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Better Place Video Of EV Battery-Pack Quick Swap: Nope, STILL Not Convinced

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Better Place battery-swap demonstration

Better Place battery-swap demonstration

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Yesterday, we laid out in some detail why we're not sold on the idea that the Better Place electric-vehicle startup or Renault, its first vehicle partner, will be able to design a car that lets a battery pack be swapped out in mere minutes.

The spur for our piece was a video (below) that Better Place released to show how a battery switch might work. After chatting about the piece with Better Place after it went live, we decided that we're still skeptical.

To reiterate, we've heard from numerous and varied sources that designing a vehicle with hot-swappable battery packs is very, very challenging, for these reasons:

- The pack is an integral part of the vehicle's structure. Removing and replacing a 500-pound battery pack in two minutes might be roughly similar to removing and replacing a car's roof and doors in that time.

- No high-voltage connector tough enough to be plugged and unplugged thousands of times exists. Auto components must withstand the pounding, vibrations, dirt, mud, water, and general abuse ladled out to a car's chassis and structure over hundreds of thousands of miles and up to 20 years.

- Dropping a battery pack out the bottom requires a false floor to hold the car together. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it will make for a fairly tall vehicle to accommodate the combined height of people, false floor, and pack.

Late yesterday evening, we spent a pleasant half-hour on the phone with Jeff Curry and Julie Mullins from Better Place. Among other topics, they invited us to visit and drive their converted 2009 Nissan Rogue electric vehicle. And we're planning to do that.

But in discussing the points we made in our piece, the Better Place response boiled down to, "Renault is handling vehicle design, testing, and validation, and they'll do all their standard tests to ensure the car with the switchable packs is perfectly reliable."

Which is OK as far as it goes, and indeed, about what we would have expected them to say. Except that we're still not convinced. So, we look forward to seeing the car and then getting third-party confirmation of durability proven by rigorous testing.

We also wrote separately about the many questions surrounding Better Place, and whether it could successfully expand beyond its first location--Israel--to other countries, regions, or cities.

We think there are reasons it makes sense for Israel, and perhaps Hawaii; we're less certain about other, more dispersed areas.

Meanwhile, we'll let you know as soon as we've had a chance to drive and crawl over (and under) the pack-switchable vehicle. Until then, as we've noted, perhaps we should be counted among the "optimistically skeptical".

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Comments (3)
  1. "Long way to go"

    We have a very long way to go before electric vehicles can match the utility, cost, and ease of petro-vehicles.
    Today, one can refuel most vehicles in 10 minutes or less. For the duration of that tank, that vehicle will retain full performance potential, from the first drop to the last, and with great confidence that the fuel will not be defective and cause running problems. One can allow the vehicle to remain unused and be assured that the full potential energy will still remain ready to use months down the line.
    An electric vehicle still takes a relatively long time to recharge, and with other issues to overcome, standby time has not been addressed. The Better Place model could potentially cut down the time of "refueling," but there is still the possibility of a poorly maintained or defective pack putting a serious crimp into one's travel plans.
    Still lots of work to do.
     
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  2. That is a great idea. Can't wait to see all the pure electric cars on the street. We have been replying on fossil fuel for far too long. It's time for a change.
    'Will
     
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  3. I'm glad that you're one of the few writers in the "optimistically skeptical" camp, but I can't help but punch a few holes, or offer a few comforts.
    You offer three issues: The optimistic change-over time, the high voltage connectors, the false floor. I'll keep it short:
    Changover can't be as complicated as a roof and doors - it is probably just 4 bolts and a couple heavy connectors.
    The high voltage connectors don't HAVE to last through 10,000 connections. They just have to have a bolt-on replacement connector that costs $2. When it shows signs of wear, or after X connections, replace it in 3 minutes with a new connector.
    The need for a false floor will raise the passenger compartment and make the vehicle taller? What about that 60gal gas tank that my car has underneath right now? That didn't raise the seats.
    Another commentor also mentioned that the batteries wear out and go funky. This used to be a problem on home-brew electrics, but Battery Management Systems are now ensuring longer life and easily identifying problem cells.
    These are not 100% perfect solutions... but since when has anything in the auto industry been 100% perfect?
     
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