Drive up. Switch out. Drive on. Is it that simple?

Project Better Place have just released a video of a Nissan Crossover SUV EV at a Yokohama facility, switching out a discharged high-power EV battery pack for a fully-charged replacement. The EV then drives off on it’s merry way. It takes less than two minutes to complete. It’s an impressive video.


But is the future of electric vehicles dependent on fast battery switching, or is it an unnecessary complexity?
Let’s look at the things which we’d need to satisfy in order for a high-power battery switch out station to become a reality.
More after the jump.
Firstly, we’d need to ensure that every EV manufacturer on the market agreed on not only a charging standard, but a battery pack standard. In order for batteries to be regularly and freely swapped, electric vehicles would all have to essentially have a uniform battery pack. It’s one thing to require EV companies to agree on a standard for a conductive charging socket, but a homogeneous battery pack would severely limit the floor pan choices of any EV company. It may also impede on internal cabin space, or limit the physical size of an EV. That’s hardly going to foster much in the way of choice in the auto industry.
Secondly, car companies would have to agree on a battery technology and battery management systems. This would be great for a company making batteries, or for a car electronics company such as Denso (who make the battery management system for the Toyota Prius and engine management systems for many of the world’s common car makes). It would, however, again make it hard for new technology companies to enter the market with new battery technologies and systems. While most internal combustion engined cars run on either Diesel or Gasoline and share a common fuel filler inlet the actual fuel tanks are diversely different. Requiring every car company to have the same fuel tank, with the same engine management and fuel systems would be the equivalent of the Better Place idea.
Thirdly, how do you know that the battery you’re picking up is in good condition? You’re relying on the battery pack that you’re putting in being as good as the one you’ve been driving on for a few miles. Your pack may be relatively new – but the one you’re just getting may be quite an old one. And you have no idea of how it’s been treated. Obviously, the company doing the switch over will know – they will presumably have to keep rigorous tracks on each and every battery pack. But there’s no way for the consumer to know. Is that something you’re comfortable with?
In order for the battery company to have a readily available stream of charged batteries they’re also going to have to keep a surplus of batteries in stock, both to keep batteries ready for the busy holiday seasons when everyone and their dog is visiting Grannie up state and to replace batteries which come in DOA. Financially that’s a big thing to have to stump up for.
Finally, it’s probably a more efficient (and easier) method to work on a way of fast-charging battery packs which stay on the vehicle they were sold with. Integrating the battery packs individually on each vehicle means more flexibility for each car manufacturer. High powered sports cars can use small, panel-mounted battery strings, as used in the Tesla. Larger, more utilitarian SUVs can mount batteries under the floor. Small town runabouts can use older, less capable battery technology and save money into the bargain.
Developing a smart charging method, and car parking spots which automatically detect and charge electric and plug in vehicles while they are there, seems like a more sensible way of developing a charging infrastructure.
Then again, if Better Place can convince Detroit (and the rest of the world) that it’s okay to share a single battery pan design (or perhaps a small sub-set of battery designs for various car sizes) then we really do face a future of ultra-fast charge stations. And at that point, there’s really no point in pumping gas any more.

3 Comments

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  1. […] Drive up. Switch out. Drive on. Is it that simple? […]

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  2. I've been called a crackpot for voicing this, but I still think fast-charging (e.g. 15 mins for a full charge) will win the race against battery-swapping for many different reasons. Cost, ease, flexibility, logistics etc. Time will tell.

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  3. I totally agree. Maybe we need smaller batteries and more charging points…

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