It was one year ago that Tesla introduced its battery swapping technology in a theatrical presentation, with lights flashing and music thumping. At the time, Elon Musk said that the company planned to make swapping available as soon as the end of 2013, and eventually install the capability at every Supercharger station. In early 2014 however, Elon backed off that prediction, saying that battery swapping between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be up and running on a trial basis “in a few months.”
Even that hasn’t happened yet, and when Jalopnik (via Green Car Reports) recently asked Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s VP of Corporate Development, when and if battery swapping would be operational, he was non-committal, saying that Tesla has been busy with the rapid expansion of its Supercharger network. “We diverted most of our team and resources to expanding that network as quickly as possible,” says O’Connell. “It was mostly a reprioritization of efforts.”
To many of us in the EV world, battery swapping has always seemed like a transitional technology – a complicated way to address an issue that will eventually fade as better batteries and higher-power and/or wireless charging make topping up faster and more convenient. Musk himself has conceded that, by the time Tesla’s third-generation vehicle comes on the market, charging technology may have advanced to the point that there won’t be much demand for battery swapping.
Some believe that the California Air Resources Board caused swapping’s stock to tank in April, when it said it was going to reevaluate how it hands out Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) credits. CARB has proposed to revise the “fast fueling” incentives that would grant a battery-swapping Model S seven ZEV credits, as opposed to the current five credits (just having swapping capability isn’t enough – Tesla would have to prove that costumers were actually using its swap stations).
O’Connell insists that battery swapping hasn’t been abandoned. “I’d like to have something in place by the end of the third quarter,” he said. “We’re in the process of developing our first location.” He also suggested that swapping might be a good solution for fleets (taxis, perhaps?). “We’ve talked about swap in various contexts,” said O’Connell. “You can imagine scenarios where a fleet operator is working with swap in a depot system, where vehicles return from and to a particular location regularly.”