Tesla’s First Battery Swap Station Nears Completion, But Still isn’t Open Yet

At the end of December, we told you that the first battery swap facility to be launched under Tesla’s long-awaited battery swap ‘beta program’ would open its doors to customers at the end of 2014, offering select Tesla Model S customers travelling between San Francisco and Los Angeles the opportunity to swap their car’s lithium-ion battery pack out for a fully-charged one in three minutes or so rather than wait the 75 minutes or so it takes for a full charge from empty.

Tesla's first 'beta' battery swap station goes live very very soon... apparently.

Tesla’s first ‘beta’ battery swap station goes live very very soon… apparently.

One month on, and Tesla’s first battery swap station — located roughly mid-way between the two west-coast cities alongside I-5 at the Harris Ranch — is still not open. Yet like an eager kid peeking beneath the wrapping paper on Christmas Eve, plenty of Tesla fans — and a few journalists too — have made the trip to Harris Ranch to see just how close Tesla is getting to opening its first battery swap station.

According to Teslarati and Gigaom (via GreenCarReportsthose who have visited the site recently say Tesla’s first battery swap station is tantalisingly close to being open, with engineers working hard on site to finish the final touches to the site ahead of an impending launch.

Located in a former car wash, the battery swap facility has automated roller doors at both ends to provide both appropriate security and weather protection to the facility, while signs outside proudly identify it as the Tesla battery swap station.

Unlike Better Place's now defunct system, Tesla's battery swap station makes use of manual positioning devices for the car.

Unlike Better Place’s now defunct system, Tesla’s battery swap station makes use of manual positioning devices for the car.

Interestingly, unlike the battery swap facilities owned and operated by the now-bankrupt Better Place in Israel, Tesla’s battery swap station seems to rely on just a simple guide rail each side of the battery swap pit to correctly centre the car width-ways, while automated pop-up chocks secure front and rear wheels to prevent any fore-aft motion.

It’s an elegant and simple solution which seems far less fussy than Better Place’s automated vehicular positioning system, which actually moved each car along a conveyor belt to correctly position it.

When it comes to the battery swapping process itself however, Tesla, like Better Place, will be using robots to provide most of the heavy lifting to remove depleted battery packs and install a freshly-charged one.

Like Better Place, Tesla seems to have hit some technological hurdles between demonstrating the battery swap process back in July 2013 and bringing it to beta-test phase in the real world, slowing down the expected time taken for a battery swap. As a consequence, expected times for battery swapping have been extended somewhat.

When Better Place first launched, it promised a battery swap would take one to two minutes. In reality, it took nearer to five. Tesla’s battery swap demonstration back in 2013 showed battery swapping taking an amazing 90 seconds, but due to changes in the Model S design since then — namely an extra under-body panel designed to provide additional battery protection in the unlikely event of a high-speed impact — that time has been extended to at least three minutes.

Would you really use a battery swap station when a full charge from one of these takes under 75 minutes -- or the time it takes to have a meal?

Would you really use a battery swap station when a full charge from one of these takes under 75 minutes — or the time it takes to have a meal?

First beta-test customers will find that time could be even longer, insiders say, with initial battery swapping tests being a mixture of automated and hand-operated stages to ensure batteries are correctly fitted and properly tightened.

Then there’s cost. Unlike Tesla’s Supercharger stations, which are free for all Tesla customers with supercharger-enabled cars, the battery swap process will levy a fee equivalent to a tank of gasoline. When Tesla’s battery swap stations were first announced, that fee was somewhere around$80. Today, if we assume that promise of gasoline parity remains true, battery swapping would cost between $50 and $60.

Have you stopped by Harris Ranch? Have you seen the Tesla battery swap station being built? And would you pay upwards of $50 for the privilege of not waiting an hour to charge?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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  • D. Harrower

    I can see this being an appealing option under certain circumstances, such as when the facilities (restaurants, stores, etc) near the supercharges are all closed and you don’t want to sit in the car. Another time would be if you were traveling in a snow storm and did not want to park for an hour and let the snow pile up.nnPersonally, I’m happy with Superchargers alone. I’d prefer it if Tesla would take all the money they’re spending on swap R&D and built out the Supercharger network faster.

  • Gatanis

    When a full charge is not necessary, let say 70% is enough, than the charging time is halved. Than it only takes 35 min. And if you only need 50%, a litle more than 20 min is enough time to charge.nSo I would prefer a supercharger. They are everywhere, I can have a restful break for 30 min and I don’t need to worry about what conditions are connected to the battery swap (can I keep the battery, how old is the swapped battery etc).