At a Tesla Motors event, visitors can expect a heavy dose of flash to go along with a major announcement. When CEO Elon Musk told the world about the battery swap system that would be quicker than filling up a tank of gasoline, the effect was more than dramatic. Eighteen months later, the electric vehicle maker quietly mentioned it would begin the pilot program for a rapid swap system the days before Christmas. It would make charging times irrelevant for the price of a full tank of gas.
Free or faster
The appeal of the rapid battery swap system is obvious. Rather than waiting 25 to 30 minutes for a Supercharger to juice up the battery of a Model S, robots remove the spent pack and replaces it with a fully charged replacement. In less time than it takes to stop for a fill-up at a gas station, drivers are on their merry, emissions-free way.
Of course, this system comes at the price tag equivalent to a tank of premium gas (originally, $60 to $80, though the cost of gas has since come down). Musk said the system would give Model S drivers the option to choose faster (battery swap for around $60) or free (Supercharger, free in 85 kWh models). Musk made the announcement on Twitter.
Pack swap now operating in limited beta mode for SF to LA route. Can swap battery faster than visiting a gas station. Tesla blog out soon.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 19, 2014
Details on the Tesla blog only slightly illuminated what would come the week beginning December 22.
Swap in “beta mode”
According to the Tesla blog, the pilot program begins at the Supercharger station in Harris Ranch, California (about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles). Model S owners with invitations will be able to make an appointment and try out the service at the cost of “slightly less than a full tank of gasoline for a premium sedan.”
Tesla went far from committing to the battery swap program long-term, instead stressing that the program would “test technology and assess demand” of paid service versus free Supercharger service. While the current method will take about three minutes of a driver’s time, the automaker said the swap would eventually take “less than one minute” of your sweet time.
Considering the hefty price tag of a Tesla, it is difficult to see many Model S drivers foregoing the expense when needing more juice for a road trip. In the future, longer vehicle ranges might make such machines unnecessary, but for now, they will serve the purpose of eliminating lingering range anxiety for prospective buyers.