EV battery swapping by Nio and Geely – A silly gimmick or an elegant solution?
Arif · May 22, 2021 09:19 AM
Charging time is a major topic of discussion in the world of EVs. With that, we have seen amazing DC fast charging figures like the Porsche Taycan’s 270 kW DC charging rate and Tesla’s 250 kW DC charging rate that can charge your car in less than an hour.
But instead of increasing charging rates, some manufacturers have chosen to focus on a different type of solution. Why bother with charging fast, if you can just swap out the batteries, like a TV remote? Wouldn’t that be a lot more convenient?
That is exactly the solution that Nio and Geely have come up with. Nio claims to have conducted over 800,000 EV battery swaps to date with about 40% of its customers adopting its new “Battery as a Service” (BaaS) business model.
Geely, on the other hand, has released a video demonstrating its battery-swapping capabilities in September 2020. Although lagging behind Nio in terms of roll out, Geely boasts a battery swapping time of just 1 minute.
The idea of battery swapping for EVs is not entirely new. There have been attempts by Tesla and “Better Place” in the past.
Tesla’s battery swapping didn’t quite catch on with its focus group of 100 people, while “Better Place” was a US battery swapping company (founded in 2007) that operated in Israel, but went defunct in 2013.
It seems then, that China has succeeded in areas that the West hasn’t.
So, is battery swapping a universal solution for the future of EVs?
We don't know for sure, but the best we can do as observers is to list out the pros and cons of this solution.
Pro – It is great for people without home chargers
Not all of us have the luxury of a readily available electric socket at the parking of our residence to “granny charge” our EVs.
Installing a wall box, on the other hand, can be troublesome for those of us living in apartments. The best choice then is to resort to public charging stations. This is a problem that has been mentioned repeatedly by EV vloggers in China.
Although charging stations are increasing in numbers, getting a spot at a public charger can be problematic and queueing for one is a complete waste of time.
Hence, the presence of battery swapping stations makes life a lot easier.
Yes, the battery swapping time is fast (Nio - 3 minutes, Geely - 1 minute), but that’s only one part of the convenience of a swapping station.
What makes the experience even better is that you can check for battery availability at these swapping stations before reserving a swap on your smartphone.
This way, you minimise downtime and the time spent looking for an EV charger.
Pro - It makes EVs cheaper (by almost 25%)
The battery swapping solution is not just about being faster than superchargers. It actually is an entirely new business model. Nio and Geely both call this “Battery as a Service” (BaaS).
Through BaaS, the cost of the battery is removed from the cost of the car, albeit reincarnated in the form of a lease.
Let’s take for example, a Nio ES8 with a 70-kWh battery pack.
After government subsidies, it costs about 453,600 Yuan (RM 291,366). With the battery price taken out, the price goes down to 383,600 Yuan (RM 246,402), about 15% less than its original price.
Nio Price reduction with BaaS
Nio ES8 (70kWh)
Nio ES8 (100 kWh)
Price with BaaS
% reduced with BaaS
The 100-kWh version of the Nio ES8 sees 25% of the price removed, dropping from 508,000 Yuan (RM 326,214) to 380,000 Yuan (RM 244,019) with the BaaS package.
What about the lease?
The 70-kWh battery pack costs you 980 Yuan/month (RM 629/month) while the 100-kWh battery pack will cost you 1,480 Yuan/month (RM 950/month). The leasing program allows you to swap the batteries 6 times in a month.
Nio Battery Leasing
Savings from car price
It seems this separation of cost of the battery from the car will also help to make second-hand Nio EVs more affordable.
Just make sure you pay the lease on time, or the repo men will extract the battery from your car.
Pro – Your EV can be updated or upgraded with better batteries easily
With the swappable architecture of the battery, you can also upgrade from a 70-kWh battery pack to a 100-kWh battery pack at a small cost.
Other than that, as battery technology improves, your car will benefit from it too, as a simple swap is all it needs to get a new battery.
Con- Standardization issue and limitation of design
The situation for Nio owners works well because it works within a closed ecosystem. While Nio’s batteries are the same size regardless of capacity, it still poses a technological challenge for the company.
Also, all Nio cars are designed to accept the same battery pack design to enable the perfect swapping ecosystem.
This does limit the development of future models as a change in the battery pack design will render older models obsolete faster.
And let's not get started on making battery swapping available inter-brand. It is an even tougher task.
Adventurous designs, like Tesla’s structural battery presented during Tesla’s Battery day last year, are also totally out of the picture if we want to make battery swapping possible.
Tesla's structural battery allows for a stronger and lighter car at the cost of a removable battery.
It really is a choice between flexibility and a light & strong chassis. Whether Tesla', Nio', or Geely's solution is the better one is up to debate.
Con – More batteries will need to be made
For a battery swapping system to function well, more batteries will need to be made to be on standby at swapping stations.
It doesn’t seem like a big problem now, but as the number of EVs increase, the supply of EV batteries may not be enough.
And even if there are enough batteries, you can’t guarantee a fully charged replacement is available at all times. You can’t simply walk-in to a battery swapping station and expect a fully charged replacement.
Just watch this video with the Nio EC6 above. Sometimes, you’ll just have to settle with the conventional charging method.
Battery swapping is a simple solution to the problem of slow charging times. While it has not worked in the US, it seems to work for Nio in the Chinese market. Nio and Geely have not ditched the idea of charging.
Battery swapping only serves as an additional method of “refuelling” for Nio and Geely cars. What do you think about battery swapping technology? Is it a good solution or does it just create more problems in the bigger scheme of things?
Previously an engineer in an automotive manufacturing company and a highway concessionaire. A part-time research student on biofuels and diesel engines. Obsessed with vehicle electrification and the future of transportation.