Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.