The popularity of electric vehicles has risen in recent years, though not yet fast enough to reap the benefits of a shift away from gas-powered cars. In part, this is due to concerns over time and access to charging stations, with 48% of Americans worried about being able to charge their vehicle when necessary, as indicated in a report from market research firm Ipsos and electric vehicle charging company EVBox Group.
Tech startup Ample is hoping to address some of these concerns, at least for taxis and ride-hailing vehicles, through its plans for a battery swapping service, Green Car Reports says. It has partnered with Sally, a rental company that offers electric vehicles for “taxi, ride-sharing, and last-mile delivery services,” and will create battery swapping stations in four major cities: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
These swapping stations, which Ample says are the size of two parking spots, will also function as a rest stop for drivers as bathrooms will be readily available. As shown in an Ample promotional video, drivers would simply pull into the swapping station and allow technology to take over as robots lift the vehicle to complete the battery replacement. Ample says the swaps take about 10 minutes.
Battery swapping with commercial vehicles has never been implemented in the U.S., despite some international successes.
Nio, a Chinese electric car manufacturer, has built swapping stations across China with plans to expand to Norway later this year, CNBC reports, though their stations only work with their own vehicles. Yet, as China begins to adopt more electric taxis, the more than 550 battery swapping stations the country already has shows potential for this service.
Ample is unique, however, in claiming that it can work with electric vehicles from multiple manufacturers, most likely due to its ongoing partnerships with carmakers, such as Nissan. Its use of modular batteries allows its swapping stations to work for a variety of vehicles regardless of size.
There is no data pointing to the number of stations that Ample will create as part of its partnership with Sally, but Electrek notes that each could be developed in a week as they do not require any major construction.
So far, five Ample stations have been implemented in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bloomberg reports, though these are in connection to a separate partnership with Uber. Nearly 100 drivers are using them, completing an average of one swap per day. Ample’s partnership with Sally will add hundreds of Kia Niro EVs to the Bay area by the end of the summer.
Bloomberg adds that swapping stations are not due to inaugurate in New York City until the fall.
The city has more than 13,500 yellow cabs and approximately 80,000 ride-hailing vehicles, of which Sally has 300 NYC taxi medallions.
The future of electric vehicles does sound promising as the Biden administration has made attempts to incentivize the use of electric cars as part of his plan for a “clean transportation future.” However, the plan only mentions federal funding for the creation of public charging stations, not battery swapping.
Solcyre (Sol) Burga is an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2021. Burga is completing her degree in political science and journalism at Rutgers University, with plans to graduate in May of 2022. As a Newark native and immigrant, she hopes to elevate to voices of underrepresented communities in her work.