Nio announced on Tuesday that it has begun deploying its latest generation battery swap facilities as part of an aggressive expansion plan to double its recharging network to more than 2,300 swap stations and 24,000 chargers across China this year.

The electric vehicle maker expects its expensive bet on power infrastructure to put it ahead of competitors amid a fierce price war, as most owners are turning to battery swapping as the main solution to refuel their EVs, senior Nio executives told TechNode.

“Many users can never have home chargers in China so they choose our vehicles for the battery swap technology,” senior vice president Shen Fei said on March 23 in Shanghai. “Rather than lowering vehicle prices, we prefer offering users an excellent recharging service and driving experience.”

Grappling with flat sales amid growing pressure from larger rivals, Nio is hoping the battery swapping stations can help achieve its annual delivery goal with greater service capacity. The move could also pave the way for the release of its mainstream sub-brand scheduled for 2024, according to executives.

Third generation swap station

Unlike many of its rivals, Nio has long preferred swapping over charging. Swapping stations give drivers a fully-charged battery pack in a few minutes compared to varying charging wait times, which can range anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. But the former tends to come with a higher price tag to the provider, given the more complex infrastructure and equipment. 

On Tuesday, Nio announced that its third generation power swap station could offer up to 408 swaps per day, an increase of 30% compared with the previous generation. Each swap takes less than five minutes, meaning 20% less time spent for users.

Shen said that 90% of the 1,000 swap stations in the pipeline this year would comprise the latest version, creating the possibility of serving different brands – both those under the Nio umbrella, including the forthcoming Alps sub-brand, and those of other carmakers if compatible. The latest swap facility features the potential to accommodate more vehicle models with wheelbases between 2.8 meters and 3.3 meters, an increase from the upper limit of 3.1 meters of the previous generation.

Meanwhile, Nio is pushing for more hybrid locations that will include a swap facility and a number of charging piles. Such an approach could almost double the service capacity of existing charging stations offered by competitors with a field of the same size and for the same grid capacity, allowing the station to offer both swapping and charging during peak hours and charge batteries for future swaps during off-peak hours, Shen added.

The company did not reveal how much it would cost to manufacture and operate the latest version of its swap station. “The value is more important than its cost,” said Shen.

‘Power swap district’

For some Nio buyers, battery swapping (although a capital-intensive approach) is the reason they choose Nio over other EV brands since many have difficulties installing private chargers.

A Shanghai owner surnamed Dai picked Nio’s ET5 over Xpeng’s G9 late last year after finding he couldn’t set up a home charger in his residential area due to load safety considerations. Citing other reasons, such as vehicle design and customer service, Dai told TechNode he was also impressed by the fact that there are at least two Nio swap stations near his office.

Dai is among the Nio owners living in a so-called “power swap district,” a term coined by the company to describe areas where drivers have a swap facility within three kilometers of their residential or office buildings.

The EV maker said that at least 68% of Nio owners live in a “power swap district,” and the final goal is to push the proportion to 90% across the country. “Some of our users still have places 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from a swap station, and I believe we owe them one,” said Shen.

Nine-year-old Nio expects battery swaps to create a model for its luxury car business and underpin its goal of delivering 250,000 vehicles this year. One of the key focuses in 2023 for Nio will be the expansion of its infrastructure to Chinese lower-tier cities, as long as each city has a base of around 100-200 users, according to Shen.

READ MORE: Nio ramps up charging and battery swap network as execs remain bullish on 2023 growth

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen