Ask Nathan: Why Can’t We Swap EV Batteries and You Won’t Catch Me DEAD in a Minivan?

Lotus Eletre
Image: Lotus

In this week’s Ask Nathan:

  • Can we just swap batteries in our electric cars?
  • I’ll die before owning a minivan!

The first question comes from a fan who recently bought an EV, and wants to know about instant battery swapping.

Q: I just bought a Tesla Model 3 thanks to reports like yours. And that got me wondering about the promise of quick battery swap places.

This is my first foray into the electric car world and I am pretty happy so far. My Model 3 is a bit used, but it’s like new to me. I loved your cross country series and it was one of the things that inspired my purchase. No Nathan, I’m not some crazy Elon cult member, and I never will be. Like you said, the car is worth my time, even if the man isn’t!

My question is simple, and it has to do with one of many broken promises that Musk has shoveled out over the years. What happened to the idea of quick battery swapping? I remember a time when he did a live presentation of a Tesla getting its battery swapped in just a few minutes. But nothing ever came of that.

I seems like a logical step in the right direction, because charging will never safely get to matching the speed of delivering gasoline at fast chargers. This seems to be a better way to me. Also it would make a lot of sense to standardize battery casings so that they could be swapped with multiple cars.

What do you think Nathan? Is this too hopeful, or am I on to something?

  • Ben G

A: The Chinese automaker Nio has used a battery swapping network for a few years now. Europe is starting acquire Nio battery swap stations too.

Yes, Tesla played with the idea about a decade back, but that was just one of many treats to get investors motivated. After some time, they figured out that their money was better spent on their charging network. Around that same time, Nio began the process of perfecting the battery swap process.

Just like the Tesla demo, Nio uses a fully automated station that stores over a dozen batteries, all charged to 90-percent. Once you dock, the robotic system swaps your depleted battery with a freshly charged one. The whole process takes less than six-minutes, the equivalent of a quick fuel-up. Your former battery is then recharged to eventually enter another vehicle.

A huge bonus is the potential to upgrade your battery from, for instance, a 70 kWh to a 110 kWh (give or take) unit, if you need to make a long haul. It looks like Nio, along with other upcoming battery swap centers, will be able to do just that. You lease the battery as you go, and I believe it’s based on your battery’s capacity.

It’s a cool process, and it may find its way here in the future. Still, it’s not a solution for all of our charging issues, and there are several issues battery swapping can exploit. Not the least of which is the infrastructure question. Especially in the U.S..

Right now, you can’t share these batteries, or facilities with other automakers. Nio only services their own vehicles, although they might be working with Geely and others in the future. Still, you can’t swap a Tesla battery at a Nio station.

Not everyone will be keen on leasing batteries, but owning the car. It’s like owning the refrigerator while only renting the food, for some. If something goes wrong with the swap, you might be in serious trouble. In addition, how many chargers worth of power does one swapping station take?

A partial solution

Even if we figure out a way to get the right cars and swapping stations here, it is a Band-Aid for the larger issues. I sincerely doubt we’ll see standardized battery packaging anytime soon. Still, I said the same thing about Tesla’s NACS... about a decade ago. Now look what’s happened!

  • N

The last question/comment comes from someone who says they will never own a minivan. Never say never.

Q: (Via: YouTube) There is no way I will ever own a minivan!

  • I can’t believe how many are still out there with all the people who lost the love of driving! I WOULD NEVER BE CAUGHT DEAD IN A MINIVAN! How are they even selling them?
  • RiteeLeaf05

A: Ah, spoken like a person with a vision.

A young person, with no fear of irony.

Perhaps an angry person who’s parents owned a minivan?

Given your handle, and the tone of this comment, I’m guessing you don’t have little ones. Maybe you heard other personalities make snide comments about minivans? Is it possible that other people (hundreds of thousands) need something that can haul more people and cargo than an average SUV? Could it be possible that some people like the utility and ease of driving of a minivan?

Sure, no minivan is more exciting than a GT car, or a boulder-bashing truck; however, the minivan outmatches both when it comes to families. Maybe that’s enough for your to enhance your chill?

  • N