Tesla's Battery Charging Vs. Nio's Battery Swapping: What Investors Should Know


The intensifying electric vehicle space has forced industry participants to revamp and innovate on the product pipeline front and also announce superior and user-friendly service offerings.

EV giant Tesla, Inc. TSLA is fighting it out with domestic players in the Chinese EV market, which is expected to see exponential growth in the years ahead.

Tesla's homebred rival NIO Inc. NIO has been on the forefront of innovation on several fronts, and it is among the pioneers of a concept called battery swapping.

A Battery Charging Primer: Charging is key for powering the battery, which is the heart and soul of an EV. Charging of an EV can be done at home — often called Level 1 or Level 2 charging — although it can turn out to be an unviable option for individual users.

Level 3 charging, aka DC fast charging, is done through a 480-volt DC plug. This is being deployed in public or commercial settings and considerably reduces the time required for charging. It is like refueling at a gas station, as an EV owner can initiate charging through an access card given by a network or a smartphone app, with payment linked to a debit or credit card.

Tesla has its own network of charging stations, called Superchargers, that only require plugging in for automatic charging.

A user can monitor the charge status or can receive a notification when the process is complete. In 15 minutes, the charging required for up to 200 miles of driving can be done, according to Tesla's website. The company has more than 20,000 superchargers across the globe.

Tesla's supercharging network in China recently saw an expansion through the opening of the world's largest supercharger stations in Shanghai.

It has about 72 charging stalls, although the power capacity is only 120 kW. Tesla's network in California is armed with the latest V3 250 kW supercharger tech.

Related Link: Nio's European Launch Imminent, With More Details Coming In Early May

Nio's Battery Swapping: The high cost, time and tedium associated with battery replacement and charging drove the innovation that is called battery swapping. In fact, Tesla tried it out in 2013 but eventually gave up on the concept. 

Nio's tryst with battery swapping began in 2014 when it introduced its battery swapping with the Nio Power Grid technology.

The company's power swap technology is enabled by over 1,200 patents, and it takes merely 3 minutes to swap a fully charged battery, Nio said.

The company also says automatic battery and electric system checks are done during each swap to ensure that both vehicle and battery are in the best shape.

Earlier this week, Nio announced a partnership with Chinese oil giant Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical Company Limited SHI for installing its next-gen battery swap station 2.0 at the latter's gas station.

On the fourth-quarter earnings call, Nio's William Li said the company has about 191 swap stations in 76 cities and is targeting a ramp it up to 500 stations in 2021.

Incidentally, Nio is also aggressively expanding its charging network. It has 127 power charging stations and 1,700 destination chargers, which it hopes to increase to 500 and 15,000, respectively, by the end of 2021.

Battery Charging Vs. Battery Swapping: In charging, batteries are purchased outright, while with a swapping arrangement, batteries are leased.

The battery-as-a-service offering Nio announced last year is to complement with its swapping technology.

At the time of the announcement, the company said purchasing with the BaaS option will trim 70,000 yuan or roughly about $10,7000 off the list price of a vehicle.

The main advantage conferred by battery swapping is the lowering of the initial cost of the vehicle, and for the company, it is a strategic option to push sales.

Tesla had become highly critical of battery swap technology in recent times. Battery charging is the future and swapping does not conform with development of the EV market and will be eventually kicked out of the game, Tesla's global VP Li Tao said on her Weibo account.

"We've always believed that the charging model is the best way to replenish energy for large-scale use of civil electric vehicles," Tao said.

Nio's Power Swap Station 2.0 allows users complete a self-service battery swap with only one click while staying in the car, which saves time for users.

Analysts are of the view that high-end services such as one-click charging could make batter swapping a more convenient option for users. However, until swapping is made applicable for a large commercial scale, it is unlikely to emerge as the best option for consumers.

Related Link: Can Tesla And Nio Sustain Recent Bullish Moves?

Photo courtesy of Nio. 

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