19 Apr 22

Battery swapping looks set to become an EV market game changer

The increased pace of electrification among fleets and competition between electric-vehicle makers have pushed the charging issue to the forefront once again. Battery-swapping technology, which failed in early attempts, is now set to ignite battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) demand after its success in micro-mobility vehicles, such as eScooters and eBikes. 

The battery-swapping market faces remarkable growth worldwide through balooning investments fueled by high demand. A glance at current projects makes one wonder if battery-swapping ultimately out smart and outpace charging stations worldwide as the best charging solution. 

APAC is leading the way 

The first significant success of battery-swapping technology emerged with Taiwanese company Gogoro, which launched its primary operations by introducing Smartscooter in 2015. By the beginning of 2022, Gogoro reached 450,000 subscribers in 2,276 GoStations, witnessing an average of 250,000 battery swaps daily for e-scooters. 

The innovation inspired several companies in APAC, including Yamaha, which is currently working with Gogoro two produce its second e-scooter. One of the main advantages of the battery-swapping technology appeared to be purchasing e-scooters without the battery, reducing the costs significantly for drivers. 

This is not the issue for fully-electric passenger cars, which led to the failure of the first battery-swapping startup Better Place in 2013. It announced bankruptcy after having sold only 750 vehicles. Since then, the charging infrastructure market has witnessed substantial growth, and Chinese manufacturers appear to be at the front. 

After launching its Europe campaign in late 2021, Chinese EV maker Nio set to expand its battery-swapping technology simultaneously in China and Norway. The automated battery-swapping process developed for Nio ES8 displays the elaborate mechanism required for such technology. After pushing a button on the central display of the ES8, the car automatically parks in the swapping station, where it is lifted to remove the battery pack. The new battery pack is installed in only around a minute, and ES8 is ready to roll-out on again. 

Nio has 868 swap stations in China, and the above process has taken place more than 7.6 million times so far. In Norway, the automaker opened its first swap station in January and aimed to install 20 stations in the country. The European expansion will continue in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, as Nio intends to have 5,000 swapping stations worldwide by 2025 (around 1,000 of them outside China). ET7 sedan will be launched in Germany with battery swapping technology. In contrast, the new sedan and SUV models of the EV maker will emerge as a direct rival to Tesla and other competitors. 

What is the business model? 

The crucial advantage and cost-effectiveness employed by Gogoro seems to work fine for Nio too. More than 90% of ES8 drivers have chosen the battery as a Solution (BaaS), leasing the battery pack and enabling access to swapping stations twice a month. In Norway, almost all Nio customers prefer leasing the battery pack, choosing a 100 KW/h or the cheaper 75 kW/h battery. 

The neat automated swapping stations surely don't come at a low cost. While Better Place went bankrupt, despite receiving investments, Nio and other EV makers matched the investments with surging demand. According to The Swedish Transport Administration, the total cost of a swapping station in China is around €700,000, while the charge point is about $310,000 dollars (approx. €287,000). 
Nio is not only producing EVs compatible with battery swapping technology but already has a vast charging station network in China, which fuels new investments. Additionally, oil giant Shell has partnered with Nio to expand the global charging infrastructure network provided by the EV maker. 

Besides Nio, Chinese EV equipment provider Aulton partnered with BP in 2021 to develop battery swapping services. Aulton aims to reach 10,000 swapping stations in 100 Chinese cities by 2025, with a capacity of 10 million EVs. 

Geely, which owns the Volvo Car Group and has formed joint ventures with Lotus Group and Smart Automobile, might become a catalyst for the battery-swapping industry. Geely plans to install 5,000 swapping stations in China by 2025. Taking advantage of expanding cooperation, Nio intends to provide swapping technology to Lotus. 

Europe is on the right track

While Chinese companies have rolled up their sleeves to advance in the BEV swapping technology, Europe is taking a giant first step like Taiwan in micro-mobility. Swobbee, which has raised €6 million in funding, provides batteries for all types of vehicles to boost urban mobility. 

EIT InnoEnergy, which supports sustainability startups, is among the investors of Swobbee to enhance innovations in urban mobility. Swobbee offers five types of battery packs compatible with several micro-mobility vehicles. The strategy of Swobbee relies on collaboration, including Torrot of Spain and Segway of the US, to provide battery packs for different e-vehicle brands.

Other EV battery swapping projects worth watching 

  • Chinese EV battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) has launched Evogo battery swapping stations in China, planning to reach 30 by the end of the year. 
  • In Japan, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and energy company Eneos launched Gachaco to provide battery swapping for two-wheeler EVs.
  • Eneos and Ample, a US-based startup in which Eneos is an investor, are to collaboratively launch an EV battery-swapping service in Japan and the US. According to TechCrunch, the tech will rely on swapping a modularised battery pack through the adapter plate, which will share the exact dimensions as the OEM designed battery pack.
  • According to Financial Times, Renault is planning to develop battery-swapping plans that first emerged as an idea in 2010 to eliminate redundant time caused by recharging. Geely, which has recently announced a collaboration with Mercedes-Benz and Renault, is likely to support the latter in battery swapping technology. 

Battery swapping has merged along with the current trends of mobility and electrification. From APAC to North America, the widely accepted collaboration models are likely to boost the technology further and pave the way to fully-green and feasible transportation in and out of the cities. 

The main image shows a swapping station of Nio, courtesy of Nio. 
The first in-article image shows Swobbee charging terminal, courtesy of Swobbee. 
The second in-article image shows the Ample battery station, courtesy of Ample.

Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen