Factbox: Swapping electric car batteries since the golden age

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March 25 (Reuters) – Battery swapping – replacing a dead battery with a freshly charged one – is nothing new: Early experiments with battery swapping in electric cars date back to America’s golden age in the late 1890s, according to industrial historian David A. Kirsch.

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

1896: Automotive pioneers consider swapping dead batteries for new ones as a way to extend the range of the first rudimentary electric vehicles, from streetcars to delivery trucks.

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1912: General Electric Co (GE.N) teams up with local partners in Connecticut to launch a “battery service” that allows owners of electric vehicles to swap batteries for a modest monthly fee and variable charge per kilometer. Other similar services are emerging in major cities. Semi-mechanized interchanges take only three minutes at some stations. And by separating the battery from the vehicle, the service can reduce the initial cost by a third or more.

1924: General Electric’s GeVeCo battery service is discontinued. Declining demand for electric vehicles and lack of interest in industry-wide battery standardization has stalled the development of electric vehicle battery trading for more than 80 years.

2007: The Silicon Valley start-up Better Place develops a “battery switching” process and signs Renault-Nissan (RENA.PA), (7201.T) for pilot projects in several countries.

2008: The Beijing Olympic Games present a fleet of 50 electric buses equipped with interchangeable batteries. China’s Wanxiang demonstrates an electric bus with interchangeable batteries at the Games.

2010: Better Place is invited to meet officials from the state-owned China Grid (STGRD.UL) to discuss battery swapping. China Grid ends talks without agreement.

2013: The same issues that helped kill the GeVeCo service decades earlier, including lack of interest from consumers and automakers, catch up with Better Place. After raising – and burning – more than $600 million in investor money in just six years, the company is filing for bankruptcy.

2013: Tesla (TSLA.O) offers a limited battery swap service for the new Model S, which was designed from the ground up to accommodate swappable batteries. The trading process was arduous (“a pain in the ass,” recalls a former Tesla executive) and the pilot program was quietly withdrawn in 2015. Tesla CEO Elon Musk ordered his team to focus instead on the construction of a proprietary network of charging stations called “superchargers”.

2014: Nio is established in China, with satellite operations in the United States and Europe. In 2017, it announced a plan to offer customers the option of swappable batteries, a service it began in 2018.

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Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Nick Carey in London; Assembly Pravin Char

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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