On the sidelines of his test of the Chinese electric SUV Nio ES8, Maxime Fontanier wanted to find out how the battery exchange takes place in a station opened at the start of the year by the manufacturer in Norway.
Already in France in the 1990s
If the battery swap was put on the front of the stage ten years ago by Better Place, with a resounding flop in the end, the idea was already in the air long before in France.
Former president of Mobil’Eco, and engineer in the service of the Bordeaux urban community’s vehicle fleet, Christian Lucas confided to me at the time that he had worked on electrostations to operate 20-tonne electric trucks in 2 x 8 hours.
In 5 minutes, the 2 lead packs, which had become low in energy, and each weighing 2,250 kg, were replaced by previously reloaded units. To demonstrate all the usefulness of this technology, one of these heavy goods vehicles, ballasted with its logistics weighing 16 tonnes, traveled 951 km in less than a day. It was September 30, 1997.
With 4 colleagues as passionate as him, he adapted this infrastructure, which has become transportable, to a small fleet of 3 Volta light utility vehicles. Without continuation.
AP exclusive test – Nio ES8: the Chinese Tesla Model X
From Better Place to Nio’s Power Swap Station
About fifteen years later, Renault joined forces with Better Place to develop a network of battery exchange stations in Israel, with an extension envisaged in other countries. The role of the French manufacturer was mainly to provide a compatible electric car.
Belonging to the ZE family which also gave birth to the Zoé, the Twizy and a few trendy utility vehicles, the Fluence sedan has been adapted. Under the name ” Quik Drop “, the system consisted of a robotic arm which recovered the discharged pack and went up in its place a battery full of energy. The vehicle had to be placed at a specific location on a sheltered platform. With the demonstrator presented in 2009 in Japan, the operation took barely 2 minutes.
Broadly speaking, the solution developed by Nio is very similar. With, however, a major difference: the brand’s Chinese cars position themselves entirely autonomously in the Power Swap Station and come out of it the same way. As we can observe in the video shot by Maxime Fontanier.
Big success in China
If the failure of the Better Place program then convinced many automotive professionals and French electromobilists and elsewhere that the exchange of batteries is a dead end, in China, it is quite different. The government is encouraging brands of electric cars and trucks to get started.
The country’s taxi drivers favor a system that saves them a lot of time, compared to a traditional recharge. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is pursuing a pilot project to expand battery exchange in the vast territory until 2035.
The challenge is no longer so much adopting the swap of packs as harmonizing the systems already in place. Nio participates in the national plan which provides for the installation of more than 1,000 new dedicated stations. At the end of last year, there were already as many, visited by 150,000 vehicles of 200 different models.
Up to 312 trades per day
It was in May 2018 that Nio inaugurated in Shenzhen, in the Chinese district of Nanchang, its first fully automated station to exchange the batteries of the ES8, an electric SUV that Maxime Fontanier has just tested in Oslo. At the beginning of 2021, the manufacturer presented its Power Swap Station 2.0.
It is a copy of this new generation of infrastructure that we discovered in Norway. It is the first in the country, and therefore in Europe. It was officially put into service near Drammen, about forty kilometers from Oslo, last January.
Of its 14 slots, 13 accommodate batteries that are full or being recharged, recovered from previous exchanges. The fourteenth is used to receive the pack of the compatible electric car that comes on the platform. With a 24/7 opening, it would be possible, according to the Chinese manufacturer, to replace up to 312 packs per day and per establishment. That is a little less than 5 minutes per operation.
At the end of last June, Nio had 1,000 exchange stations in its network, including 250 new ones since the beginning of this year 2022. They have recorded more than 10 million cumulative swaps to date.
20 stations in Norway by the end of 2022
Visited by our video journalist, this station near Drammen, more specifically located in Lier, currently has restricted hours: 7 am to 10 pm. In this case, maintaining the same pace, it could accommodate up to 195 Nio electric cars per day during opening hours.
After the start-up phase, which requires the presence of a technician to initiate recharging and control operations, the site will be accessible 24/7. ” In one or two months, this station should be completely autonomous confirms Maxime Fontanier. At the start of the year, the manufacturer announced the opening of around twenty of these stations in Norway by the end of the year.
The images collected by the man in the cap show that, at first, the ES8’s body is raised. All 4 wheels, however, stay on the ground thanks to the long-travel air suspension. About 2 minutes and 40 seconds after the start of the process, the 100 kWh pack of the ES8 is deposited.
The electric SUV returned to a lower position, and the two flaps of the exchange platform closed. Quickly behind, the machine is raised again and the hatch opens. A specific fastening system guarantees the correct fixing of the interchangeable packs. The vehicle is ready to go again after 4 minutes and 23 seconds.
After a Tesla Model X
The couple interviewed by Maxime Fontanier at the Lier station owned a Tesla Model X for 5 years before being tempted by its Chinese competitor Nio ES8 in October 2021. I love this car! “, dropped the driver. ” More than 20,000 km already on the clock », et « no problem “, he reported. Criticisms of his new machine compared to his previous American SUV? ” None ! ».
With the amount received for the sale of his Model X, he was able to buy a new Nio ES8. However, he chose to rent the battery, encouraged by the brand. This offer called ” Battery as a Service can reduce the bill by approximately 17.5%, or around 20,000 euros for the Norwegian interviewed who chose the 100 kWh pack.
On the other hand, he pays almost 200 euros in rent. This amount includes 6 battery exchanges and 600 kWh of charging at the DC Nio fast terminals each month.
During his test, our specialist journalist observed an average range of around 430 km with the 100 kWh battery. The monthly credit of 1,200 kWh (6 swaps + 6 recharges) would translate into more than 5,000 km in the combined cycle. That’s more than enough for Tomasz and his wife, who plan to cover at most 40,000 km per year with their ES8.
120 kW charging power
The Norwegian electromobilist estimates the maximum charging power of his Chinese SUV at 120 kW. But with a curve that holds the high values longer than on its old Tesla Model X. In the end, even with a higher flow for the American SUV, over a relatively short period, however, “ charging time is similar “, he estimated.
And you, dear readers, what do you think of the exchange of batteries, which Nio promises will be extended to other European countries in the near future?
We invite you to find our electric car tests on YouTube. By subscribing and agreeing to receive notifications, you will be quickly notified of our new publications.