Tesla’s Battery Swap System gives the Gasoline-Powered car a Run for its Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 23rd, 2013

Week in Review

The BIG problem with the all-electric car is range anxiety.  Will I have enough charge to get home?  If I don’t how long will it take to recharge my battery?  So I can get home?  You see, if you’re running low on gas you can always pull into a gas station and fill your tank in about 5 minutes.  Maybe 10-20 minutes if there are cars at all of the gas pumps and you have to wait for them to fuel first.  Then you’re back on the road with your car mechanically exactly like it was before you stopped.  The ONLY thing changed is the amount of fuel in the gas tank.  If the all-electric car can match that then people will get over their range anxiety.  And start buying them.  With a new battery swap system, Tesla believes they have done exactly that (see Tesla Shows Off A 90-Second Battery Swap System, Wants It At Supercharging Stations By Year’s End by Chris Velazco posted 6/20/2013 on TechCrunch).

Tesla can swap a Model S’s battery in just 90 seconds (that’s less time than it takes to fuel up a regular car), and you won’t even have to get out of your seat to do it…

Once a Model S owner parks the car on a designated spot, a platform raises from the ground to disconnect and grab hold of the depleted battery. The platform then descends back into the ground, dumps the battery, retrieves a fresh one, and rises once more to connect it to the car…

Frenzied drivers will still have to do some work, though — they’ll have to drop off the battery on the return leg of their journey and pay an unspecified “transport fee,” though they can also choose to keep the battery and pony up the difference between the price of the old and new batteries…

Outfitting each of those stations with the ability to quickly replace batteries and get motorists back on the road presents quite a logistics problem. There’s the cost to consider — Tesla expects each battery swap station to cost about $500,000 to build, to say nothing of the maintenance and infrastructure costs that will come now that someone presumably has to stop by each station and replace worn-down batteries.

When you get gas you’re not removing nuts and bolts.  There are no studs that can break.  No threads to strip.  Yes a battery swap is quick and hands-free but there is a chance for something to go wrong when you’re replacing a part of your car.  Especially a part that hangs underneath.  The odds may be slim that something will happen.  But when you’re gassing up this cannot happen.  Because you don’t need any tools or machines to put gasoline into the gas tank.

What if it’s winter?  And the bottom of your car is ensconced in ice?  Will there be an attendant there to chisel the ice away so the automated system can work?  And if driving on snow and ice there’s always a chance that you may spin out of control and bounce the bottom of your car off of a curb or something.  Will that cause anything to become misaligned so the automated system won’t work?  And if you cracked your battery pack will the automated system notice that while removing it?  Or will they unknowingly recharge a cracked one and give it to some unlucky driver?  Or are all battery packs new at these recharging stations?  If so that could make this battery swap more costly than buying gasoline.

Will every all-electric car have the same battery pack?  Will they all have the same charging capacity?  Or will each car that has a different battery need its own automated system?  That’s something else you don’t have to worry about with gasoline.  For you will be able to burn gasoline from any gas station in any of your cars.  Which means all you have to look for when you need fuel is a gas station.  For anyone will do.

Pit stops in NASCAR work well.  They’re fast.  And everyone is doing the best job they can with the best spare parts available.  But they don’t share with the other pit crews.  With these battery swap stations you have to place a lot of trust in your fellow Tesla drivers.  That none of them are trying to unload a damaged battery without anyone being the wiser.  I’m sure they’re all trustworthy.  But do you want to take a chance when driving at 3 in the morning?

The Tesla battery swap station is impressive.  But stopping for gasoline is so much easier and simpler to do.  And you never have to worry about what some other driver left you.  This is another huge investment in addition to the charging network they’re installing.  What happens, say, if after making this massive investment a new battery technology comes out that makes the previous ones obsolete?  As well as these battery swap stations?  What then?

Guess I’m still skeptical.  Even when it comes to what may be the finest all-electric car ever built.  For Tesla has made a beautiful car.  And brought it as closer to the gasoline-powered car in terms of range and convenience.  But it’s not a gasoline-powered car.  What we’re familiar with.  Which gives us a sense of security when driving.  Even driving home in the middle of the night through a blinding blizzard.  Confidant that our car will always be up to the task of getting us home.  Even when we may not.

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