Tesla May Be Discontinuing Its Battery-Swap Technology

Tesla May Be Discontinuing Its Battery-Swap Technology
Tesla Model S Maurizio Pesce/Flickr CC BY 2.0
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Tesla Motors may not be continuing with its battery-swap technology.


The company released a battery swap program late in December last year, but it didn’t fare well according to expectations. It was initially made ready by appointment only.

Elon Musk, the company’s CEO, said in Tesla Motor’s annual shareholder meeting something about focusing on Superchargers instead of the battery-swaps. , Musk said that the once-lauded zero-downtime technology wasn’t popular to Model S users as they projected it to be.

There were initial reports, like the one of Business Insider, that the battery-swapping station at Harris Ranch wasn’t popular because of its smell. It was near cow farms and the smell was not appealing to car drivers.

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Musk said in Tuesday’s meeting (from Seeking Alpha):

“Superchargers have really grown rapidly, I mean it’s sort of like kelp on steroids here. When we launched the Model S and just three years ago, there were no Superchargers anywhere, in fact we didn’t even tell people there were such things as Supercharger. People for the first six months of the car, bought the car not even knowing that there was, there were going to be Superchargers. And we would actually put a high voltage DC bypass in the car; people didn’t even know it was there. So, we opened the first Superchargers I think early in 2013, something like two years. And now you can travel almost anywhere in the U.S. using the Supercharger network and then going to some of next year. That’s next year. Thanks a lot.”

“(W)e have basically the LA to San Francisco pack swap capability in place. And I believe all Model S owners in California area have been invited at this point to try it out. And what we’re seeing is just a very low take rate for this fast conversation. So, we did an initial round of invitations. We did like 200 invitations. And I think there were a total of four or five people that wanted to do that and they all did it just once. So okay, it’s clearly not very popular. And then it was like, we’ll actually expand that invitation to old customers but I would expect that initial sample group is that all customers roughly behave like that initial sample group is just people don’t care about pack swap. The Superchargers are fast enough that if you do the driving from LA to San Francisco and you start a trip at 9 am, by the time you get to say noon, you want to stop and you want to stretch legs, hit the restroom, grab by to eat, grab a coffee and go on your way. But that time, the car is charged and ready to go and it’s free. So it’s like why would you do the pack swap. It doesn’t make much sense. And we’ve booked pack swap into the car because we weren’t sure if people would want to choose the pack swap or not. We thought people would prefer super Supercharging with low interest. So that’s why we booked the pack swap capability.

And based on what we’re seeing here, it’s unlikely to be something that’s worth expanding in the future and that’s something changes. For the Superchargers, as we’ve said in the initial press release, the Superchargers are free. It’s basically free long distance for life, forever. So, free long distance forever is what the Superchargers are providing. There are few people who are like quite aggressively using it for local Supercharging and we also send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do this occasionally but it’s meant to be a long distance thing. But it is free long distance forever and it’s basically built into the cost of the car. And based on what we’re seeing in terms of the economics, it looks quite supportable. And of course, we’ve gone super fast with the super chargers, so most of the Superchargers do not yet have solar and a battery backup but over time we’re going to put solar over every Supercharger where it’s possible to do so or if it’s not possible to do, make sure that we’re purchasing power that is generated in the renewable manner so that the entire Supercharger network is powered by sunlight.”

In his honest assessment of things, we can only wait for Model X, which is slated for delivery in a few months, to do away with the battery-swapping technology. Or maybe not.