China is pushing hard for swappable batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) as a supplement to regular vehicle charging, with the government throwing its weight behind several companies advancing the technology.
Four companies – automakers Nio and Geely, battery swap developer Aulton and state-owned oil producer Sinopec – say they plan to establish a total of 24,000 swap stations across the country by 2025, up from about 1,400 today.
Battery swapping allows drivers to replace depleted packs quickly with fully charged ones, rather than plugging the vehicle into a charging point. Swapping could help mitigate the growing strains placed on power grids as millions of drivers juice up, yet specialists caution it can only take off in a big way if batteries become standardized industry-wide.
If China is successful in making swapping successful on a large scale, though, the shift could undermine the business models of global brands like Tesla, Volkswagen, and General Motors, whose EVs are designed for and powered by their own proprietary batteries and, in Tesla’s case, its own charging network.
Even slight changes of fortune in the country can have significant consequences for these carmakers, whose futures rely on achieving success in the world’s largest car market.
The Chinese swapping plans, announced piecemeal in recent weeks and months but not widely known outside the domestic auto sector, are part of Beijing’s broader plan to make 25% of car sales fully electric by 2025, or more than 6 million passenger vehicles based on current forecasts. Estimates vary widely as to how many will have swappable batteries.