June 2, 2023
I have heard that the number of swappable battery electric vehicles (EVs) in China has increased recently. This is one of the optimal solutions proposed since the popularization of EVs, and market expectations are quite high.
Traditionally, the long charging time has been cited as one of the main obstacles to the widespread use of EVs. It is said that a fast charge takes 15 to 30 minutes, while a normal charge takes about 10 hours to fully recharge the battery. The theory is that with a fast charge, the car can be recharged during a lunch break, for example, on a day off, and with a normal charge, the car can be recharged at night or during working hours. With future technological advances, charging times will probably be reduced somewhat. But even then, the difference from the few minutes it takes to fill a tank will be huge. It can be stressful to worry about finding a fast-charging station every lunch break, or even when none are available.
However, this charging time problem can be solved immediately with swappable batteries. Changing batteries takes just a few minutes. For drivers, it is as easy as filling up the tank.
As you may have guessed, the cost of producing swappable batteries is high. In addition, the cost of replacing them is also quite high. Swapping stations require extensive systems to remove batteries weighing several hundred kilograms, quickly recharge them, and prepare them for their next use. It would also be necessary to stock large quantities of batteries for the busy season. So, even if the technology for rapid charging advances dramatically, the cost and time involved could make it difficult to scale the swappable battery system. Business is very sensitive, particularly in these areas. Next-generation batteries, such as all-solid-state batteries, and those beyond them, are also being developed every day.
At present, the governments of major countries are providing subsidies and tightening regulations to promote the “gasoline-free car” trend. However, if major countries choose to adopt a free-market approach in the future, a fundamental shift in approach will be necessary if EVs are to replace gasoline-powered cars.
This is easier to understand if you look at the picture of how smartphones displaced flip phones. Smartphones are not a direct transplant of the features of a flip phone onto a flat screen. They have become popular because they are hybrids, combining the features of an older cell phone and a PC into a single device. In fact, smartphones are PCs. It was simply a portable PC with a phone function built in. It was a new combination, a so-called innovation. The flip phone was obviously more functional than a cell phone. But smartphones have evolved rapidly in just a few years. Because as a hybrid product, despite the grandeur of the concept, there was enormous room for technological evolution, and many manufacturers, startups, and researchers around the world entered the race to develop hardware, software, and applications all at once. In my opinion, the race was decided only five years after the smartphone was first introduced. The story of EVs is not as simple as it sounds because of the infrastructure issues involved, but in any case, it will be difficult to completely overturn social norms simply by developing cars in a sustainable way. It would be necessary to come up with unconventional ideas such as attaching car functions to bedrooms, maids, pet dogs, or whatever.
Shu Yasumi, Editor-in-Chief