Ask Tesla Motors, and they’ll likely tell you that battery-swapping – that is, the act of rapidly switching out a depleted Tesla Model S battery pack for a freshly charged one – is still being studied in a limited-scope pilot program.
Indeed, we’d had little reason not to take the automaker at its word. Anyone who has followed the Tesla Motors story thus far is no stranger to the potential for delays, and the company even announced quite recently that they had poached former Red Bull Formula One Chief Mechanic Kenny Handkammer to streamline the Tesla Model S battery-swap process to allow for more rapidity.
Well, it’s quite possible that Mr. Handkammer was only hired on out of necessity; a deep, analytical probe into the matter by the Daily Kanban reveals that promising battery-swapping service for the Tesla Model S is big money for the company.
If you’re hungry for the full, complicated details of the story, we suggest heading on over to the source; we’ll give you the short version here. Basically, as we all know, Zero Emissions Vehicle credits (or ZEV credits) are all-important to Tesla Motors. Kanban reports that ZEV credits account for as much as half a billion US dollars’ worth of revenue for the automaker annually, with each Tesla Model S sold in one of the ten ZEV states earning the company between $14,000 and $17,500.
But critically, the credit value of each ZEV is directly related to the California Air Resources Board’s evaluation of the “level” or “tier” of the Zero Emissions Vehicle in-question. The Tesla Model S was originally categorized as a “Tier III” EV, capable of 200 or more miles on a single charge, but without meeting the CARB’s rapid-charging standards. Thus, the car was worth four credits per example sold.
Four months after its launch, reports the Kanban, the Tesla Model S was quietly upgraded to “Tier V,” earning seven credits per sale at first, and increased to nine credits for 2015-2017. But how can this be? Because through demonstrations, and a “functional” battery-swap pilot station at Harris Ranch, California (which not a single soul used over the busy Memorial Day weekend, mind you) the Tesla Model S was deemed theoretically capable of going from depleted to fully-charged in as little as five minutes.
Getting back to the relevance of hiring Red Bull Formula One Chief Mechanic Kenny Handkammer: the CARB has gotten wise to Tesla Motors’ ploy, suggesting that the automaker has been “gaming” the system. In response, the validation required for battery-swapping certification is now more stringent, mandating that the process be performed at least once for every Tier V ZEV Tesla Motors wants to claim in eligible states.
That’s up to half-a-billion US dollars in ZEV credits that may now hang in the balance, all hinging on whether enough Tesla Model S sedans can undergo enough battery-swaps to appease the CARB.
As for that agency, what started as a quest to drive ZEV development through incentives has become a source of revenue of the utmost importance to Tesla Motors. The automaker has already performed the difficult task of proving the battery-swap procedure’s plausibility; now it’s time to make it practical.