Tesla’s Battery Swap Program impressed a lot of people when it was unveiled back in 2013. It probably was one of Tesla’s most well-organized presentation. Elon Musk narrated a live test on stage during which the company performed two automated battery swaps while live-streaming a Tesla employee filling up a gasoline car.
Despite the impressive nature of the system, Tesla launched the program very carefully and it took over a year before it opened its first “pilot facility” in Harris Ranch, California. Only a select few Model S owners were allowed to participate in the program and swap battery packs.
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Another year later, in the summer 2015, Tesla expanded the scope of Model S owners invited to the program. Now yet another year later, the program is still in its pilot phase. We asked Tesla for a status update on the program:
“We have a pilot pack swapping facility in Harris Ranch and some Tesla owners have been testing the technology for the past year. However, we remain committed to our Supercharger strategy, which involves building a vast network of free, high-powered charging stations for Model S drivers around the world, we will continue to innovate and test new technologies that have the potential to make electric vehicle ownership an even more convenient and compelling proposition for consumers.”
We already knew that the battery swap program took a back seat to the Supercharger network a while ago, and based on Tesla’s comments, it sounds like it’s not about to change.
Redditor DirtyFries stopped by the Harris Ranch station this weekend and reported that it looked like it was out of service (reprinted with permission):
The system doesn’t enable many applications at this point. Especially since the Supercharger network is free to use to all Model S and X drivers, while a battery swap costs $80. Even more importantly, the battery swap feature was originally presented as a much faster option to recharge your car than the superchargers.
The choice was free or fast, but now the free option got faster and fast option got slower. The Supercharger had a 90KW output when Tesla first unveiled the program and now the capacity is up to 135KW. On the other hand, 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.
While the system could eventually become useful in some commercial applications, like managing a fleet of vehicles traveling long-distances all day, the future of the program is still uncertain. In the meantime, Tesla’s customers shouldn’t worry too much about charging infrastructure as the company is planing on doubling the number of Superchargers to 7,000 units and quadrupling the number of Destination chargers to 15,000 units within the next 2 years.