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Tesla Motors Demonstrates Battery Swapping as a Quick Recharge Solution

By Jacob Brown | June 21, 2013
What are your reservations about electric cars? They're too expensive? They're getting cheaper. They can't go more than 80 or 90 miles on a charge? The Tesla Model S has shown us that it's possible to go more than 260 miles on a charge. They charge too slowly? Tesla has knocked charging times down to under 30 minutes with its supercharger network that allows for long-distance driving. But what if 30 minutes just isn't quick enough? Tesla CEO Elon Musk demonstrated last night how to get over that problem with battery swapping that can be done in about 90 seconds, without drivers ever having to get out of their vehicles.
So how does it work? The Tesla Model S was designed from the get-go to have a quick-changing battery pack swap. Using just a few nuts on the bottom of the car, the Tesla driver will stop over a pit in the floor that will have a machine that unbolts the 1,000-pound battery from underneath the car, lowers it, and replaces it with a fully charged replacement. Then, it retorques the nuts that held the battery in exactly to factory specification.
At the event, two Tesla Model S sedans drove over a pit to have their batteries replaced with a video of an Audi being fueled at a gas pump running simultaneously. Tesla figures that the fastest pump in Los Angeles can refuel a gas-powered car at a rate of 10 gallons per minute.
How much does it cost? Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said that you could either have free use of a supercharger or pay a little money for the swap and have a fully charged battery immediately without having to wait in line to plug in. The automaker will have a variable rate for the battery-swapping service, basing it on the local cost of 15 gallons of gas. Musk estimates an average swap will range in cost from $60 to $80, which will be charged to a credit card number the company has on-hand. The driver will never have to get out of his or her car.
If the Tesla driver decides upon coming back from a long trip that he or she wants to keep the just-swapped new battery, he or she will be charged the difference in value based on the year of the battery. Or the driver can just grab the battery that came with the car for another $60 to $80 to have it reinstalled. Tesla will be keeping a small warehouse of owner battery packs on-site for storage as well as new, fully charged battery packs for swaps.
Can I do it with my Tesla? If you have an 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack in your car, sure. If you purchased a 40- or 60-kWh Tesla Model S, the service won't be available at launch. And it's not available for the Tesla Roadster or the Tesla-sourced Toyota RAV4 EV. Musk said the service will be available for Model X crossover that's bowing at the end of 2014. It should also be possible with the forthcoming entry-level Tesla that Musk says will start at around $35,000 without incentives and have a 200-mile range.
The problem with the small Tesla is that its floor will be smaller than the Model S, which means that the computer-controlled robots will have to be reprogrammed to bolt and unbolt the battery pack. Tesla still has about three years to figure out how to do that. Musk also said that after a few years, the company may consider licensing the technology to outside companies that are deemed reputable and can provide the service with the level of quality expected from the company.
Where will the battery-swapping service be available? Musk says they'll be coming to supercharger stations in the fall, starting with the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas initially. There will be a small place where owners will be able to drive in and drive off with their new battery packs. As always, supercharger stations will be free to use for Tesla Model S owners. But if your time is worth a little more than the $60 to $80 the company anticipates it will cost to swap, you may want to consider going in for the new battery pack when the service reaches reality.
Check the video below for the demonstration.