Tesla’s Fast Battery Swap Begins Beta Testing in California

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At a Tesla Motors event, visitors can expect a heavy dose of flash to go along with a major announcement. When CEO Elon Musk told the world about the battery swap system that would be quicker than filling up a tank of gasoline, the effect was more than dramatic. Eighteen months later, the electric vehicle maker quietly mentioned it would begin the pilot program for a rapid swap system the days before Christmas. It would make charging times irrelevant for the price of a full tank of gas.

Free or faster

The appeal of the rapid battery swap system is obvious. Rather than waiting 25 to 30 minutes for a Supercharger to juice up the battery of a Model S, robots remove the spent pack and replaces it with a fully charged replacement. In less time than it takes to stop for a fill-up at a gas station, drivers are on their merry, emissions-free way.

Of course, this system comes at the price tag equivalent to a tank of premium gas (originally, $60 to $80, though the cost of gas has since come down). Musk said the system would give Model S drivers the option to choose faster (battery swap for around $60) or free (Supercharger, free in 85 kWh models). Musk made the announcement on Twitter.

Details on the Tesla blog only slightly illuminated what would come the week beginning December 22.

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Swap in “beta mode”

According to the Tesla blog, the pilot program begins at the Supercharger station in Harris Ranch, California (about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles). Model S owners with invitations will be able to make an appointment and try out the service at the cost of “slightly less than a full tank of gasoline for a premium sedan.”

Tesla went far from committing to the battery swap program long-term, instead stressing that the program would “test technology and assess demand” of paid service versus free Supercharger service. While the current method will take about three minutes of a driver’s time, the automaker said the swap would eventually take “less than one minute” of your sweet time.

Considering the hefty price tag of a Tesla, it is difficult to see many Model S drivers foregoing the expense when needing more juice for a road trip. In the future, longer vehicle ranges might make such machines unnecessary, but for now, they will serve the purpose of eliminating lingering range anxiety for prospective buyers.

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