Tesla Shows 90-Second Battery Swapping For Model S, Details Rollout Plans

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As predicted last month, and tweeted and teased by CEO Elon Musk, Tesla Motors showed off battery swapping for its Model S electric car at a press event last night.

Held at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, California, the demonstration itself was simple: A Tesla Model S drove onto the stage and stopped over a hole in the floor.

Automated arms reached through the hole, supported the pack and the car, disconnected the fittings, and dropped it through the hole.

Then a replacement pack was moved into position, raised through the hole to sit under the car's floorpan, and reconnected to the car.

The entire process took roughly 90 seconds. The driver remained in the Model S throughout, and pulled away at the 1:33 mark.

Meanwhile, a countdown clock on the video screen behind the car showed a Tesla employee filling an Audi A8 with gasoline at what Musk claimed to be "the fastest gas station in L.A."

Enthusiastic owners

After Musk apologized for the length of time required to fuel up the Audi, the enthusiastic crowd of several hundred--largely Tesla owners--laughed when a second Model S drove on stage.

It too had its battery pack swapped from underneath, and managed to drive away before the Audi finished fueling after more than 4 minutes.

If you want another view of the events beside Tesla's promotional video shown above, try this one.

As Musk has noted, the Tesla Model S was designed from the start to enable its battery pack to be quickly and easily swapped out.

Once the flashy part was over, Musk turned his attention to the details. Our brief summary:


  • Tesla will roll out battery-swapping in California first, with the San Francisco-Los Angeles corridor along I-5 going live by the end of this year
  • Then sometime next year, the company will turn its sights to the Northeast Corridor from Boston through New York City to Washington, D.C.
  • "Tesla Stations" that offer swapping will be located in the same sites as Supercharger fast-charging stations
  • Each will have about 50 batteries, which will be kept fully charged by the existing infrastructure for charging energy-storage batteries at those sites


  • The Supercharger network of DC fast-charging stations will remain, and it will continue to be free for Model S owners to use
  • For the much faster swapping, Tesla will charge owners a fee for the fully-charged battery pack swapped into their car
  • That fee will be roughly equivalent to the cost of 15 gallons of gas, Musk said, perhaps $60 in California
  • In other words, a 20- to 30-minute Supercharge to recharge a pack to 80 percent will be free, but a full recharge in 90 seconds will cost the same as a fill-up

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Comments (48)
  1. I'm not a big Elon fanboy, but you have to hand it to Tesla. They just keep executing on the highest level. Even their recall was awesome. My biggest problem with battery swapping is getting an unknown battery. Tesla solved that by tracking your old battery and giving it back. I can't wait for the Gen III. I'm pretty sure it's going to blow everything else away.

  2. Elon is right once again. Eventually swapping battery packs will be uneccessary as the battery and recharging technology get better. It is okay now but actually after 2-3 hours in a car on a long drive a 30 minute break is a good idea. So I would most likely opt for a free recharge....

  3. I have a 60 kWh battery, and I go to some effort to preserve it by avoiding max and min charge levels. Getting my original battery back is critical to me, and Tesla has it covered. So I can swap in an 85 kWh battery for $60, travel my little heart out across the country for free, and get my original battery back. I am also fortunate to have a supercharger/swapping station 10 miles from my home. What's not to love?

  4. Don't forget that swapping your original battery back in will set you back another $60. Tesla will have charged it for you but in your case it would still have been almost full when you dropped it off.

  5. Sigh - you seem very determined to see the old glass as half-empty, Chris. In any case, I believe Elon was asked about the cost of restoring your old pack, and he indicated it would be free of charge to do so. Traveling across the country for $60 without putting any miles on my own battery? Sign me up!

  6. Just a reality check: every report mentions a fee for getting your battery back, according to some it will cost the same as the initial swap which makes sense.

    Maybe Tesla is right to introduce this scheme. It definitely brings EVs on par (and beyond...)with traditional vehicles in terms of real world practicality. It comes at tremendous cost though as reflected by the hefty fees involved. But I guess after doing a few of these swapping stations Tesla should have a pretty good idea about the market response to this and decide whether further investment is wise or not.

  7. Had this been a reality when I ordered my MS85, I probably would have ordered a 60, saved myself $10K, and just "rented" an 85 for the occasional road trip requiring the extra battery capacity.

  8. Sorry, didn't mean to vote down your response, I meant to vote it up!

  9. So, if I wan to do a cross-country trip in a lower-grade Model S, can I simply swap the 60 kw/hr battery for an 85 and be on my way for $60-$80, as long as I eventually come back and take my original 60 back? How long will they let me keep the 85 before I'm charged the difference? Will they keep my original battery at the station, not loaning it to anyone else and thus not building up kms and capacity loss?

  10. They haven't answered how long you can keep the loaner yet. But, yes, they will keep yours until you decide you don't want it back -- under whatever the acceptable window is. I suspect you will have a reasonable amount of time to enjoy your rental pack, but the idea that you can sit on a larger pack and save yourself the $10,000 upgrade cost is something they will clearly have to watch out for... So you'll probably have to swap a swap pack within a week or two. Telematics might also play a role here. If "not home" then "allow continued use of rental pack". If "home" then "end grace period"... If "customer wants original" then "arrange for shipping" else "bill for difference".

  11. Guess if 30 minutes of your time really is worth $60 +the cost/hassle of getting your original pack back this is for you. Wonder if there will be the sort of demand for it to warrant the huge investment in a network of swapstations that including a stash of 50 batteries should have a price tag somewhere north of $2 million a pop.

    That network needs to be pretty dense for Tesla to make "electric cars fully compatible with gasoline cars in range and "refueling time" yet it will apparently be irrelevant by 2017 because of improvement in charging.

    I wonder about the economics of a scheme like this.

  12. @Chris - it's like Elon said, you have a choice between free and easy - I think that's a pretty awesome choice. As this is all about long distance traveling, 200 swap stations will cover the country quite nicely, I think. If this helps to sell more cars, the economics will take care of themselves. Elon has estimated $100 million to build this out - not too bad on a multi-billion dollar balance sheet.

  13. $100 million won't build you 200 stations. They are $500K+ the value of 50 stock batteries so probably ~$2 milion a pop, so is Tesla planning on doing only 50 stations? That will not go a long way in convincing the sceptics Elon was referring to that EVs are on par or even better than ICEs in terms of long distance travel.

    I do believe this option could sway those who want a Model S because it's a great ride and don't care if it costs about the same to run as a similar ICE vehicle as long as they won't have to deal with hassle of charging but again: that would take a pretty dense and therefore costly network.

  14. Business model to be seen. And I find the concept of recuperating the original battery quite a strong constraint.

    Last but no least: do you imagine a car network where each brand/model is using a different sort of petrol, and thus specific gas stations ??? How do you make this economically viable/affordable ?

  15. "How do you make this economically viable/affordable?". By using it to sell a lot of expensive cars with a 25% profit margin?

  16. AS fro every company using a different system. Tesla is the only one doing that. everyone else is sticking with the industry standards. However (with the right adapters) Tesla can use any plug or charging system. Since Tesla is making the infrastructure (charging stations) they are protecting their investment by making them only useable by Tesla cars. The other car makers aren't in the charging infrastructure business.

  17. An astounding technical feat, but as a Model S owner, my reaction to the battery-swap stations is a big meh. Frankly, I wish they'd spend their $100 million some other way, like free routine maintenance.

    If you're going to spend $60 every time you "fill up," might as well drive a gas car. To me, the Supercharger system seems just fine. I have no problem at all with stopping for 20-30 minutes every three hours-- and I have little doubt Tesla will speed the Supercharging process up in the future.

    Did he say explicitly that every Supercharger station would have battery-swap capability? Perhaps there will be enough demand along the East and West Coast corridors, but I'd be surprised if battery-swapping catches on in other locations.

  18. He explicitly said this is coming to I-5 between SF and LA and to the Boston-to-D.C. run. He explicitly added it would come elsewhere if / when there is evidence of demand. Evidence of demand will be (a) people buying the Model S (b) people saying at dealerships or via e-mail or whatnot, "Hey, we need Superswappers between Miami and Tampa and Orlando" for example.

  19. I think this is mostly to silence the critics, while people learn that 20-30 minutes is more than fast enough after 3 hours of driving. In my Leaf the problem that I have is getting back to the car inside of the 30 minutes that it takes to recharge. Usually I fail at this and it takes 45 minutes to get a coffee, grab a bite to eat and go the toilet!

  20. All that time and money invested in expensive attempts to make range anxiety disappear. Why not just come out with an EREV model and let time and technology advance to the point where range and recharging times of BEVs become acceptable to mass market buyers.

  21. Because compared to BEVs, EREVs increase mass, complexity (which decreases reliability), cost, and as important to Tesla, pollution. Tesla's overarching goal, other than profit of course, is "sustainable energy consumption." Tesla has already made them obsolete.

  22. So, it is $60 for every 250 miles or so... That is equal to a car that gets 17 MPG and needs to fill up every 250 miles. But it will be quicker...

    I guess it is a "nice" option to have instead of having to wait for 30 mins. Choice is good. But I don't see how Tesla is going to make money on this if they are keeping up to 50 battery packs per charging station and expanding this over time...

    That is a still a lot of battery sitting around.

  23. Well (1) I don't think they intend to make money at this (2) If they build a battery for $12,000 and they rent it for $60 and it's good for 400 rentals, they make $24,000 on that battery. So the build and upkeep on the station, amortized, needs to add less than 1x the battery cost itself to this. That feels doable to me.

  24. Oh, and the swap stations sitting around are going to generate revenues (at least in Calif.) as "grid stabilizers" for PG&E and SoCal Edison. So there's money coming in from them while no one uses them.

  25. But how are they going to do that when they expect to have up to 50 battery packs fully charged and ready to go?

    And using it as "stabilizer" is a BAD business since amount of "aging" it does to those batteries will cost more than the $$$ generated from the balancing. Also, peak time is probably when the demand for those battery pack are at its highest.

  26. Grid stabilization requires a >tiny< amount of current. A large capacity able to pump a small amount into the grid is how you do that.

    As for peak demand, I think you're confused about that. Peak demand for power is weekdays, early afternoon to early evening. Peak demand for battery swapping is going to be Fridays and Sundays. There is one period of overlap. And even when the overlap is occurring, relatively empty batteries from owners will be perfectly fine as grid stabilizers.

    Also, there will be a 50-battery overage at all times. This makes the SuperSwappers expensive, but means they'll always be pretty good grid stabilizers.

  27. "Grid stabilization requires a >tiny< amount of current"

    I call BS on that...

    Show me the proof that is true.

  28. $12K? I think you have overly under-estimated the cost.

    That is a cost of $141 per KWh, way too low. I think double of that is the minimum. I assume that with 85KWh, 400 rentals would mean at least 100,000 miles. I thought those batteries are rated for "max range". I seriously doubt that they would NOT suffer any range loss after 300 full charge cycles... Which can be had as little as 100 rentals.

    But I think your #1 point is more likely. But that is still a lot of batteries if Tesla is going to do this for every supercharger station across the country.

  29. i have seen estimates that it is around 120 per kwh
    here is a interesting article about battery costs

  30. I have not under-estimated the cost if this website is to be believed (and the evidence is pretty overwhelming it is).

    They are not doing this for every Supercharger.

  31. Though I still think swapping isn't necessary in the long term, there was one thing in the presentation that caught my attention. Simply it was the Audi, I wonder if Tesla did that because they know they've had an effect on Audi? "Audi's head of research and development has reportedly been fired over his refusal to embrace pure electric vehicles." http://www.worldcarfans.com/113062059088/wolfgang-drheimer-fired-from-audi-could-be-related-to

  32. OK, as understand this, if 60 Tesla Owners decide to travel from LA to San Fran or vice versa, and intend to swap batteries at the mid-point station, 10 will be left out in the cold even though the station has 50 batteries sitting (some probably charged)at the station (all owned by previous swappers). If the swappers are out of town for an extended weekend, the battery swap capability at the station could be essentially out of commission for several days and not generating any revenues to recoup the infrastructure cost. Thankfully, the drivers will not be stranded because the supercharger will still be functional. Maybe Tesla will post battery availability online. Maybe you will be able to reverse a cell for a particular date and time.

  33. They are hoping the traffic are "bi-directional" so the load on the super chargers will even out...

    But you have a good point. With 50 batteries for each station, then it will be ONLY good for 25 in each direction.

  34. Sorry, but this is wrong. Once they are needing 50 batteries at a station, they are going to send more on a truck. Yes, for a couple of weeks, it will be like the Gilroy Supercharger (overutilized and misery inducing). But the 50 is not a limit, it's a "baseline". They are prepared for it to be a few hundred if need be. And if it needs to be 10,000, they'll figure that out, too, because it will become a profit center.

  35. But they can't truck the battery in within few hours, can they?

    The crowd can come and go. It has to be real time and on demand. Also, I don't think they will ship fully charged battery packs around.

  36. Xiaolong, if demand for the swappers is high, each station will have more than 50 batteries. It's true, the first day a station needs 100 batteries when Tesla had 50 there, not everyone will get one. But once it's clear demand is 100 swaps, Tesla will have 100 batteries at the station.

    It makes no difference whether they ship them charged or not, shipping will be an exceptionally rare event (except for people needed their pack transported home, which might prove somewhat less rare).

  37. 60 Tesla owners in one day?? The Teslaswap is at the same location as the Superchargers? One way, even if they were all lined up in an emergency. Since the drivers were not professionals then it might be 2 every 5 minutes or more, one every 5 minutes for non experts. That is still 150 minutes to 300 minutes to do all 60 Teslas. That is around 2 to 3 hours. More than enough time to recharge an extra 10 batteries.
    The software for maintaining this sort of scenario is as old as the hills. Your typical sports arena ticket and seating program used by any sports arena could be modified to do the job nicely added with any invoice system. Any accounting program could do it.

  38. Anyone wonder if perhaps the battery was not swapped? The battery was just lowered and reinstalled after the amount of time Tesla believes it will take to retrieve a new battery. It would be quite an undertaking to put the entire swapping infrastructure under the stage for what really amounts to a publicity stunt. Just wondering and hoping this is not the case.

  39. They brought the whole swapping machine in actually. You could see it in action from a narrow angle, but you could -- in fact -- see it.

  40. Better place has been doing the same thing for a year so the technology for battery swapping is well established. Remove the time it takes to drive into a long car wash and receive complimentary drinks etc. and the swapping time is about the same.

  41. The one thing I think Tesla has over Better Place is the choice between a swap or a Level-3 charge. Tesla has everything covered whereas Better Place only had Level-2 and swapping.

  42. No, the main thing is that Better Place had 80-mile batteries, which meant still no freeway driving, except maybe in a tiny landmass like Israel (that's not a political comment, it's a geographic fact). Oh, and BP made owning an EV even more expensive than without BP. Tesla is not changing its prices to accommodate this stuff... The swapping is all optional and a la carte... I did a comparo over at Forbes today as a follow-up to my news piece yesterday.

  43. True, Better Place's subscription was far more expensive and mandatory, yet another plus from Tesla.

  44. Thank you for the link John. I was hoping maybe we'd have a chance to meet there. Perhaps another time and place.

  45. Musk is a very smart man. He understood that Americans will not buy a car that (a) has short range, and (b) takes a long time to "refill" in energy. The fastest chargers take a half an hour to full "refill" an empty battery. On day one of when his affordable Model S comes out into the market, the average skeptical auto buyer will have to KNOW that he or she can drive the car out of the showroom and across the country knowing that he or she will find places to "refill" easily and quickly and get on his or her way without a hitch. It's that simple. Otherwise, the car won't sell. The large automakers don't care if EV's succeed or not. Musk has no other kind of car to sell. EV's rise or fall based on what the people believe.

  46. This is awesome technology, I wish Tesla (and other startup companies like Aptera (please live on)) the best

  47. I note that Interstate driving will invariably mean less than 200 miles on single charge, making Tesla's fill-up price outrageous - roughly 3 times more than a gas powered car, not to mention Tesla's other "gotcha" charges that they are known for. They are disproving the adage that electric cars are cheaper to operate. Battery swapping makes no economic sense anyway, since you are semi-duplicating what is by far the most expensive component of the car. There were good reasons behind Better Place's failure. It also becomes hopelessly complicated when individual battery ownership is allowed. But, most important of all, it is a tacit admission by Musk that his Model S is not capable of extended travel, something his company has lied about.

  48. @Kent! We haven't seen your pessimistic, glass-half-empty posts for quite a while now. So nice to have you back.

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