SHANGHAI – Battery swap sites are costly to build and operate. Automakers are still wary of battery swapping to charge electric vehicles after Tesla ditched it in the U.S. in 2013.
Yet in China, battery swapping has gained traction with the participation of a diverse range of domestic companies.
Because of varying land prices in Chinese cities, a battery swap station requires an investment of an estimated 3 million yuan ($470,000) to 5 million yuan.
Because of the high costs, most Chinese EV makers have been reluctant to embrace battery swaps.
Until 2019, state-owned BAIC Motor and EV startup Nio were the only two automakers offering battery swap services for customers.
Market dynamics are playing a bigger role. EV sales hit a record 1.11 million in 2020, and surged 280 percent to 615,000 in the first four months of 2021, accounting for 7 percent of China’s new-vehicle deliveries, up from 3.5 percent of all industry volume in 2018
Tesla became the largest EV maker last year shortly after it launched local output. Nio -- which had 117 battery swap stations in operation by the end of 2020, the largest among EV makers in China -- saw sales more than double to nearly 44,000.
Competition from Tesla and Nio’s success in gaining customers with battery swap services have prompted other Chinese EV makers to take bold steps.
In September, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, China’s largest private automaker, unveiled its first battery charging station in the southwest China municipality of Chongqing. The company plans to build 35 such facilities in the city.
While Geely is constructing battery swap stations on its own, other Chinese automakers have opted to build facilities along with domestic companies to share costs.
In September, state-owned Changan Automobile launched its first battery swap station in Chongqing along with a consortium of other major domestic companies.
The partner companies include CATL, China’s largest EV battery maker; Aulton New Energy Vehicle Technology, a Shanghai-based battery swap station operator; and State Grid, a state-owned power grid operator.
In March, SAIC Motor, another major state-owned automaker, also teamed up with Aulton to kick off operation of the first battery swap station for its EVs.
Aiways, an EV startup, tapped Blue Part Smart Energy, an EV charging facility operator under BAIC, in April to offer battery swap services.