Swappable batteries in EVs are unlikely, but a breakthrough could be a game-changer

The big picture: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: by hook or by crook, automakers are on track to phase out gas-powered vehicles and replace them with all models of electricity. Arguments abound as to whether or not there is enough raw material to support the transition or whether charging infrastructure can be built in time to support some states’ deadlines for selling zero-emission vehicles. One possible solution to help ease the charging conundrum is swappable batteries but if this is to be achieved it will be a tall order.

In Taiwan where two-wheeled scooters are widespread, the transition is already underway. Gogoro has successfully developed and deployed a network of battery replacement depots that are “as common as gas stations.” The facilities collectively support nearly 400,000 battery swaps per day. According to the Taiwanese government, 12 percent of all scooters sold locally by 2022 will be electric and 90 percent of them will use Gogoro batteries.

Instead of sitting and waiting while their scooters’ batteries are put into a charger, customers can simply replace the battery modules themselves and continue. Think of it like the propane tank exchange centers at your local gas station, except for the batteries.

It seems convenient, but there is a big difference that will probably sideline the concept of swappable batteries in many regions.

The battery systems that power full-size cars and trucks are much larger and heavier than those used in electric scooters. According to CarParts, most EV batteries weigh 1,000 pounds but heavier ones can tip the scales closer to 2,000 pounds. GM’s Hummer EV battery pack weighs nearly 3,000 pounds, which is more than some compact cars.

A service center is required for full-size swaps and it will probably take more time to do the job than you spend hooking up a charger, thus defeating the purpose entirely.

There is also the proprietary nature of car and truck batteries. Companies like GM spent a lot of money to build their Ultium battery platform. Getting automakers to agree on a universal, swappable standard at this stage of the game feels impossible.

Modularity looks great on paper but as we’ve often seen in the tech industry, it rarely translates into the real world. Swappable batteries in full-size vehicles aren’t even worth considering until collapses provide significant size and weight reductions. We have heard about many promising developments in the lab but for now, we are still waiting for a big game changer.

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