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The 90-Second Tesla Battery Swap: Misleading and Far From ‘Magic’

The numbers behind Tesla's newest marketing ploy are deceptive. Lithium-ion batteries are also not very "green."

by
Becky Graebner

Bio

June 27, 2013 - 12:00 pm
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Not so fast, Tesla.

In an attempt to woo potential customers, Tesla is pulling out the stops. Earlier this month they released plans to beef up their supercharger network. Last week, Tesla unveiled its newest gimmick to get people into its electric cars: 90 second battery swaps.

Tesla is attempting to outmaneuver gas-powered cars and their fuel fill-ups via the release of a video pitting the new “battery swap” against a “gasoline fill up.” This video shows a Tesla employee filling up a car at the gas pump — while an automated machine swaps two batteries out of two different Tesla Model S’s in the same amount of time.

Problem #1, what some of these subsequent reports on the “battery swap” miracle won’t tell you or, what people don’t realize,  is that the car used for the “gasoline” part of the race is an Audi A8 — which has an unusually large gas tank of 23.8 gallons. That’s the same fuel-tank capacity as the Hummer H3. Yeah, not really a fair fight.

Most gas tanks for a mid-size sedan are around 15-17 gallons. (The Toyota Camry is on the high end with a 17 gallon capacity tank.)

Problem #2, the cost to swap the battery will be around $50. This price looks awfully nice compared to the $99.83 price tag to fill up the tank-like Audi A8. They also did this race at a Los Angeles gas station… Oh, and the Audi takes Premium gasoline — further inflating the cost difference in this comparison.

An Exxon station two blocks from the D.C. Capitol (2nd St NE and Mass Ave) is currently selling premium gas for $4.59/gal. In a Toyota Camry with a 17 gallon gas tank, a COMPLETE fill up with Premium would be $78.03. Also, Camrys don’t take Premium like the Audi A8 — they’re fine with regular.

Let’s try a gas station in my hometown for giggles. To fill up a Camry with Premium gasoline would cost $65.79. If the driver were to use regular, like they should, the price would be $60.69.

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All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
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I'm not really seeing any "hate-on" against electric cars here, just the statement of a few highly inconvenient and contrary facts Tesla rather preferred not to mention in their demonstration video. Being able to swap batteries in jig time is all well and good, but it does come with several rather large hidden costs, as Graebner points out.

One thing I can say for Tesla is that their electric cars are indeed a vast improvement over previous efforts, which produced inefficient cars requiring proprietary energy converters for charging. Tesla's batteries are augmented versions of the batteries used in laptops, and as such chargeable with regular home current (though they do take a lot of time to charge that way; hence the need for swapping).

Still, this vast improvement over previous e-cars is nowhere near being credible competition to the gasoline-powered cars currently on the market. Even leaving aside the hidden costs in swapping fees and federal subsidies, consider the price of the car itself: according to Tesla Motors' website, the starting price for the least expensive version of the Model S (the 60 kWH version, after a $7,500 federal tax credit) is $62,400. As for options and accessories, well, you can price them for yourself; here are all the specs on Tesla Motors' website:

http://www.teslamotors.com/models/options

Now I know some people can afford to pay that much for a car; I regularly see these fat cats in their gleaming SUVs and luxury sedans when I'm navigating the freeway in my boring old 2007 Honda Civic for which, by the way, I traded in the 1992 Honda Accord I had previously been driving. Were I in the market for a new car, and if I decided to trade my Civic in for a new Accord, Honda's website informs me the starting price on its least expensive 2013 Accord (the LX) would be $21,680:

http://automobiles.honda.com/accord-sedan/

Now I'll concede that a Tesla 60 kWH Model S would probably have a smoother and quieter ride than a Honda Accord LX. As in the demo, swapping the battery in the Tesla would probably take a lot less time than filling up the gas tank in the Honda. Also, owning a Tesla would probably be a lot more prestigious than owning a Honda. I'll readily concede Tesla has all of these advantages.

Set against all of these advantages, however, is the overriding liability of the "sticker shock" that I and every other potential car buyer will experience. Where I live, even the Honda Accord's $21,680 price tag seems a bit too much to pay for most people; that's why we're mostly driving Honda Civics and the like instead. As for the Tesla, even presuming that the 60 kWH Model S will last for all 8 years of its battery warranty, it had better be offering at least $40,720 in savings in fuel or maintenance or *something* in comparison to those gas-guzzling Accords over the long term, because otherwise no demonstration video, however slickly produced, is going to convince me or much of anyone else to pay *that* much for a car.

I'm all in favor of electric cars, and hope to see an affordable model developed very soon. We drivers could certainly use some economic relief in these gloomy times, and it would be nice to fuel our cars with coal or natural gas or anything that doesn't make Islamic-terrorist-sponsoring rogue states filthy rich at America's expense. Unfortunately, for the time being, Tesla is just not that affordable to the vast majority of us.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Still, this vast improvement over previous e-cars is nowhere near being credible competition to the gasoline-powered cars currently on the market
Thank you. Electric cars will be competitive with gasoline-powered ones when a fuel cell(s) is developed that can provide the amount of juice as these GIGANTIC batteries while at the same time providing an adequate (200-250 mile) range and power as a decent gasoline-powered car. Until then, they're more like the Space Shuttle than Musk's (the Tesla guy) excellent SpaceX launch vehicle.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What is it with the hate-on some people have for electric cars? I suspect is is just because Obama is in favor of them. These arguments are so weak I wonder why the writer bothered. I got my Tesla about three weeks ago. It is the best car I have ever driven. I don't look at the gas prices any more when I go past filling stations. I don't have any range anxiety even though I have already put 1000 miles on it. I will never have to get an oil change, add rad fluid, replace a muffler, or have a belt snap on me during a cold winter day. No, these cars are not as green as some advocates make out, but they are much greener than what we have been driving all these years. Whether or not you buy into global warming, the air in our cities is putrid and anything that can help to clean it up cannot be the bad thing Fox News makes it out to be.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm actually quite excited about the promise of of electric cars, but I think lying about their capabilities is just bad business (although the thought of some green-weenie leftist (i.e. Tesla's customer base) getting bamboozled is quite satisfying).

I think anybody that buys one of these expecting it to be as capable and convenient as a gas car will be massively disappointed. Massively disappointed customers are not good for a business's future. But since leftists know nothing about business (it's beneath them) they largely don't care.

I also look forward to the massive black market in stolen Tesla batteries. I read an article on GreenCarReports.com estimating the cost of the 300 mile battery (before subsidies) to be over $42,000. If people are stealing $5 manhole covers, how attractive will things worth thousand$ and can be gone in 60 seconds be to thieves?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How are they lying about it's capabilities? Also, most of Tesla's customer base is not leftist.

And on the topic of convenience, the Tesla Model S is more convenient then a gasoline car, but it is a different kind of convenience. Like all things there are advantages and disadvantages. If your thinking that an electric car is going to be like a gasoline car, then no it isn't. But if you think that an electric car is less convenient, that is hardly the case. But like all things, it depends on your lifestyle. Tesla is actually very upfront about their capabilities, this is one of the reasons they don't want to use a dealer network. They don't want to trick people into buying a car like dealers do. They want people to buy one because they like it, and that is the point of the Tesla showrooms, to educate the difference. Once people realize how electric cars work, they never want to go back to gasoline because it is more convenient.

As far as stealing the battery goes. Why not just steal the entire car? You do realize how heavy the batteries are right? And in terms of cost, GreenCarReports has no clue how much it costs just like everyone else.




1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited about electric cars and will seriously consider one for my next purchase (in 3 years or so). But I've seen nothing to show that the Tesla S will be different from every other EV in the most important respect - it will still have to be plugged in at every reasonable opportunity.

Average American drivers are used to filling their tank and then driving without the slightest thought towards re-fueling until the gauge says "E". To be truly usable as a DAILY DRIVER the Tesla will still have to be plugged-in at most every opportune moment. That means finding a plug-in when you are shopping, at dinner or at work, pretty much every time you make a lengthy stop. Fill-ups won't be once a week - they'll be 2-3 times a day I see battery swapping as an occasional, almost emergency type of thing. What the video doesn't show is all the hassle you would almost certainly have to go through to get the battery shipped back home. And what do you do when your battery is shipped back home? I'm guessing you have to drive somewhere and get somebody to swap if for you. That's time consuming too. I'm guessing this won't happen on holidays and sunday evenings, so you'll have to wait till monday. That's not convenient.

I have hope that American's experience with the battery management of smart phones will have pre-conditioned them to think about battery management and help the adoption of EV's. I just think it's extremely unwise to not have your buyers fully aware that EV's are still a very different beast.

For now, EV's will sell just fine with the San Fran limousine liberal set, but that's just a niche (a well feather-bedded niche, but a niche nonetheless) but if EV's are going to succeed, they're going to have to get mainstream and compete in the world of Joe six-pack.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Fill ups will depend on your situations. With a range of a Tesla Model S you can go a whole week on 1 fill up in city driving. I see it as a top off once a day. The only time you opportunity charge is if your outside of town. Tesla is also conveniently placing superchargers in malls so you can be fully charged while you shop.

Think about it for a second, with a long range EV you never have to worry about range or hitting that E. Because what happens is every morning you wake up with 100% range. You never have to worry about refilling. Your always topped off EVERY SINGLE DAY. If your too lazy to plug in the car, Bosche offers 96% efficient wireless charging. So you can even be lazy and not plug in and it will recharge wireless.

And yes, battery swaps are more of an emergency thing. Though I see no reason to have the battery shipped to you unless your moving out of town. Because the logical thing to do is deposit your battery at a local supercharger and then pickup your battery on the way back.

You'd be surprised how popular the Tesla Model S is with conservatives and moderates.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The hate-on is because we're being forced to pay for your inferior car. You may never have to get an oil change, but you'll also never be able to take a road trip. You can eat up the countryside. 300 miles at a time.

If there weren't any tax subsidies then nobody would have a problem with electric cars. Of course, your car would cost twice as much.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
First of all, the car is superior to anything you have ever driven, no need to get jealous. Second of all, most people don't drive over 5 hours none stop in their road trips.

Also, the car would not cost 2x more without subsidies, it would cost the same. And if people had problems with the subsidies, they would take it out on the government subsides, not the company and the car. End of the day it is all political jargon.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is a false comparison. First, they should compare the time it takes to achieve equal range on comparable cars. Doesn't take a full tank of gasoline to equal the range of a Tesla Model S. Second, the driver typically doesn't have to wait to start pumping his own gas at an available pump at the gas station, but what are the odds that the driver has to wait for help before the battery swap can begin. It's likely the service technician will waste time trying to sell additional services along with the battery swap, but the gas pump dispenses gasoline after only a brief attempt to sell you a car wash.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are aware that they performed 2 Tesla Model S swaps before the Audi filled up. Not only that, they used the fastest pump in the city,generally the pump would be slower.

Also, there is no service technician, nobody to wait on, the battery swap is done automatically by the same robots that build the car. Did you even watch the video?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Better Place originated the idea of the battery swap, but in their model one doesn't return to "retrieve" their battery because one doesn't own it. But even given BP's more logical model, the company still went into receivership recently.

As to the comparisons provided, the gas alternative still comes out ahead when it comes to range. Consider that a Camry-like mid-range (I don't personally care for Camrys) gets some 30 mpg on the highway, those 17 gallons will carry one some 500 miles. Even the longest range Tesla (costing some $90,000) will only take one some 300 miles as I recall. So, time for yet another swap!

I do find it ironic that as car manufacturers are working to a few pounds here a few more there (like Mazda's SkyActive program), Tesla adds hundreds of pounds in batteries to be lugged around, all in the name of going "green".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Better Place did not originate the idea, the idea predates both Tesla and BP. And BP model is not more logical by any means. The batteries used by BP had 100 miles or less range and you could only use BP chargers to charge (yes you can't even charge at home without using the BP charger). With the Tesla Model S you can charge at any outlet or charger and you get access to unlimited free supercharging for life. The battery swap option is just there for those that need it. 99% of charging will be done at home, Then that remaining 1%, 90% of the charging will be superchargers. So the amount of battery swapping will be limited to only people in a hurry.

As far as comparing a Camry to a Tesla Model S makes no sense. Camry is a budget sedan. Tesla Model S is a luxury large sized sedan (which has enough interior storage space of an SUV).

If you redid the test with a camry though and put in the same miles that you put into the Model S at an average pump. The Tesla Model S would still battery swap faster. The problem is people are making assumptions based on what they hear from 3rd party sources, watch the actual video to understand.

And on the topic of adding pound due to going green. Not exactly. While weight is important it is not the only factor. There are other factors such as aero dynamics and center of gravity. The other car manufacturers are cutting down on weight because with an engine, achieving the center gravity of an EV is impossible, so they go for the next best thing. Just ask any runner what is more important, cutting a few pounds of weight or balance.

And even if you took away the environmental aspects, the Tesla Model S is still the best car in its class. People get too lost in the environmental benefits that they forget that it is only 1 of the many benefits of EVs.

Here is a short list:
1) Exponentially cheaper refueling costs, free supercharger charging.
2) 95% less car maintenance
3) Safety ratings that far surpass even 5 star safety standards (due to no engine you have much less parts and can build crumple zones for maximum safety, also eliminate car fires completely, deaths on the road can be virtually eliminated). The Tesla Model S is also made of the same materials jets are made of.
4) 100% torque
5) Have full mileage available to you every single day and no wasting time going to gas stations every week.


I can go on all day. Obviously like all things, nothing is perfect. But I assure you EVs are not just "green cars". They are superior cars and the future of the car industry. The problem comes in that a lot of the manufacturers make compliance cars out of EVs instead of making good EVs. So you get a bunch of golf carts. The Tesla Model S on the other hand is a beast of its own. There is a reason why consumer reports rated it the best car they every driven and it is winning awards left and right.

There is no words that can explain the Tesla Model S, just test drive one if you get the chance. Only then can you understand. Though I warn you, you might not want to go back.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The battery swap was not magical but it was not misleading. If you watched the video, the gallons are clearly written on the fuel pump. That said, they swapped not 1 but 2 Tesla Model S cars quicker then it took to fuel one Audi A8. They also took the fastest fuel pump in the city for the benchmark. Even if you used a Camry on that pump, the Tesla would have still done it faster. And if you would have used an average gas pump, you would still be able to do 2 Tesla Model S before the camry.

As far as making it a better car for roadtrips, yes and no. Most road trips still revolve around you coming back home, so its not really a problem. The only issue is one way drives. But in terms of cost you just look at it this way, how many stops on that road trip you will decide to eat instead of battery swap? which is 100% free. Then how often do you make road trips? and how often do you charge every day at the garage? The amount saved every day will more then make up for the cost of the battery swaps and shipping if need be.

And from the environmental aspect, green generally does not mean completely pollution free, it means to be less polluting then standard. Even if you took the same oil and burned it for electricity, it would still pollute less then using it in an engine.

The concerns of the lithium batteries has to do with processing of the batteries in manufacturing. As long as the people manufacturing the batteries are properly equipped, there is no issue. In Tesla's case, the batteries are made by Panasonic in their new factory in japan.(where regulations on these kind of things are very high)

As far as saving electricity by turning off power for 1 hour, yes but as I mentioned above, your still saving energy when using an EV over a gasoline car. Saving electricity meant turning off the lights, but if you then took out an oil based lamps and started burning oil that kind of defeats the purpose of turning off the lights for an hour. It is kind of like being on a diet by eating less but end up eating fried butter the few times you do eat.

End of the day, in comparison to gasoline, EVs are much more efficient. And as the grid becomes cleaner as it does every year, the efficiency keeps going up.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If a battery weighs half a ton, then the electric car has a very long way to go before it can really be as user-friendly or as efficient as a gasoline-powered car. While car engines are very heavy, none of them weigh 1,000 lbs. The Canadian strongman Arhtur Dandurand could get a 1930's type Ford engine up onto his shoulder, but only a full-grown silverback male gorilla could do the same with a Tesla battery.

Also, there's the absurdity of spending $75K for a "luxury" electric car. Let me repeat that again for effect: A "luxury electric car." Only with huge cronyism-driven subsidies can you do something as ludicrous as create a luxury model of a new type of automobile that should be aiming for a broader market.

To add insult to injury, the Tesla can only be afforded by the affluent, at a minimum, and yet the taxpayer is refunding that new Tesla owner $7,500 to $10,000. This is a travesty.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ah, things don't work that way. While weight is important, it is not the only thing that is important. More important is efficiency and unfortunately gasoline cars can never be as efficient as using an EV (due to limitations of the engine). Then there are other factors such as center of gravity and the likes. The motor in an EV reaches over 90% efficiency, in comparison the efficiency of a gasoline engine is like 18%. That means 82% of the power in the gasoline is wasted.

As far as the price goes, it has to do with economies of scale. Tesla can only make so many cars and the demand is larger then they can produce. So right now they are building luxury cars due to luxury cars having larger profit margins. Keep in mind Tesla is a start up and needs to build capital and improve their manufacturing process and get better bulk discounts.

Telsa has on track a Gen III sedan and SUV that will cost 35k and will come out 2016-2017. So they are aiming for a broader market, but like computers and cellphones things start out expensive and the price drops with economies of scale. Tesla's main goal is to make an every day affordable EV.

Also, its 7.5k-15k depending on state(only 6 states are over 7.5k though) and its not a tax refund, its a non-refundable tax credit. Which means you pay less taxes, no refunds are given. Also, the tax credit is not limited to luxury EVs, all EVs with a large enough battery qualify.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If you don't think weight matters, put ten tons of rocks in your trunk and get back to me on that.

Tesla is only in the black because of taxpayer credits, it doesn't scale - except negatively.

While you're right that gasoline engines waste 60-80% of their energy and stationary power plants are in the 90% range, every study shows that the efficiency of generating power 500 miles away, transmitting it, charging a battery, and running the (too heavy) car is less efficient yet.

ON THE OTHER HAND the battery swap idea isn't so bad, though I don't really understand the details. Say I want to drive 1,000 miles each way and have to swap batteries every 200 miles (and can recharge at the destination). Can't I swap them four times going up, and then return them all home coming back? That is, can I lend out the battery I have "borrowed"?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Never said weight doesn't matter. Your trying to justify a view using extremes when the extremes rarely have anything to do with it. All I am saying is balance is more important then weight, but like all things there is diminishing returns.

Actually, ZEV credits are not taxpayer credits, ZEV credits are bought by auto manufacturers, not tax paying citizens. That said, Tesla has no plans on relying on ZEV credits, they were able to post positive results earlier then they expected due to them, but they have no significance on their road map. Their goal is to increase gross profit margins with economies of scale and becoming more efficient. For reference, ZEV credits cost 25k per car in 2012Q4, in 2013Q1 ZEV credits were worth 14k. Even with the sudden drop in ZEV credit value, Tesla was able to increase their gross profit 2x fold.

As far as efficiency goes, I have no clue what studies you are talking about that show that gasoline cars are more efficient because I have not seen one in existence (And that is saying a lot because I work in the market research field). Effectively it is a myth, there are such claims done by journalists who keep repeating that myth, but such studies that point to that do not exist. EVs are more efficient even if you include transmission loss, charging loss and loss due to weight.

And the answer to your question: You can pick up batteries and return them to any supercharger, even if you chose a different path for your way back, as long as you pick up your original battery your fine. To note, your not using other people's batteries. These batteries are loaner batteries so you can return them anywhere. And your original battery will be waiting for you unused by anyone else.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wow, Weapon, if what you argue about ZEV's is true they should be able to thrive just fine without taxpayer's support! Let's get them offf the dole!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Verboten, the ZEV credits though is priced at market value. By end of this year, the credits will become worthless until at least 2017.

That said, what kind of tax payer support are you talking about in particular?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
what kind of tax payer support are you talking about in particular?
Uh, the stimulus funds that Tesla has been receiving to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars? You knew about that, right?

Right?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You mean the 465 million dollar loan Tesla got and paid back 9 years early with interest earning Tax payers millions in profit?

You knew that right? right?
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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