Swappable EV Batteries Are Here but Not for Everyone

Maybe they’ll be available in the future

For decades whenever a device was low on power, we’d open it up and replace the batteries. AA, C, D, 9-volt—much of the electronics of the world that didn’t plug directly into the wall required a disposable battery. Then rechargeable batteries hit the market, and you could swap out the depleted batteries for charged ones, and you were good to go for a while. 

For many, that’s where EVs should be or could be headed at some point. Why recharge a car when, like a Walkman from the 80s, you could just swap out the battery? The reason that’s not likely to happen anytime soon for cars, trucks, and SUVs is that it’s complicated—very, very complicated. 

A Gogoro battery station on the sidewalk in front of a large office building.

Gogoro

The Two-Wheeled Solution That’s Growing

In 2015, Taiwan company Gogoro launched its first scooter. But more importantly, it launched its Gogoro Energy Network. The series of battery stations placed around the city of Taipei became not just an intricate part of the Gogoro scooter but the heart of the company itself. Each station contained batteries that could be swapped into a scooter. The rider would pull up, take out the depleted battery, replace it with a fully charged one, and be on their way. 

Riders would pay a monthly subscription for the service in addition to the cost of the scooter.
As the userbase grew, the network grew. The company had done away with range and charging anxiety. Plus, the business model meant that for the life of the vehicle, Gogoro would earn money. It would be like Ford selling a car that ran on Ford-branded gasoline. 

The system works so well that Gogoro has partnered with motorcycle and scooter makers in India, Indonesia, and China to create a battery-swapping infrastructure for two-wheeled EVs. These are countries where many people get around on two wheels, and sometimes access to an outlet or charging station that’s fit for recharging during the day or overnight is unavailable. 

Someone using a Gogoro battery station to swap out the battery on a motorized scooter.

Gogoro

It also works because the batteries can be carried and inserted by a person. There’s no special machine. Just a large receptacle with batteries in them. That’s not possible with a car or SUV unless the automaker decides to put a lot of these tiny batteries into a vehicle. At that point, you’re just spending 20-30min replacing individual batteries like the owner of a giant toy. 

Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t have the scooter and motorcycle volume needed for Gogoro to launch here. We’re a four-wheeled first country which brings us to how this situation plays out with full-sized EVs. 

Battery Swaps in Cars (Well, Some Cars for Now)

It’s not that battery swapping on an EV is impossible. In China, automaker Nio has a solution that involves the vehicle pulling into a garage, and after five minutes, its battery is replaced. Boom, the car is back on the road. But Nio doesn’t sell cars in the US. At least not yet. 

Enter Bay Area startup Ample. The company has a battery swapping system live in Northern California, that like Nio’s, only takes a few minutes. Instead of removing an entire battery pack at one time, the Ample system removes modules about the size of a bread box that are part of the larger battery. The caveat, and there’s a big one, is that it only works with Ample battery packs, and the vehicles have to be built with Ample battery packs. 

The startup is working with some automakers to make this a reality, but even when it happens, it’ll only be for fleet vehicles, and for good reason. The average person doesn’t spend all day in their vehicle driving around. They drive to and from work, run a few errands, pick up the kids from school, and maybe head out to dinner. Even if that’s a 100-mile day, they can plug their vehicle in at night and be ready to do it all over again in the morning. 

For taxi, delivery, and other types of drivers that rely on being on the road all day, a 45 minute stop to recharge is lost money. That’s if they can even find an open station which can be an issue if an area has dozens of fleet vehicles on the road during the day that all need to be charged at some point. That’s where Ample comes in. Instead of nearly an hour of idle time, the battery can be swapped in about 10 minutes. 

The company also says it can set up a station relatively quickly because it’s not a building like the NIO setup. It’s a structure that can be bolted into the ground in any parking lot. It essentially takes up about two-three parking spaces. Once deployed, a companion app takes care of everything while the driver waits in the car. 

Again though, this is currently a fleet-only solution and requires that cars and SUVs be built specifically for this system. But…

The Future

Automakers are always quick to point out that most charging happens at home and at night. That’s great if you live in a house or have an apartment with a garage where overnight charging is possible. For many apartment dwellers, that’s just not possible. These folks have to try to charge at work or head to a charging station every few days. If they’re lucky, it’s near shops or restaurants so that they can take care of errands while their vehicle is replenished. But sometimes, that’s not the case. 

These EV owners would benefit the most from vehicles specially built for battery-swapping stations like those offered by Gogoro and Ample. Gogoro might not ever delve into the car world, but motorcycle sales have increased in the past few years after years of decreases. On the other hand, if the Ample system takes off and fleets start to use it, the network of charging stations will grow. 

Why recharge a car when, like a Walkman from the 80s, you could just swap out the battery?

That growth might lead to a moment where those specially built vehicles will be offered to the public. The infrastructure will grow on the back of businesses and could lead to a network that can support those who want to make the move to EVs but can’t charge overnight at home. 

So if you’re really into the idea of an EV with swappable batteries, keep an eye on companies like Ample, Nio, and Gogoro and get ready to buy a special version of a car if you want to be able to partake in the technology in the future.

Want to know more about EVs? We have a whole section dedicated to electric vehicles!

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