Tesla Model S owners in California reported receiving emails from Tesla inviting them to join the “battery swap pilot program”. Tesla originally sent invites to only a “few hundreds” Model S owners known to visit the Harris Ranch supercharger on a regular basis, but after reporting that very few owners took them up on the offer, Tesla started expanding the scope of invites to a greater area and to owners who rarely if ever visit the Harris Ranch supercharger, next to where Tesla’s only battery swap station is located.

Tesla introduced their battery swap technology in 2013, but it took over a year before they could open their first station. The company decided to focus their resources on their fast charging network of “superchargers”, which reached over 400 locations earlier this year.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, originally presented the battery swap feature as a faster option to recharge your Model S than the superchargers, but one that would cost money ($80) versus the free-to-use superchargers. Since then, the superchargers got increasingly faster, from a 90KW output to now a capacity of 135KW, which can charge a Model S at a rate of 300 miles of range per hour, making the battery swap option less attractive.

The technology could still prove useful for commercial fleets and Tesla seems determined to go through with the pilot program. When it was first introduced, the swap could be done in 90 seconds, but that was before Tesla added a titanium armor plate under the car to further protect the battery pack. Now, the process can take up to 15 minutes and is not completely automated anymore. They inspect the vehicle during the first time a swap is performed, after that, subsequent swaps shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

The 15 minutes timeframe is very important for zero-emission vehicles like the Tesla Model S. Beyond an interesting feature for certain customers, zero-emission cars that can be “recharged” in less than 15 minutes can qualify for more ZEV credits under California Air Resource Board’s ZEV initiative. These credits can then be sold to car manufacturers who are subject to fines if they don’t sell enough zero-emission vehicles in the state.

Before Tesla’s battery swap option, this 15 minutes recharge ZEV requirement was seen as an unfair advantage to fuel cell cars, which were the only zero-emission vehicles capable of recharging in less than 15 minutes. Whether or not Tesla’s battery swap stations will expand outside of California remain to be seen, but at least more Model S owners now have access to try this untapped feature of their car.

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