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  • These little robots are actually charging this electric car. They

  • remove the depleted batteries and replace them with new fully

  • charged ones. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. It's

  • called battery swapping. San Francisco-based Ample is

  • bringing the idea to the U.S. The company was in stealth mode

  • for seven years before launching recently with five swapping

  • stations in the Bay Area.

  • The plan is to be available wherever people need a fast

  • charge that's as cheap as gas.

  • The benefits of swapping over charging are numerous. When

  • you're fast charging, you are degrading the battery at a much

  • faster rate than if you slowly trickle charge a battery.

  • The concept is not new. Better Place launched an EV and battery

  • swapping company in Israel, but the company went bankrupt in

  • 2013, even though it had almost $1 billion in funding. And Tesla

  • gave it a try in 2013.

  • Took 90, sort of 90 seconds for a pack swap. So hopefully this

  • is what convinces people finally that electric cars are the

  • future.

  • Battery swapping is already common in China. Electric

  • Vehicle maker Nio plans to double its network of swapping

  • stations to 500 this year, and plans to open battery swapping

  • stations in Norway as part of its expansion into Europe.

  • Geely, another Chinese automaker plans to build 200 swapping

  • stations in China by 2023.

  • Almost every taxi in Beijing that moved to electric is being

  • swapped. So there is a significant swapping happening

  • in China. We just don't know about it here because we haven't

  • yet had the problem of moving a very, very large fleet into

  • electric.

  • But these swapping stations are expensive, and it's unclear

  • whether American car owners would be willing to swap out

  • their EV battery.

  • In America, if we're buying a car dammit, we want to buy the

  • battery that runs it.

  • But Ample has a different approach.

  • We've really taken the EV battery pack and broken it down

  • into much more manageable batteries.

  • But why now? And can battery swapping be a good charging

  • solution here in the U.S.?

  • Nio, Tesla and Better Place all use the same technique. That is

  • removing the entire battery pack and swapping in a new one. The

  • batteries are usually then charged off site, but EV

  • batteries are massive. And this is part of the reason why

  • swapping stations have historically been so expensive.

  • You have challenges there. If you're connecting a 900 pound

  • thing, then you have to have really really robust electrical

  • connectors that can handle a few 100 volts and have some dropped

  • in and out dozens hundreds of times over the lifetime.

  • But Ample is trying a new technique. It is building its

  • own batteries designed in these Lego-like modules that charge

  • right inside the battery swapping station.

  • The main thing that sets Ample apart is that we have a modular

  • battery. With our modular batteries, we can take them out

  • a few at a time and they're very light, they're very easy to

  • maneuver, the station is the size of two parking spots, so it

  • doesn't require a lot of square footage since the batteries can

  • be individually put on a much smaller rack to charge.

  • I think part of thing about the modular batteries is it is

  • largely the ability to fit into different sizes. If it's a big

  • car, you can put in more a small car has less. So it solves a lot

  • more problems than we initially thought about by going through

  • and doing it.

  • We were not allowed to film the proprietary tech inside of the

  • charging station, but we were able to take a peek. Behind this

  • wall there are robots zooming around taking fully charged

  • battery modules off of shelves and then replacing them with

  • depleted batteries from the car. The new batteries are then

  • quickly but carefully screwed back into the car. And within

  • minutes the fully charged card drives out at the station. The

  • station is fully autonomous and the payment is done through the

  • app. Ample's Bay Area stations cost the driver about 10 cents

  • per mile for a swap which is less than gas in the area, but a

  • bit more than traditional charging.

  • The car isn't, you know, perfectly centered where it

  • needs to be, the robots will move it to the right spot. So

  • there's it's very easy for anyone to just drive up and park

  • on the platform.

  • Ample battery stations are designed to be installed quickly

  • along high traffic routes. Former Tesla manager Lindsay

  • Stone is in charge of deployment.

  • We build in our office here, what we call sub assemblies, we

  • build chunks, take them to the site, we create them up, ship

  • them over and then assemble on site so there's no construction,

  • there's no digging.

  • How much does it cost to build one of these.

  • We can't give the exact number but I would say in a tens of

  • thousands of dollars. So effectively the equivalent of

  • maybe a slightly expensive level two charger.

  • One of the major benefits to ample swapping station is that

  • it does require a lot less power than our traditional plug in

  • charging station.

  • This is because ample slowly charges the batteries and can

  • control when they are charging. This also helps ensure the

  • batteries are being charged with renewable sources, not fossil

  • fuels.

  • The benefits of swapping over fast charging or that you can

  • charge when it makes sense for the grid. So when someone pulls

  • up to charge, they need to pull that energy from maybe not

  • always sustainable resources versus with swapping stations,

  • we're constantly slowly charging these batteries. And so we can

  • really plan around when we can use solar energy or wind energy

  • to make that charge happen.

  • Plus an ample station could eventually also provide power to

  • the grid.

  • That stock of batteries that's being charged, can actually also

  • be used as stationary storage. When the utilities are hitting

  • peak loads, there's a known set of batteries that are going to

  • be sitting there, they can draw off those batteries to help do

  • some load balancing on the on the grid.

  • But in order to use an Ample station for swapping, the car

  • actually needs Ample's batteries in it. It builds custom plates

  • for each car manufacturer it works with and then fits the

  • batteries into the plate. The plan is for the car buyer to

  • choose whether they want Ample's batteries in their car, or the

  • manufacturers battery pack depending on their needs.

  • Almost every automaker in the world, build the car separate

  • than the battery, right so the battery is a device unit because

  • they know this is probably the weakest part of the car will

  • need to be replaced in service, etc. But if you build a drop in

  • replacement to that battery, then you don't need a

  • significant engineering effort from the automaker side. So the

  • way we build our system is you build an adapter plate, which is

  • defines how many modules you put in the car, how they're

  • distributed, how they interface with the car, so that the car

  • itself doesn't need to change the software or hardware in any

  • way whatsoever.

  • The company says it is already partnered with five EV

  • manufacturers, but it would not disclose which ones. But while

  • we were filming a Nissan LEAF pulled up to get a swap.

  • We're very easy to kind of stole our system takes 15 minutes to

  • get a car ready to be swappable. And then as we scale to 1000s of

  • cars, then we act just like another supplier.

  • Most OEMs have very similar setups on their batteries, they

  • have several main connectors. And then all we do is just

  • identify where the mounting points are of their battery pack

  • and make sure that our plate mounts to those same points on

  • the car. Straight from there, figure out what the packaging of

  • our battery modules can be within that geometry. There's

  • not really any limit on that, right? We can do that for a van,

  • we can do that for a truck.

  • I think a lot of people who kept on saying you'll never be able

  • to work with OEMs is very hard to work with. And I say we've

  • been very surprised with how willing they've been open to

  • they realize the problem.

  • The global electric vehicle battery swapping market was

  • valued at $100.1 million in 2020. And is projected to reach

  • $852.6 million by 2030. But some are skeptical this will take off

  • in the United States,

  • It's a 5050 you might get a newer fresher battery than the

  • one you've already put 52,000 miles on, but you might get

  • someone's 52,000 mile battery swapped into your six week old

  • car. In theory, they would have to keep them within some kind of

  • range. But especially in America, we'd like to buy stuff,

  • we like to own stuff, and that includes the battery.

  • This could be why the company is initially focusing on fleets

  • with sights set on individually owned EVs next.

  • It's a great option for a fleet that needs to have its cars on

  • the road for as much of the day as possible. And where quick

  • refueling is really vital to being able to have the fleet go

  • electric in the first place. It's also I think, a good option

  • for customers in cities who don't have a good place to

  • charge. They don't have a garage to plug in at home. Those are

  • kind of the two primary customers that we see right now.

  • Ample said it has a range of last mile delivery municipal

  • fleet and ride sharing partners including Uber. Uber drivers in

  • San Francisco can rent an EV equipped with Ample's battery

  • built in. That driver can charge using conventional methods or

  • had to one of Ample's five stations in the Bay Area to

  • recharge.

  • Ride sharing. In general, it's difficult for a driver, they

  • often don't have a charger at home. And you could be spending

  • 10 hours a week charging your vehicle, which means you're just

  • making effectively making less money.

  • Where it actually does make the most sense is for commercial

  • fleet users. They're usually all the same kind of vehicle. So you

  • could have a swap station that, hey, you have a stock of

  • batteries that fits all of your vehicles in your fleet. And that

  • would make a lot more sense. And the nice thing about swapping is

  • it can be done very quickly it can be done in three, four or

  • five minutes.

  • One interesting thing with fleets as well, is a lot of the

  • fleets have are committed to electric but as soon as they

  • start deploying it, it starts falling apart for different

  • reasons. It might be that they have to upgrade the amount of

  • electricity in all the depots which should be costly or the

  • this logistics of figuring out when to get the cars and how to

  • go through and charge it falls apart. As we speak with fleets,

  • they've tried it. They know what the challenges are. So when we

  • present our solution, they can quickly see how it solves the

  • problems they have.

  • President Biden said he wants to transition the entire

  • presidential fleet to electric, which is about 645,000 vehicles.

  • But even Ample admits that the US may be slow to adopt the

  • technology. Do you see adoption happening faster outside of the

  • US?

  • Sadly, yes. You talk to a lot of fleets in the US that actually

  • do want to make the transition. You talked a lot municipalities

  • that are already making the transition. So the interest is

  • there. But the actual adoption has been happening more

  • elsewhere.

  • The next phase of the plan is likely some more deployments

  • internationally, there are a lot of customers interested in our

  • solution to the the AV infrastructure problem and in

  • Europe and Asia.

  • To move from fleets to individually owned EVs, Ample

  • would need to get automakers and car buyers on board to replace

  • the custom battery in their EV with an ample system. Automakers

  • pride themselves on their unique battery tech. So it's hard for

  • some analysts to imagine that this will take off.

  • If you're a car maker, the battery in your electric car is

  • a major, major structural element. It has structure going

  • through it lengthwise and crosswise that are major parts

  • of the cars crash protection, that are part of its overall

  • shell, you're not going to want to use a standardized battery

  • format. It's part of the structure. It's the heaviest

  • component in electric car. Manufacturers are just not going

  • to do that. Forklift manufacturers? Okay, fine. Not

  • carmakers.

  • I think it's very unlikely that any automakers are going to

  • adopt it. Where you might see some adoption, again, is if you

  • have some particularly large fleets that are maybe converting

  • some existing vehicles to electric, and then you know,

  • they might want to, you know, have whatever company they're

  • working with to do the conversion, use an Ample-style

  • battery, that might make sense. But again, the manufacturers are

  • increasingly moving towards building their own cells in

  • house. So I think that the chances of a startup like Ample

  • or anybody else coming in and convincing manufacturers to go

  • that direction is very unlikely.

  • While it could be good for fleets, some experts think U.S.

  • car buyers will just not be interested.

  • For the average person, if they're going to go into a swap

  • station, they don't know what the history of the batteries are

  • getting is. Because batteries degrade over time. And so I

  • think for consumers, there is likely to be a little more of a

  • reluctance to adopt this.

  • That could be why Tesla didn't give it much of a chance back in

  • 2013. It only opened one battery swapping station in between LA

  • and San Francisco and it closed shortly after. Elon Musk said

  • Tesla owners weren't interested in it.

  • And they did that mainly because of a loophole in California's

  • ZEV credit system that got them a whole bunch of extra credits

  • for EVs. They operated the station for about a year and got

  • almost no use. It was located in a very remote area.