Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why Tesla's Battery Swap Makes Sense

I've never been a big fan of the battery swapping model, and it was one of my many criticisms of the Better Place business plan.  The basic concept of a quick swap was sound but the execution always seemed to have a number of details that could not easily be addressed.  Additionally the actual need for swapping capability seemed limited.  Once again Tesla has thought a few steps ahead, dealt with those potential issues, and created a system that may prove to be useful.  First of all, unlike BP, Tesla had an existing successful business model that was not at all dependent on battery swapping, but they built the capability into the Model S, and X, from the beginning.  This actually makes some sense from a manufacturing standpoint, on the assembly line you need to be able to quickly install a pack with machinery for high volume production, so you might as well make it able to go both ways.  This makes any potential service much easier, and it also makes any future pack upgrades easier as well.  What Tesla has introduced is a giant battery pack vending machine, allowing current and future Model S and X owners a quick and easy way to future proof their vehicles by installing the latest and greatest battery pack when available, or at least swapping in a larger pack for the occasional longer trip.  For now they will simply supplement the supercharger network in heavy use areas and allow travelers to swap out their depleted pack for a full one.  Or not.  Elon has said they will install them to meet demand, and the choice will be free supercharging for 20 minutes or so, or paying $60-$80 for a 90 second swap.  It's an interesting experiment to see what people will actually choose.

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