Ample Launches Battery Swapping Program Targeting Uber Drivers to Promote EV Adoption
San Francisco-based start-up Ample opened its first batch of EV battery swapping stations in California specifically targeting Uber drivers
As we’ve written previously, one of the key deterrents to wider electric vehicle (EVs) adoption among NYC TLC drivers and fleets is the lack of charging infrastructure, specifically fast chargers. Given many NYC drivers don’t have access to an overnight covered parking garage with a charger and can use their cars for up to 12 hours a day there is a legitimate ‘range anxiety’ concern (i.e. lucrative long distance trip towards the end of a shift or need to charge quickly in the middle of the day).
Ample, a San Francisco-based startup, is attempting to provide a solution for this issue through offering a battery swapping service. The idea is simple enough, when a vehicle’s range is running low, a driver goes to a battery swapping station and, similar to entering an automated car wash, machines lift up the car and swap out the old battery with a fully charged one. The driver can wait in a lounge or in the car and the whole process takes 5 to 10 minutes. Pretty cool right! In fact, Chinese EV manufacturer Nio has been actively building and using swapping stations in China for its cars so the concept has recent precedent. The business model is simple, they charge drivers to rent a battery (i.e. battery-as-a-service business model).
Not A New Concept
The battery swapping concept is not new (outside of the Nio example). In fact, Tesla famously launched a swapping service in 2013 to much fanfare, but ultimately closed it down citing lack of consumer demand and focused on building out a Supercharger network. However, there are reports that indicate Tesla maybe exploring the idea again (see video below). Another company that tried to make battery swapping ubiquitous was Better Place, which raised $850 million in funding before shutting down.
This Time Maybe Different
In the CNBC article that covered Ample’s new service, I found reason to be more optimistic about battery swapping vs. the past, especially as it relates to commercial fleet and rideshare use cases. While charging technology is set to improve over time where a vehicle can go from low charge to 80% in 15 minutes, battery swapping is solving another issue for commercial fleets and rideshare drivers - battery degradation and (some) technological obsolescence concerns. What do I mean by that? While it is likely true the overall cost of maintaining an EV should be cheaper than a gas equivalent car, replacing a degraded battery (i.e. battery has 70-80% range of what is had when it was new) is expensive. In addition, having the ability to upgrade your battery (i.e. hardware) helps ease technological obsolescence concerns that I had mentioned in a previous newsletter on EVs.
“Today, a Tesla Model 3 may get 350 miles of range and take 20 minutes to charge (DC), but in 4 years time the 2025 Model 3 may be able to get 600 miles of range and charge in 5 minutes (solid state battery). While, over-the-air updates can help improve older tech, it is likely reasonable to assume there are certain hardware upgrades that would effectively make older models technologically obsolete with time. The reason this is a very different and an important consideration as it relates to EVs, is the initial cost of the technology product that becomes obsolete. Most people really didn’t feel the impact of their DVD player or iPhone becoming obsolete because the financial impact was relatively minimal. A $45,000 vehicle becoming obsolete in 4 years will have a significant financial impact for most, including drivers and fleets.’ - Auto Marketplace NYC, January 20th, 2021
Something To Track
Ample currently operates five battery swap stations in the San Francisco Bay-area specifically for Uber drivers. Currently, the Nissan Leaf and some Kia EVs are supported with the goal of adding more makes and models with time. All five stations are able to service 90 cars per day, which does raise scalability concerns (i.e. over 100,000 for-hire vehicles, taxis, etc in NYC). Other concerns with the technology relate to dealing with the dirt and grime from that may enter car from the road after swapping a battery multiple times. As with any relatively new concept nothing is a sure thing, but I think even skeptics will agree the battery swapping experiment is something worth tracking.
“We’re making a major transition, a third of human consumption of energy is moving from one form to another. And any time we make that kind of change, we have to step back and rethink things.” - Ample, Founder & CEO Khaled Hassounah
Auto Marketplace NYC Newsletter is written by Dawood Mian, Founder & CEO of Auto Marketplace NYC. He covers the NYC for-hire transportation industry and related news. Search Auto Marketplace NYC for cars, parts, tires, technicians, body shops, reviews & more. Find great deals at TLCMKT.COM (new site AutoMarketplace.io to be launched soon, sign-up to the newsletter if you are interested to learn more ahead of launch)