Ford Is Not Fond of Better Place's EV Battery Switch Stations

car battery switching stations

Electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place has been hard at work over the past few years promoting its unique business model. The thrust of the plan consists of Better Place and GE-branded EV charging stations that allow drivers to charge on the go as well as gas station-like battery switch stations that can swap out depleted EV batteries for fresh ones in two minutes.

But there's a catch: the plan won't work unless automakers agree to make electric vehicles that are compatible with Better Place's robotic switch stations, or until the company makes its switch stations compatible with more varieties of battery packs. And judging by recent remarks from Sue Cischke, Ford's vice president for Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, that may be unlikely.

It just doesn't make sense for Ford to commit to a common battery pack format, Cischke said this week at Ford's Dearborn, Michigan plant, because it could hinder the company's ability to rapidly progress to new EV battery technology. "The size of [EV] battery packs keeps changing. It will be different in two years," she says.

Better Place denies that this will be an issue for automakers. "From day one, accommodation of multiple battery types has been a core engineering requirement for our battery switch stations. We have made significant R&D investments to develop a toolkit/adapter in our battery switch stations that can anticipate and supply different battery types for different vehicles with different battery-to-vehicle connection mechanisms," explains Better Place spokesperson Julie Mullins in an email.

So far, there is only one vehicle that works with the switch stations. The Better Place compatible Renault Fluence Z.E. will go into limited release in Denmark and Israel next year, with 100,000 units set to be deployed. As of right now, that's all the commitment to switch stations that Better Place can muster. And as vehicle charge times for EV charging units continue to decrease, any incentive to move to a common battery pack for swap stations may drop as well.

There are markets where swap stations make a lot of sense—in smaller countries that have large numbers of corporate fleets, and in the taxi industry, for example. "Battery switch is really the only option for taxis, because it requires very little down time, versus standard or quick charge which require the taxis to be out of service for much longer periods of time," Mullins explained to FastCompany last year.

But for major automakers that simply want to keep ahead of their growing electric vehicle competition, it may not be ideal. "For Ford," Cischke says, "it doesn't seem to be a solution that makes sense."

Read more coverage of the 2011 Detroit Auto Show.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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  • David Lemieux

    Wow.... not much research done by the Ford guy. I wonder why? Had he done just a bit of research he would discover that the BetterPlace battery swapping station only requires that the battery pack be accessible from under the car and have a flat bottom surface. When dealing with the hefty weight of a car battery (hundreds of pounds) it only makes sense to place that battery as low and centered as possible to give a better center of gravity. It is the car's responsibility to latch and release the battery. The station simply offers a flat surface on which to carry the battery. It is up to the car manufacturer to do the rest. This is not much of a compromise and reflects the one made by Ford when it places a bunch of steel(the engine) in front of the driver when the engine should be right behind his/her head as is the case with exotic cars. It ain't there because that makes it impractical. The Volt looses a rear seat because of it's battery placement. Standardizing the placement of the battery under the vehicle would make tons of sense and would help protect it while giving the car greater stability. This would allow all cars to use the BP battery exchange station or any other competing system. BTW, Shai often states that they do not wish to see key standards belong to a given company. Perhaps it is Ford which dislikes having key parts of their car become commodities which can be changed based on the owner's choices. They, like other car companies, like the idea that we must buy parts from them.