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Standardized Electric-Car Battery Swapping Won't Happen: Here's Why

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Better Place battery-swap demonstration

Better Place battery-swap demonstration

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Standardized batteries are one of the great consumer goods: Who hasn't bought a pack of AA or AAA cells for some consumer-electronics device by now?

The idea that standardized high-capacity lithium-ion battery packs are an inevitable next step in the evolution of electric cars crops up repeatedly.

We don't think it's going to happen, as we explained to reader Michael Parker.

MORE: 2016 Chevrolet Volt To Launch Next Year: What We Know So Far

He wrote:

Better Place Battery Swapping

Better Place Battery Swapping

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[The] smartest thing electric car makers could do is settle on a universal form factor for replaceable battery packs.

When the consumer can "get juice" as easily as getting gas, AND when they've run out of juice AAA can send a swap-out truck, well, then range anxiety goes away.

When I can drive to my local quick trip and swap a near-empty battery for a full one, we'll be good to go.

While we understand the logic of Parker's position, a standardized battery pack for electric cars is highly unlikely to happen.

We looked at why battery swapping posed major problems five years ago, before Better Place launched, and it's worth revisiting.

None of the reasons have changed.

Better Place Battery Swap Station

Better Place Battery Swap Station

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Proprietary technology

Automakers view the design, engineering, and control strategies of their battery packs as core technology and important intellectual property.

Unlike standardized charging protocols, they're not likely to sign up to use exactly the same battery pack size, shape, and capacity as their competitors.

For one thing, the pack is a core piece of the car's strength and crash structures, and the vehicle must be engineered around it.

MORE: Better Place Electric-Car Battery Swapping: Live Report (VIDEO)

Large global automakers each have their own toolkits, architectures, or platforms that share standardized components across many cars--and they design their packs accordingly.

Incorporating a battery pack developed by someone else would impose significant constraints on how they could arrange their components, crash structures, and the like.

Photo of Tesla Model S battery swapping versus 'fastest gas pump in LA' tweeted by Elon Musk

Photo of Tesla Model S battery swapping versus 'fastest gas pump in LA' tweeted by Elon Musk

Enlarge Photo

Removing packs is tough

Furthermore, making a battery pack removable imposes additional constraints on how a car can be designed.

The only car ever built with a removable battery pack--the version of the Renault Fluence ZE for the now-defunct Israeli company Better Place--used an air-cooled pack that eliminated the need to disconnect and reconnect liquid-cooling pipes.

While Tesla demonstrated a battery swap for its Model S, which has a liquid-cooled pack, it hasn't released details of how the various connections, coolant pipes, and so forth are quickly disconnected and then reconnected within less than 120 seconds.

Very, very heavy

Finally, the pack for any kind of plug-in electric vehicle weighs 200 to 900 pounds, so it'll never be a briefcase-sized component that humans can pull out manually and swap. (Even a full tank of gasoline weighs 100 to 200 pounds.)

MORE: Better Place Electric-Car Service Files For Bankruptcy

That means automated machinery is required, known as a swap station--and that's yet more infrastructure that electric-car makers would have to set up and install nationwide.

For all these reasons, we just don't see it happening. But what do you think? How would you make battery swapping work?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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© 2014 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.