Tesla/Business InsiderTesla owners can already charge their cars for free at any of the company’s many Supercharger locations in the US.
Now, at one experimental station in Harris Ranch, Calif., they can also completely swap out a depleted battery for a fresh one.
Tesla showcased the technology last year, in the process demonstrating that a Tesla battery could be swapped in less time than it takes to gas up an Audi.
It’s impressive, all the more so because battery swapping has been something of a bust in the electric-car startup world. Better Place, the company most closely associated with the technology, went bankrupt in 2013. Tesla, however, has been promoting the concept of battery swapping as an alternative to high-speed charging, which even with Tesla’s Supercharger can take an hour to fully juice up a Model S sedan.
From the Tesla blog:
At least initially, battery swap will be available by appointment and will cost slightly less than a full tank of gasoline for a premium sedan. More time is needed to remove the titanium and hardened aluminium ballistic plates that now shield the battery pack, so the swap process takes approximately three minutes.
With further automation and refinements on the vehicle side, we are confident that the swap time could be reduced to less than one minute, even with shields. Tesla will evaluate relative demand from customers for paid pack swap versus free charging to assess whether it merits the engineering resources and investment necessary for that upgrade.
Battery swapping won’t be free (Tesla estimates that it will be comparable to a fill-up with premium fuel), but it will be fast.
However, Harris Ranch isn’t exactly the most accessible charging location in all the land.
In fact, it’s somewhat strategically located in the middle of nowhere, in an agricultural region between San Francisco and Los Angeles, near a huge cattle ranch. Which has given the area a reputation for a certain… overwhelming fragrance, to put it gently.
The ranch has also been targeted by renegade animal rights advocates and has been derided by critics of the factory model of beef processing.
So why did Tesla choose this place to roll out battery swapping?
Well, it is a pilot program, in Tesla’s description. The company doesn’t want hundreds of Tesla owners showing up en masse to sample the joys of battery swapping.
Tesla also wants to offer swapping as a service on longer journeys. The Harris Ranch Supercharger location is already the only recharging option for literally hundreds of miles on a north-south stretch of Interstate 5.
We asked Tesla about the location — and the smell. The company said that the Harris Ranch Supercharger is very popular with customers (for obvious reasons!) and that the cows don’t appear to be causing anyone to avoid stopping there.
That said, keeping enough extra battery packs around to make this service feasible on a larger scale is probably going to be challenging for Tesla in the short term, so I wouldn’t expect to see swapping coming to locations that aren’t fairly remote any time soon.
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