Battery swapping realities

Battery swapping realities

The battery swap demonstration on June 20th certainly led to great anticipation, speculation, excitement, etc. Kudos to Tesla! Many comments since, however, still seem speculative and/or wishful thinking:

Speculation; Swapping will attract legions of new buyers who live in urban apartments or condos where they can't charge at home.

Reality; Swapping will take place only at selected SC stations, all of which are now and will be located only between major urban areas, not in them. It will not be time nor cost effective for an urban owner to travel to a swapping facility.

Speculation; Owners with less than the largest battery currently available will be able to borrow the largest size battery for a road trip, then replace it with their original battery on their return trip.

Reality; Has Tesla yet confirmed that swapping for a larger battery is even technically possible? How might this affect weight? Charging settings? etc. If and when owners may someday want to permanently swap for a battery with greater capacity and/or the newest technology, would they not prefer to do this at a Tesla Service Center rather than at a remote SC site where the nearest Tesla experts are likely hours away?

Speculation; As SC stations are opened across the US it will be possible to drive almost anywhere stopping only for two or three minutes to swap your battery.

Reality; The demonstration confirmed only that one swapping facility would be built in California, with a second possible on the East Coast. Tesla will be closely monitoring how many drivers choose "Fast" vs "Free." If this is perhaps 20%, 10%, or even less, at perhaps the busiest SC stations, it would seem economically unsound to add the capability at every SC station. Adding more charging stations if SC sites frequently reach capacity will always be a small fraction of the cost of building a swap station.

Speculation; Choosing "Fast" vs "Free" is always a simple, logical decision.

Reality; It is far more complex than just choosing money for time. Many (perhaps most) owners may be reluctant to swap their carefully pampered battery for one with an unknown (at least to them) history. And unless/until Tesla can tell owners before the swap begins exactly what their account will be charged for a simple replacement and/or should they want to keep the replacement battery, this unknown could further discourage swaps.

Speculation; Using robotic swapping capability in the factory could double the rate at which batteries are currently being installed.

Reality; Likely true. But highly unlikely that this installation could increase the hourly or daily production rate unless and until every other step in the assembly line could operate at this increased rate.
And it could well be less expensive to just set up a second, parallel installation station to double the installation rate, while also insuring against any slowdown or malfunction in the current station.

While swapping appears to offer limited benefits for most current and prospective owners, it certainly has tremendous potential for others. Taxicab and limousine fleets could swap batteries just as quickly as they now swap drivers during shift changes. UPS and FedEx vans could be ready for their next route just minutes after finishing their first. Police departments and security patrol firms could reduce the size of their fleets if every vehicle is always available without having some down for oil changes, tuneups, etc. (And the perps might not even hear them coming!) Aid cars and other emergency vehicles could always be ready to respond without waiting for engines to warm up.

It will indeed be fascinating to watch whatever practical applications of battery swapping will develop!

bp | June 23, 2013

The battery pack is the most expensive part on the Model S - and the part that is most likely to require replacement during the life of the car.

If the battery swapping is part of a bigger change in strategy - then it could have huge impact for current prospective owners.

If swapping was coupled with a battery protection plan that would guarantee minimum range (90 to 95% of initial capacity) and unlimited battery swaps in exchange for an annual protection plan fee - this would eliminate all of the major concerns about the expensive MS battery packs - time to refuel during long trips, battery life/degradation, and concerns about major battery replacement costs after 8 years.

With the modular design of the MS battery packs, it's likely Tesla would be able to recondition used battery packs and restore them to a reasonable capacity.

This would also eliminate the concerns about having to pay for a swapped battery that is kept, going back to recover the owner's battery pack, or paying to have that battery pack delivered back to the owner. With the above changes, it wouldn't matter - because Tesla would guarantee the battery performance - no matter what battery was in the car - and for as long as the owner paid the annual battery plan fee.

The battery swap demo was light on details - looking forward to seeing the specifics (including the long promised battery replacement plan).

Brian H | June 23, 2013

It may make the "battery replacement plan" redundant, unnecessary! Just swap for a newer one, done.

mdemetri | June 23, 2013

mcx-sea +1

Everyone is speculating and ignoring reality:

Reality: Tesla is only committed to 'a few' swap stations in California. This is undoutedly to get the extra CA ZEV credits while it lasts. This is distinctly different then every other annoucement they have made (from Model S and X to the SC network) which are stated to be sold/developed worldwide.

Reality: Swapping is for quick charging not range extension.

Reality: There is no plan for leasing of batteries. The plan is you pay ~$60-80 for the swap and if you want to keep the battery, then you will pay more.

Reality: Elon has stated that swapping is NOT in Tesla's long term plan: "However, Musk also made the admission that the battery swapping service probably wouldn’t be much of a long-term venture as when speaking of the company’s third-generation car, he suggested that the focus would be more on faster battery charging."

Reality: A 4-500 mile pack is not that far away and even faster supercharging (beyond 120kw) is on the horizon. Both will undercut the need for swapping (see SamoSam's post on discussions with JB Straubel).

Tesla demonstrated swapping so they can use it as a marketing tool (ie relieve range anxiety in ICE drivers) to drive sales. A few will be made in CA for ~1 million to obtain the extra CA ZEV credits.

Given these realities, here is my speculation: Swapping will not be developed beyond the few CA stations. Demand will simply be too low and cost too high. But Tesla will have hit a homerun for marketing purposes to ICE drivers and the extra ZEV credits, all for a measly ~1 million. Love it!!

Docrob | June 23, 2013

Mdemetri, they are starting with a few stations to gauge interest. Elon has always been clear about having reservations with swapping and so a full scale roll out was never likely but if the initial stations are a massive success do you really think they wont proceed to a full rollout.
They have made no comment about range extension but the lure of attracting a swag of buyers who can afford a 60kwh model but need the range of an 85kwh is very appealing, and before you say they will poach 85kwh sales, yes a few will choose to downsize and use swapping instead but there is a huge chunk of population who can afford 60k for a car and would buy if it had the capability to use a longer range pack for roadtrips.
The larger the pack the MORE attractive swapping is not less. A larger pack solves no roadtrip problem except for the few roadtrips less then one charge in distance. Supercharging a 500 or 700 or even 1,000 mile will by virtue of immutable physics require a proportionally longer charge time. You can only keep increasing the charge rate so far before the currents involved become expensive and dangerous, you can allay some of the high current grid draw cost by buffering the station with battery storage but if you are going to do that then why not offer the batteries for swap so you can have the additional advantage of 90 second stop and go convenience.
My predictions, swap stations will not see huge demand but adequate to position some near particularly dense areas of urban model S ownership. Predomonantly this will allow long distance pack swapping for roadtrips. Ie you have your 60kwh Model S in LA, New York etc and swap in a high range pack when you want to go away. Effectively makes the Model S $10,000 cheaper but with the longer range option when needed. I suspect very dense areas with few private garages will see swap stations as an alternative to home charging, the Model S would make a nice, silent town car and EV's thrive in stop start low speed traffic but the lack of home charging options makes them less appealing to many in such environments. Thirdly I suspect privately licensed swapping stations for fleet users will be the third likely use. The Model S with its enormous fuel cost savings is so appealing for fleet use and swap stations eliminates the largest criticism of EV's for this use.
Will they take off? Who knows, your guess is as good as mine, however Tesla is wisely saying if they don't take off its not because they never offered it but because not enough wanted it, very smart move.

bogartsdad | June 24, 2013

fleet sales. now you can have an army of modern taxis/service-delivery vehicles/etc, that are virtually maintenance free, out on the streets 24/7. think he hit a home run.

TFMethane | June 24, 2013

@Docrob +1 on all points.

I agree that Elon would gladly lose (guessing) 20% of his 85 customers to 60's, if it meant that he got 500% more people buying the 60's - who were holding off because of charge times on road trips.

To current model S owners, it seems kind of silly to avoid the car because of fears over the "lengthy" supercharging delays. But to the somewhat myopic American public, it's a big deal.

CalabasasKid | June 25, 2013

My greatest concern is the potentially growing lines at the SC stations as more and more of these cars hit the road. I worry about this car becoming a victim of its own success.

Brian H | June 25, 2013

More lines => more units built => shorter lines. TM is monitoring use and intends to keep up with demand.

mauterin | June 25, 2013

Most of the debate is centered around the logistics and business plan of the battery swap. That seems secondary - what has me most excited is that the car is future-proofed. The battery can be swapped out in minutes, and Tesla is committed to the current battery form-factor. I can't think of better news for current owners, regardless of battery size.

CalabasasKid | June 25, 2013

I agree mauterin. The idea that I could upgrade to a 120kw pack in 5 years for $15k and suddenly have a 400 mike range is pretty much a clincher. Now if they would only start offering parking sensors on the US versions, I would be ready to order (it's wife's requirement, not mine and the car will officially be hers)

mdemetri | June 25, 2013

Docrub, if bigger batteries increase the need for swapping why would swapping be more popular with 60's and cannibalize 85 sales for 60's? These two are inconsistent.

Indeed, it is the oposite. Bigger batteries decrease need to swap for extended range, whereas smaller batteries increase need to swap for extended range. This is more psychological than anything else. Bodily functions require stopping after 200-300 miles, so no one is going to be starting from zero with a 500 or 1000 mile pack. However, the bigger battery relieves range anxiety even though it will almost never be used. Very few drive > 200-300 miles without a need to stop for ~30 min, enough time to recharge.

Tesla does not need to deploy swapping stations nation wide to increase sales. The demonstration is more than sufficient to market to ICE drivers. Putting a couple of stations in CA will also get increased ZEV credits.

Finally, if you want to spend money to increase sales, it makes much more sense to lower the price of the car then spend an equivalent amount of money on swapping stations that will likely be used by a significant minority of Tesla owners (see Owners poll on swapping).

mdemetri | June 25, 2013

Mauterin + 1

This is clearly the primary benefit of swapping to current owners: replace an old degraded battery after many years of use or a single swap to get a larger battery in the future when these become available.

golson99 | June 25, 2013

The thing that I found most intriguing about the prospect of battery swapping is the potential to decouple ownership of the battery from the car. As a potential buyer, I am very interested in owning the car, but I have less interest in owning the battery - the component of the car that will likely depreciate in value more quickly than anything else.

If I could own the car and subscribe to the battery as a service, this puts things into a whole new perspective. This could alleviate any concerns over battery longevity and obsolescence of existing battery technology as new versions are released. I suppose this is very similar to the notion of battery protection, but not having to own the battery removes much of the risk to the owner.

Brian H | June 26, 2013

Technically, you still own whatever battery is in the car. When you swap it out, you now own a different one (if you decide not to reverse the transaction within a fairly short time). It's not the same as the Better Place lease model.

But you're not "stuck" with one battery pack for X years any more, so it's functionally like leasing.

bp | June 26, 2013

I agree with golson99 - for a reasonable price, I'd be willing to pay for an annual battery plan that would provide unlimited battery swaps, with a minimum range guarantee (90 to 95% of new battery capacity?).

This would provide the "fast" charging and also protection from battery capacity degradation.

This would be much better than what had been proposed earlier by Tesla - a battery replacement plan after 8 years - and removes much of the risk related to the battery to Tesla owners.

And, as Brian H states - it would effectively be like leasing the battery.