Swapping EV Batteries Since the Gilded Age


Battery swapping – replacing a depleted battery with a freshly charged one – is not new. Here is a timeline of key events in the development of battery swapping


Battery swapping – replacing a depleted battery with a freshly charged one – is not new: The first experiments with exchanging batteries in electric vehicles (EVs) date to the late 1890s, according to industrial historian David A Kirsch.

Here is a timeline of key events in the development of battery swapping:

1896: Auto pioneers consider the exchange of depleted batteries with fresh ones as a way to extend the operating range of early rudimentary EVs, from streetcars to delivery trucks.

1912: General Electric launches a “battery service” that enables EV owners to swap batteries for a modest monthly fee and a variable per-mile charge. Other similar services spring up in large cities. Semi-mechanised swaps take as little as three minutes at some stations. And by separating the battery from the vehicle, the service helps lower the initial cost by a third or more.

1924: General Electric’s GeVeCo battery service is discontinued. Waning demand for EVs and the lack of interest in industry-wide battery standardisation stall further development of battery swapping for more than 80 years.

2007: Silicon Valley startup Better Place develops a “battery switching” process and signs up Renault-Nissan for pilot projects in several countries.

2008: The Beijing Olympics showcase a fleet of 50 electric buses featuring swappable batteries. China’s Wanxiang demonstrates an electric bus with swappable batteries at the Games.

2010: Better Place is invited to meet with officials of the state-owned China Grid to discuss battery swapping. China Grid ends the talks without a deal.

2013: The same issues that helped kill the decades-earlier GeVeCo service, notably lack of interest by consumers and vehicle manufacturers, catch up to Better Place. After raising – and burning through – more than $600 million in investors’ money in just six years, the company files for bankruptcy.

2013: Tesla offers a limited battery swap service for the new Model S, which was designed from the start to accommodate swappable batteries. The swapping process is arduous (“a pain in the ass,” a former Tesla executive said) and the pilot programme is quietly retired in 2015. Tesla CEO Elon Musk orders his team instead to turn its attention to building out a proprietary network of charging stations called “superchargers.”

2014: Nio is established in China, with satellite operations in the US and Europe. In 2017, it announces a plan to offer customers the option of swappable batteries, a service that it begins in 2018.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.