- Battery Electric Vehicles
- EV Charging Infrastructure
- Battery Manufacturers
Could Battery Swapping Make EVs Mainstream?
EVs have made huge strides. Since 2015, purchase costs have declined 30% while range has increased 40% (as the following chart shows). When combined, it’s a near 60% decline in purchase cost per mile of range. Top-selling EVs now cost $30,000 to $40,000 before subsidies and they achieve around 200 miles of range.
Change in EV Top Five Best Seller Metrics, World Markets: 2015-2020
(Source: Guidehouse Insights)
At the same time, charging technology has progressed dramatically. Upcoming EVs increasingly feature 11 kW or 22 kW capacity alternating current onboard chargers and 800 V battery architectures that enable direct current charging up to 350 kW. That quickens charging time roughly 3-4 times compared with the technology stack of the early 2010s. But these significant improvements do not close the cost and capability gaps of EVs with petroleum-powered competitors in the mass market. For automakers to keep up with the ambitious zero-emissions targets of governments, a new EV approach may be necessary.
EV purchase costs and depreciation (due to uncertainties about battery life in resale markets) are high, and downtime for fast charging is still much longer than for gas station stops. It remains true that EVs make sense for drivers that can charge at home, drive less than 100 miles a day, and own their vehicle for a long time. Outside this demographic, EVs are a tough and sometimes exclusionary sell. As John de Souza, Co-Founder and President of Ample, explains of the EV market, “It leaves out a lot of people.”
Modules, Not Packs
Ample’s goal is to make EVs work for everyone. Unveiled in March 2021, after 7 years in stealth mode, the company created a battery swap solution based on battery modules instead of whole battery packs. The module versus pack distinction is important because it allows EVs from multiple makers to use Ample’s swap stations without requiring a modification to their EV.
The program features EV makers partnering with Ample. The makers receive an Ample battery pack that is a drop-in replacement to the EV battery pack. The Ample pack contains a number of modules that vary based on the size of the vehicle. Once the EV enters the swap station, automated systems slide under the vehicle and swap the modules. Having demonstrated the approach on 10 different EVs, Co-Founder and CEO of Ample, Khaled Hassounah remarks, “We are working with five of the world’s largest automakers on swappable vehicles.”
To date, battery swapping has been held back as an alternative to conventional charging because few EVs from different makes have the same battery system. The lack of commonality means a swapping business based on complete packs would either be applicable to few EVs, or swap stations would have to keep inventories of batteries for multiple makes—an overly costly proposition. Ample is focusing on modules with the intent of mitigating these challenges to unlock swapping.
If swapping is the key, it could be disruptive to the EV industry. Beyond the obvious advantage swapping provides in reduced downtime and efficiency, swapping can also:
- Be deployed quickly, take up less space, and require fewer demands of utilities for distribution upgrades.
- Increase flexibility of EV electricity demands for grid services or renewables integration.
- Mitigate battery life anxieties in the resale market.
- Allow EVs to increase range over time with use of newer batteries.
The advantages mean EVs could present customers with no sacrifices on vehicle downtime, cheaper vehicles, infrastructure, and energy costs, and lower emissions—not in the distant future, but soon. This could be big.