In its quest to steal Tesla’s crown as the leading player in the world’s largest electric car market, luxury electric car maker NIO is betting on a novel technology.
The “Tesla of China” is offering drivers electric cars without a battery, instead allowing customers to rent the equipment as part of its pioneering battery-swap system.
For $145 (£106) per month, NIO drivers can swap their empty batteries for fully charged ones in less than five minutes at one of the company’s 130 battery swap stations in China.
Drivers simply park their vehicle into one of NIO’s stations. The car is then hydraulically hiked off the ground, an automatic trolley appears and undoes the 10 bolts that fasten the battery. The 500kg empty battery is then taken away and replaced with a fully charged one.
A single NIO battery pack, which costs around £10,700, can fit into all of the company’s car models. That means a $52,200 NIO ES6 can be bought for 20pc cheaper without a battery.
Alternatively, most electric vehicles in the UK, Europe and US use either AC charging from a plug-in-the-wall or DC fast charging – a quicker but more expensive form that requires a trip to a specialised station.
NIO is seeing a surge in popularity as a result, with shares rising after reports of hefty back-orders. But is the battery subscription idea too good to be true?
“Battery switch stations are not going to take off because range anxiety is not the real issue here,’ says Simon Tyler, director of Something More Near, a brand strategist house.
Tyler would know, having worked with and witnessed the downfall of Better Place, an Israeli startup that raised more than $200m to build the first battery swap station.
Despite being named by Wired as the “fifth largest startup of all time” and convincing many investors battery swapping was the silver bullet for targeting the masses, Better Place filed for bankruptcy in 2013.