Tesla Shows Off A 90-Second Battery Swap System, Wants It At Supercharging Stations By Year’s End

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Tesla teased electric motorheads earlier this week by announcing an event that would show off its curious battery-swapping system, and it wound up being even more impressive than most of us imagined. Long story short, Tesla can swap a Model S’s battery in just 90 seconds (that’s less time than it takes to fuel up a regular car), and you won’t even have to get out of your seat to do it.

“We designed Model S from the beginning to be capable of swapping out the battery pack faster than you can fill a gas tank,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the company’s Hawthorne design studio earlier this evening.

It’s not exactly a secret that the Model S’s battery pack can be switched out as needed, but the company saw fit to keep the details under wraps until today. For the process to run that quickly, you’d expect some technical wizardry to come into play and Tesla certainly delivers. Once a Model S owner parks the car on a designated spot, a platform raises from the ground to disconnect and grab hold of the depleted battery. The platform then descends back into the ground, dumps the battery, retrieves a fresh one, and rises once more to connect it to the car.

Really, it’s one of those things you need to see:

Frenzied drivers will still have to do some work, though — they’ll have to drop off the battery on the return leg of their journey and pay an unspecified “transport fee,” though they can also choose to keep the battery and pony up the difference between the price of the old and new batteries. The first swap-capable locations will be at supercharger stations located along California’s I-5, though the company plans to bring them online at east coast superchargers in short order.

Judging from the videos pouring out of the event, the overall tone of the presentation was exuberant, and it’s hard not to see why: The company is looking at hot-swappable batteries for its electric vehicles as a way to put them on even footing with traditional gas-powered cars. Of course, that’s not to say that bringing those changeable batteries to the masses is going to be easy.

Tesla has spent more than a year constructing supercharger stations along the east and west coasts in a bid to give their electric cars the juice to complete your average languorous summer road trip. Outfitting each of those stations with the ability to quickly replace batteries and get motorists back on the road presents quite a logistics problem. There’s the cost to consider — Tesla expects each battery swap station to cost about $500,000 to build, to say nothing of the maintenance and infrastructure costs that will come now that someone presumably has to stop by each station and replace worn-down batteries. Still, Tesla already has plans to triple the size of its supercharger network. If every one of them is slated to get battery-swapping stations, the prospect of trying to cruise the country in an electric car just got a lot less sketchy.

UPDATE: Tesla has posted an official version of the video with a bigger focus on how darned fast the process is. Check it out.