Could Battery Swapping Be Viable in the EV Industry?

Battery swapping is an interesting idea that has been around since the modern electric-vehicle industry’s inception. Although the concept is more popular in Asia than the western markets, Tesla CEO Elon Musk first demonstrated battery swapping a decade ago.

The concept is simple. Rather than wait for up to an hour to recharge their electric cars, EV drivers could simply swap out their depleted batteries with a fully charged one and be on their way within minutes. This “recharging” technique is as fast as refilling a fossil fuel car and it could help automakers alleviate the range anxiety that keeps many drivers from switching to EVs.

Despite being one of the first companies to debut battery swapping, Tesla didn’t pursue the concept and the idea did not take hold in most Western markets. Tesla focused on developing its nationwide Supercharger network while established automakers began developing EVs but let partners down the line handle charging.

As a result, the Unites States has a woefully inadequate network of public EV chargers that forces most EV drivers to recharge at home. Range anxiety is still a major issue in the U.S. market, especially in regions that have limited public charging infrastructure. Battery swapping may be the key to finally solving this pervasive issue.

Companies in Asia have adopted battery swapping with encouraging results in recent years. Scooter companies such as Gogoro and KYMCO in Japan are incorporating battery swapping into their business models and exposing tens of millions of people to the technology. Battery swapping works better with scooters compared to electric motorcycles because scooters weigh much less and have superior utility without the expectations of high performance placed on full-size electric motorcycles.

Combining battery swapping with small, lightweight scooters could be a great way to advance electrification in urban regions and help people become accustomed to EV and battery-swapping technology. Japanese motorbike makers Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha have also exhibited prototypes with battery-swapping capabilities. These companies belong to a consortium that is looking to standardize battery sizes in the auto industry. While initial statements indicated that the battery-swap system would be geared toward motorcycles, it seems the automakers are focusing the technology on scooters.

Now that Chinese companies have seen that battery swapping can be viable, they have begun expanding the concept to electric cars as well. However, a nationwide battery-swap system would require significant collaboration between automakers to standardize battery shapes and sizes as well as EV charging standards.

Companies such as Kandi Technologies Group Inc. (NASDAQ: KNDI) may have to weigh the costs vs. benefits of modifying their battery-making lines in order to produce standardized EV battery packs that can fit into a possible battery-swapping system.

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