Better Place battery-swap demonstrationEnlarge Photo
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".