Revolutionary Solution? EV Battery Swapping May Hold the Key to America’s Charging Conundrum

Battery-Swapping Technology, A New Era for Electric Cars?

A Brief History of Battery-Swapping

More than a decade ago, Better Place, a high-flying startup, made a billion-dollar bet that electric car drivers would prefer to swap depleted batteries for fresh ones in minutes rather than charge them for hours. At the time, charging stations were slow, few, and far between, and most EVs had a limited range of 75 miles.

However, soon after Better Place launched its battery-switching stations in 2012, Elon Musk unveiled a free fast-charging network to suit Tesla drivers, the most popular EV brand then and now. Within months of Musk’s announcement, Better Place went bankrupt, leaving investors, including Morgan Stanley, General Electric, and HSBC, out more than $750 million. In the U.S., battery-swapping seemed consigned to the technological graveyard.

The Return of Battery-Swapping Technology

Nevertheless, battery-swapping technology is back. Over the past two years, San Francisco startup Ample Inc. has quietly deployed more than a dozen robotic battery-swap stations around the Bay Area and Europe. On an afternoon in May at an unmarked warehouse, the company previewed its next-generation swapping stations, at which a drained battery can be changed out for a charged one in about five minutes – half the time of its current stations.

Ample founders Khaled Hassounah and John de Souza established the company just one year after Better Place failed, but with a different business model and different battery-swapping technology. The company, which has raised $260 million since its launch in 2014, initially targets ride-sharing, and delivery fleets that can’t afford long downtimes to charge EVs.

“We’re going to be a lot cheaper than fast charging,” says Hassounah. “If you can charge at home, you should. But if you park on the street, if you live in a condo building, or drive for a fleet, that’s not possible.”

How Does Ample’s Battery-Swapping Station Work?

Ample’s demo station, which is white and yellow and emblazoned with the slogan “Electric cars for everyone,” resembles a spacious drive-through car wash. When an employee drives up with a vehicle, a screen shows where to park.

A platform then lifts the car a few feet off the ground, and a robot slides out and scans its underside to confirm the battery location and configuration. The bot rises up to the plate holding the battery pack, sends a signal to unlock it, removes the pack, and scuttles back to the station’s storage area to keep the empty battery for recharging. It returns with a fresh battery and plugs it into the car. The platform lowers, and the vehicle drives off.

“We want to be the gas station of electric,” says Hassounah.

The Advantages of Ample’s Battery-Swapping Stations

Ample’s swap station looks like a smaller version of the multimillion-dollar ones Better Place once deployed in Israel and Denmark. Still, Ample’s modular structure costs less than $100,000 and can fit in a shipping container and can be deployed in three days, according to Hassounah. Since the company provides slow-charging batteries, it does not need to go through the months-long process of installing expensive high-voltage infrastructure.

Those kinds of complex electrical upgrades are a roadblock to achieving San Francisco’s 2040 target for eliminating fossil fuel vehicles. Ample learned another lesson from Better Place’s failure: the importance of persuading automakers to build EVs with swappable batteries. Before Better Place went under, its stations were only able to switch out batteries on a single model from Renault, which the French carmaker had modified for that purpose. Ample builds its own modular battery packs that can be configured for any vehicle and works with automakers to design a removable adaptor plate.

So far, the company has signed partnerships with five vehicle manufacturers and designed adapter plates for 20 EV models. Parked in Ample’s warehouse during its demo were a Fiat 500 and a Citroen van made by Stellantis, as well as the Niro, a Nissan Leaf, Fisker Inc.’s Ocean crossover, and an urban mini-car made by the German manufacturer e.Go.

The Implications of Ample’s Battery-Swapping Stations

E.Go Chairman Ali Vezvaei says his company designed its e.wave X EV with swappable batteries. He believes that battery-swapping technology is a great solution to address a lot of infrastructure issues. Sooner or later, you will see a transformation in gas stations where you go to change a tire; there will be a battery-swap station.

Ample says its 12 Bay Area stations do “a couple of hundred” battery swaps a day, used by Uber drivers who lease Leafs and Niros from electric fleet provider Sally. Ample is also deploying swap stations at gas stations in Madrid owned by one of its investors, Spanish energy giant Repsol, and has an agreement to install stations in Kyoto, Japan.

Ample’s fleet customers can buy EVs with or without batteries-the vehicle’s most expensive component-and subscribe to the company’s swapping service for a fee that it declined to disclose. Customers also pay an “energy fee” each time they swap. Changing out a 32-kilowatt-hour battery pack, for instance, costs about $13. Whether battery-swapping becomes a more mainstream alternative to charging in the US depends, in part, on more automakers working with companies like Ample.


Battery-swapping technology has resurfaced as a new era for electric cars. Ample has developed a new prototype technology for battery swapping, targeting ride-sharing, and delivery fleets. The modular structure of Ample’s battery-swapping station can fit in a shipping container and can be deployed in three days. It costs less than $100,000, making it much cheaper than the multimillion-dollar battery-swapping stations Better Place once deployed in Israel and Denmark. Ample’s battery-swap stations work based on a different business model, allowing it to charge a lot less than fast charging, which could make EVs more accessible to people who do not have access to a charging station at home. The company has signed partnerships with five vehicle manufacturers and designed adapter plates for 20 EV models. Battery-swapping technology’s future as a more mainstream alternative to charging in the US depends mainly on more automakers working with companies like Ample.