After demonstrating the technology over a year ago, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] will finally launch a pilot program in California to test battery pack swapping for its Model S electric sedan. The swapping site will be located at a facility across the street from the Tesla Supercharger fast-charging site in Harris Ranch, California—184 miles south of San Francisco and about 200 miles north of Los Angeles—according to Green Car Reports.
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The first test, which will take place later this month, will involve an unspecified number of Model S owners, who will be invited to take part. Tesla is reportedly still working out the details on which owners will be eligible; the company says the battery swap service will initially be offered by appointment only, for a price that's less than refueling a premium sedan. Based on a 20-gallon gas tank and gas prices of $3 or more per gallon, that could be around $60 or more.
The pilot program will be limited in scope. In a tweet last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said battery swapping would operate in a "limited beta mode," while a Tesla release noted that this is "exploratory technology," which could presumably help the company determine whether to undertake more battery swap programs.
The technology was first demonstrated by Musk at an event held in Southern California in June 2013 where, in typically-flamboyant fashion, he showed two battery packs get swapped in less time than it took to fill the gas tank of a comparable luxury sedan—about 90 second per pack.
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Tesla now says that for this "specific iteration" the swap will take "approximately three minutes"—due to the need to remove the extra under-body shielding subsequently added to protect battery packs from being punctured by road debris.
The company feels it can get the swap time down to one minute with changes to the car and further automation of the process.
Either way, battery swapping offers a much quicker alternative to charging, but it hasn't caught on yet. The only other application of battery swapping for passenger cars thus far was the now-defunct Better Place from Israel, which had more than 20 swap stations operating at its peak.