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Getting Your EV on the Road Quickly

Tesla Motors has addressed a key concern of electric vehicle (EV) skeptics with the debut of a battery-swap capability that gets motorists back on the road in 90 seconds.

As a live battery-swap demonstration took place at Tesla’s Los Angeles design center in June, CEO Elon Musk asked, “What if people do want to switch out their battery pack if they only want to stop for a short period of time?”

The live demonstration was accompanied by a film of a Tesla employee gassing up an Audi. “We searched LA for the fastest gas station, which is 10 gallons per minute,” Musk said.

As the demonstration proceeded, Musk explained, “We have automated nut runners—these are the same nut runners that we use in the factory. They find the spot where the bolts are, and they automatically torque the bolts to the exact specification that each bolt needs, so it’s torqued to the factory specification every time there is a battery pack swap.”

During the demonstration, two Tesla battery packs were swapped out in three minutes and 12 seconds; it took the employee with the Audi about four minutes and eight seconds to gas up and get back on the road. Further, the Tesla drivers had no need to leave their vehicles or swipe their credit cards.

At the conclusion of the demonstration, Musk told his audience, “Our goal here was really to eliminate the objections that people have. Obviously for those of you here, you already believe in electric cars, and many of you drove here in a Model S, which is awesome. But this is about convincing the people that are skeptics—some people take a lot of convincing.”

Will Oremus in Slate (“Now You Can Recharge a Tesla Faster Than You Can Fill a Gas Tank,” June 21) added some details. Tesla will automatically bill customers $60 to $80 for a battery swap. In addition, customers opting for the swap will need to return to the station to reacquire their original battery, arrange for that battery to be shipped to a different station, or pay a premium to keep the new battery.

The shipping option seems unnecessarily complex. This swap and pricing scheme by Tesla seems to assume that on a first swap, a vehicle’s original battery will be swapped for a brand new one. As the system matures, it seems a given battery could be swapped out for one with a comparable recharging history, although that might complicate inventory problems. Also, a swap station’s need to locate a vehicle’s original battery might extend the swap time beyond the 90 seconds achieved at the LA design center.

In addition, as the number of makes and models proliferates, so too will the number of distinct battery types that a charging station will need to stock. Musk told AutoblogGreen (“Tesla answers questions about battery swap announcement,” June 21) that Tesla plans to sell the battery-swap technology to other companies, opening up the possibility of independent swap stations—although it seems unlikely that other EV manufacturers could take advantage of them. Wayne Cunningham at CNET (“Tesla battery swap a dead end,” June 21) wonders whether we will need networks of stations for each make of EV and says Tesla should be pushing for standards.

I don’t think that’s the way it’s going to play out. Tesla will use its proprietary technology to serve its early adopters. Standardization will come only as traditional auto manufacturers expand their EV offerings and realize the benefits of a standardized fast-charging and battery-swapping infrastructure.

Rick Nelson
Executive Editor
Visit my blog: bit/ly/N8rmKm

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