One of the things that sets NIO, a Chinese maker of electric automobiles, apart is its focus on battery swapping technology. Drive in to one its 136 automated swap stations along many of China’s busiest highways with a depleted battery and drive out a few minutes later with a full charged battery ready to complete your journey.
Battery swapping was hailed as the future of EVs a decade ago. Tesla dabbled with the idea early on, but abandoned it in favor of building out its Supercharger network. Tesla owners weren’t all that excited about the process and Tesla closed its one battery swap station at Harris Ranch on the highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles after a brief trial.
Even though the process only took 90 seconds, Elon Musk said at a shareholders meeting in 2015, “We’ve invited all the Model S owners in the area to try it out, and of the first round of 200 invitations, only four or five people were interested. Clearly it’s not very popular.”
There seems to be more interest among NIO owners in China. This month, NIO Power, the subsidiary that operates the battery swapping stations, completed its 500,000th swap. What makes the idea so appealing? NIO Power focuses on what it calls its “chargeable, swappable, upgradable” user experience.
Not only do drivers get a fully charged battery, they also get a complimentary inspection of their car’s electric powertrain. Battery swapping also means customers always have the latest battery technology available to them and they can choose to upgrade to a larger, more powerful battery at any time. Drive in, drive out. Easy!
The battery swapping service is eligible for subsidies from the Chinese government through the end of 2022. As 0f May 20, NIO Power has constructed 136 battery swapping stations in and around 58 Chinese cities.
Like most car companies today, NIO is suffering from the production shutdowns caused by the coronavirus. But it feels it has turned a corner and expects to deliver 10,000 new cars to customers in the 2nd quarter. It reported a loss for Q1 but even here, the news is better than might otherwise be expected. The company says in a recent press release its Q1 loss was 44% smaller than in Q1 of last year.
NIO has serious competition from the likes of Tesla, BYD, BAIC, JAC, and other China based manufacturers, but it is holding its own in difficult times. It enjoys significant backing from the Chinese government, which will help it weather the coronavirus crisis and the ever shifting sands of official government policy.
Note: The author owns shares in NIO.