Tesla Battery Swap
Dean McManis's picture

How Can Tesla Battery Swap Work Now After Million-Mile Batteries

Could Tesla leverage their earlier idea of quick-swapping their battery packs with a new added twist of using their upcoming Million Mile batteries?
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In 2013 Elon Musk demonstrated a new feature: the battery swap for Model S. With some people complaining (as some are still complaining today) that battery recharging takes too long, Elon demonstrated that they could fully swap out a discharged battery with a fully recharged comparable Tesla battery in 90 seconds. Which is actually less time than it takes to fill the tank with gas in many comparable cars. At the time, the proposed battery swap would cost about the same as you would pay to refill a large gas tank.

Tesla offered this battery swap service in a pilot program for a couple years at a test station in Harris Ranch, CA. which is a busy Inn, restaurant, and Supercharger station midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The battery swap pilot program was stopped in 2015 with Tesla choosing to build more Supercharger stations across the world instead.

There was some news in 2017 when Tesla filed a patent for a mobile battery swap trailer that could be easily deployed anywhere. But outside of the patent, a functional battery swap trailer was never seen built.

I believe that the biggest reason why the battery swap idea never took off was simply that batteries are known to degrade over time. Even though a trip to and from LA would have you essentially borrow another car’s battery for 2nd half of the trip, and then you would get your battery swapped back (recharged) on the return trip home. Unfortunately, the idea gets more complicated if you don’t get your own battery back. If you perhaps got the battery of someone who drove their older Tesla hard all the time (and/or put a lot of miles on it) then potentially your car would instantly depreciate the moment that you swapped your newer battery for someone else's older, degraded battery.

Enter Tesla's Million Mile Batteries

This older problem becomes an advantage once you look at battery swaps using the upcoming million mile battery packs. In that case it hardly matters if the battery pack is brand new, or Ten years old. Not only would it extend the value of a new Model S, it would potentially breath new life into older Model S Teslas, and they could even be repurposed into Robotaxis if they had been fitted with the full self driving package. Plus they could be updated easily with the new FSD computer hardware for Robotaxi use as well.

Battery swaps are industry proven.

For those of you who think that battery swaps are an unworkable idea, Neo is a Chinese automaker who opened their first auto battery swap station just over two years ago, and since then they have successfully completed over 500,000 battery swaps in China. They currently have 131 battery swap stations running in 58 Chinese cities to date.

Extended benefits of million-mile battery swapping.

Robotaxis are an obvious candidate for battery swapping because if your Tesla Robotaxi is busy driving all over town while you are at work or at home, then the idea of a 90 second battery swap makes great sense in keeping the car instantly charged up for more driving duty. And the battery swap process could potentially be fully automated.

As for the Semi, which will almost assuredly be fitted with million mile batteries. It could be designed to swap out it’s battery pack on the road in far less time than it would take for a fossil fueled semi to fully refuel, and potentially it could even recharge your rig much more quickly than the upcoming Megachargers will be able to do. Plus, potentially you could buy a 300 mile EV range Semi, and then possibly swap in a 500 mile battery pack for a particularly long distance shipping trek. Leasing the bigger battery for the trip.

For the Cybertruck, it could also be designed with battery swapping capabilities, and you could have battery swapping stations at major parks, travel routes, and trailheads (just as Rivian is planning to add chargers in remote locations) so that you can be full charged in a few seconds before heading up some rocky trail into the wilderness, and then you could again swap in a fully charged battery for the drive home.

For racing, there would be a similarly great possibility of swapping in a 100% charged battery for any drag race or circuit racing event, and then just swap a fully recharged battery back into your car (in 90 seconds) for the drive home.

For apartment dwellers (or other Tesla owners who cannot easily charge at home) the convenience of getting your battery quickly swapped with a fully charged one is a great idea. And for commercial businesses who want to keep their workers happy, they could have a Tesla battery swapping station available to easily give employees the option of having their cars fully charged up without having the wait for the next plug-in charger to free up. I can totally see this service provided by Google or Facebook as an employee perk.

Tesla Model S battery being swapped.

For owners with solar power at home combined with the rumored V2G (vehicle-to-grid) capability, while you are sitting at work or at home, your charged up Tesla could drive to a nearby battery swap station and swap out your battery with another battery with say a 20% charge. And the battery swap station could sell your unused extra power on the grid during peak rate times. Also the battery swap feature could be used in emergencies. The portable battery swap trailer, or battery swapping station could help in areas with black outs by providing a full charge in your Tesla for driving. Or with V2G (vehicle-to-grid) a battery swapped Tesla could help by providing a battery backup for your home during power outages.

This million mile battery swap idea would be the most easily achieved with the Model S (although the 2017 mobile battery swap station patent did also mention the Model X). But I do not know if battery swapping is possible at all with the Model 3 and Model Y designs. Plus, it is pure conjecture that the Semi, Cybertruck, and the Roadster could be engineered or re-engineered to allow quick battery swaps. Still, the benefits are VERY clear for those vehicles to have that capability with a swap-able million mile battery pack.

I wonder if Tesla does allow existing owners of Model S (and maybe X) to swap in million mile battery packs, wouldn't it automatically improve those older model’s resale values moving forward?

What do you think? For the Model S it is very possible, but is it probable? How would this million mile battery swap capability affect new Model S, X, 3, and Y vehicle sales today? Even if it is a beneficial idea, is it too late to redesign the Semi and Cybertruck to allow MM battery swapping (or was it in their design all along?). Can you think of any other potential uses, issues, or benefits that I haven't covered with being able to quickly swap-in a million mile battery pack to a Tesla?

Dean McManis and an electric vehicle advocate and frequently reports EV stories at Torque News. Dean can be reached on LinkedIn.


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Comments

In my opinion, EVs. will never reach the maturity to compete with ICE vehicles in price and range of operation without resorting to swapping technology implemented everywhere. It's like what happened in the beginning of gas powered automobile: it never went to widespread adoption before cheap fuel was widely available. Swapping stations network will be a boon to electric utility companies to store energy and use to peek-shave locally without having to resort to distant ancillary power plants, thus creating the S2G (Stations to Grid)system. In fact, they would also be interested in owning swappable battery modules that can be used also after road retirement. They could charge the use of it on your electricity bill. The idea would enable to pay very little for your vehicle and lease the battery on the side. Swapping will be a success also for: 1) Motorists without a garage (probably >75% of world population) 2) Long haul vehicles 3) 24/7 fleets 4) Racing vehicles to compete with conventional ones 5) People on the go, who can't wait for long recharging sessions, or driving around looking for a vacant charger. 6) Autonomous driving vehicles 7) Lab vehicles to test various modules, chemistries, electronic equipment, etc. in the same work shift. 8) Internet giants (FB, Google, govt. agencies, etc.) to replace their enormous diesel generators to keep their servers glitch free and make money on the side. This would be the creation of the novel C2G (consumer to grid) system. 9) Big oil would also jump on the bandwagon using their service station network to swap batteries and profiting more than producing, transporting and distributing fuel. In fact, as swapping stations are modular built, they could have both operations until EVs. eventually dominate the market.
It's economics. An 8 stall supercharger station costs about $250,000 to build. Each stall can charge about 2 batteries an hour. That is about 50 batteries a day per stall, or 400 cars a day. Tesla has a variety of battery packs. If we assume a swap average of 10 an hour this means the location also needs 5 supercharger equivalents there to service 1 swap station. Then we need a supply of battery packs to swap. Let's assume Tesla only has 6 different packs. To fully service cars for an hour each station would need to have on hand 60 battery packs at any moment. We could compromise and say some customers might experience waiting periods if we have on hand only 2 of each size. Batteries represent about 1/3rd of a vehicle's cost. But let's flat rate the battery cost at $24,000 average. That's $240,000 dollars per swap station in battery costs alone. Then there is the additional cost of the charging equipment and the swapping station itself. The economics are just not there. The Chinese operation solves the problem by having just 2 battery sizes that both fit into the same footprint. Tesla hasn't done that.
It's economics. An 8 stall supercharger station costs about $250,000 to build. Each stall can charge about 2 batteries an hour. That is about 50 batteries a day per stall, or 400 cars a day. Tesla has a variety of battery packs. If we assume a swap average of 10 an hour this means the location also needs 5 supercharger equivalents there to service 1 swap station. Then we need a supply of battery packs to swap. Let's assume Tesla only has 6 different packs. To fully service cars for an hour each station would need to have on hand 60 battery packs at any moment. We could compromise and say some customers might experience waiting periods if we have on hand only 2 of each size. Batteries represent about 1/3rd of a vehicle's cost. But let's flat rate the battery cost at $24,000 average. That's $240,000 dollars per swap station in battery costs alone. Then there is the additional cost of the charging equipment and the swapping station itself. The economics are just not there. The Chinese operation solves the problem by having just 2 battery sizes that both fit into the same footprint. Tesla hasn't done that.
On the most popular day in the US, 15% people are said to drive. Assuming they drive 500 miles on average and taking 250 mile range cars, they need 1-2 swaps per car. Even if we assume, all the cars come at the same time to the swapping station at the same time, 2*15% = 30% battery swaps are required and hence 30% extra batteries required. Batteries today cost around 25% of manufacturing cost for Tesla. Hence the cost of batteries is still manageable. A billion dollars can get 1000 stations in the US. That is like a quarterly profit. Tesla will have to standardize and stabilize batteries. With battery swapping in place, Tesla can go easy on efficiency, thereby avoiding complex and expensive production costs and make cars more affordable and of course make them acceptable to more customers. The sales would multiply in no time if battery swapping is there.
Yeah, this was a fun idea, but after Tesla's battery day it became clear that they will not revisit the idea of swappable batteries anytime soon because they will be using the battery case as a structural support for the chassis. And therefore the removable design will be abandoned by next year. One good point may be that aftermarket suppliers may use the next generation batteries in the current removable battery cases to improve range in replacement batteries for used Model S and Model Xs.
I am looking to purchase a battery pack for use in off-road construction equipment. Unfortunately, the response from battery manufacturers has been little to none. I would appreciate any help possible on acquiring a 70 - 80kWh battery set that is liquid cooled.