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


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.


Looking at the numbers, a complete fill up with Regular gas in a mid-size car would cost more than the initial fee for a Tesla battery swap—or would it?

Problem #3, if you swap your battery out, you either need to return and pick it up or pay to have it shipped home. If Musk was trying to make this battery swap a better option for road-trippers, long-distance drivers, or a cheaper alternative, I’m not sure he made it.

If drivers do return to fetch their original battery, they have to pay the service fee again.  Battery swap service fees now exceed the cost of filling-up the gas tank. Bring a C-note.

Shipping the battery back to “the nearest service center to their home” also isn’t a slam dunk.  The battery weighs 1,000 lbs. and I’m fairly certain shipping isn’t free.  It’s a half ton!  I predict that the shipping fee would exceed the cost-gap between the battery swap fee and the price of filling up a 17.0 gallon gas tank on regular gas… this gap is only $10.69. Not hard to beat.

Further, if Tesla owners do decide to ship the battery, what method will be used? Is it going to be driven or flown to its destination? If driven, is it via another EV? If not, the “good” the EV just did was cancelled out. Shipping batteries back and forth via gasoline-powered semi-trucks or airplanes isn’t exactly part of the “green picture.”

In fact, these Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries aren’t exactly green themselves. They are charged via electricity — which is not a magical energy source. Electricity has to come from somewhere; whether it is from nuclear, coal, natural gas, water, or wind.

Does anyone remember the campaigns for “Earth Hour,” where we shut our light off for 1 hour a year, or posters in grade-schools reminding kids to turn off lights so that they don’t waste energy? In case anyone forgot, these campaigns were aimed at saving electricity. These “green cars” run on batteries, charged and recharged, using electricity.

Opponents of the combustion engine will say that Lithium-ion batteries are a step in the right direction while admitting that they aren’t a perfect solution. A study done by the EPA and DOE admitted that lithium-ion batteries have a negative impact on both humans and the environment:

“–the study revealed that batteries using cathodes with nickel and cobalt, as well as solvent-based electrode processing, show the highest potential for certain environmental and health impacts, including resource depletion, global warming, and ecological toxicity.”

It’s not easy being green…