This week, I looked at battery swap technology for TechNode’s Drive I/O newsletter. Two Chinese electric vehicle (EV) companies, Nio and BAIC, are betting big on cars with batteries you can change instead of charging. It’s an ambitious idea—it could solve some of the EV industry’s biggest problems, but there’s no guarantee it’ll work in the market.
READ MORE: Drive I/O | Big bets on battery swap
I wanted to know what drivers think of battery swap, so I visited a Nio swap station in the west Shanghai. As you can see in our video below, the swap process is pretty fast—a little more involved than refuelling a gas car, but faster than changing a tire at the mechanic.
The Chinese Tesla challenger has seen some initial success, completing over 800,000 battery swaps with a nationwide chain of 143 service stations for car owners. The company recently doubled down, establishing a RMB 800 million ($117 million) battery asset management joint venture with several partners, reported SCMP, and plans to build 50 more swap stations next year.
Located in an understated residential area in west Shanghai, the swap station is far less flashy than you would expect.
The facility doesn’t look new and shiny, unlike some of Tesla’s spacious supercharging stations in China’s first-tier cities, but it seems to get the job done. We saw five Nio vehicles pull into the station during our 40-minute stay. Here’s what we found out while we were there.
We spoke to three Nio owners, and all said they own more than one car. All three said they usually drive their ES6 crossovers for daily use.
- Frequency: Mr. Bai, who has been a Nio owner for under a month, has exchanged batteries five times.
- Mr. Xie, an ES6 owner since January, uses the vehicle for his daily commute. He typically swaps batteries six to seven times each month.
- Mr. Ji, an ES6 driver since 2019 and a businessman with frequent road trips to nearby cities, comes to battery swap stations about ten times each month.
- Why swap? Both Xie and Ji said their residential parking spaces have home chargers, but Nio’s battery swap stations are easily accessible to them for daily commutes. Money is another major reason: Xie told TechNode that Nio’s free swap service saves him more than RMB 10,000 in electricity fees each year.
- Bai, however, is among thousands of EV owners in China who don’t have a fixed parking space or fixed charging pile in their residential car parks. He said he chose Nio over other EV brands largely due to its recharging services. The Nio battery swap station is only around 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) from his home.
- How about experience? All the three customers spoke highly of the availability and efficiency of Nio’s free-of-charge battery swap services, saying that the facilities meet their daily needs.
- Still, two customers mentioned that they sometimes have to wait in lines for up to 20 minutes during evening peak hours, as more Nio EVs are on the roads. Nevertheless, they think the delay is acceptable, since the driver remains in their vehicle before getting out to have the battery swapped.