it.

At 90 seconds per swap, the Tesla Model S battery swap demonstration was also far faster than the five minutes or so a Better Place battery swap took from start to finish. Combined with extra ZEV credits Tesla stood to earn from the Californian Air Resources Board for developing a zero emission vehicle which could be refuelled in super-quick time, the battery swap stations seemed to be a forgone conclusion.

Since its demonstration last summer however, Tesla has, as Musk puts it, ‘become distracted’ by other projects, putting expansion of its battery swap technology on the metaphorical back burner. When CARB decided to kill its plans for offering extra ZEV credits for battery swap technology, many electric vehicle industry insiders even went so far as to suggest Tesla’s battery swap stations would never become reality.

But now it appears Tesla’s promise of fast and convenient battery swapping is back, at least for high-traffic routes where long queues for a Tesla Supercharger are already making longer-distance Tesla trips tiresome.

Do you own a Tesla Model S? Do you like the idea of battery swapping? And will you be paying to make use of the feature instead of waiting to charge?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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  • Dennis Pascual

    I like the idea of a battery swap. Time IS money. However, if one goes on a long roadtrip, what’s a break every 200 miles? It’s a welcome respite. If on a rush, other means of transportation is probably faster and less stressful.nnnThen again. It helps with the criticism. So. Good job then

    • With a car the effectively drives itself, and recharges in a few minutes, you could sit back and enjoy the in-car entertainment options and be able to best the airplane for short haul trips…nnnI like the supercharger far more than swapping, but again, Tesla is out to prove that electric mobility is superior to gas. The more ways to demonstrate that, the better.

      • Dennis Pascual

        I don’t have the Auto-Pilot in our Model S. (it might be in the next one.)

    • Esl1999 .

      I’m sure there will be a spike in initial use but once the curiosity of use has been quenched, it’s back to the superchargers. Free fuel is a selling point for the superchargers. Only severe bottlenecking at a supercharger location would force people over to a nearby battery swap location. IMO, they’ll be rarely used.

      • I disagree. I think they will get plenty of use. EV’s are so cheap to run, free is oddly enough less attractive than you’d think. I stood at a QC for 20 minutes this morning at Nissan corporate – free fuel!! If they could offer a drive up battery swap like Tesla I’d pay for it. nnnIf you do a journey frequently, time is very important.nnnI wonder if Tesla will install a string of battery swap stations from coast to coast and do the coast to coast drive in super quick time; as fast as a gasoline car could!

  • Teo

    The battery swap station is a backup plan to superchargers. There have been some drivers who took their ICE car to long trips with their family because they couldn’t be sure if a supercharger would be a busy or would be ICED at a certain time. Now you don’t have to worry about it.