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Battery-swapping and other electric-vehicle lunacy

Tesla's plans for battery-switching stations test limits of EV legislation

  • Battery-swapping

Tesla Motors plans to set up stations where drivers of its electric cars can swap a depleted battery for a full one in a matter of minutes.

The stations are to service drivers of Tesla’s Model S and future vehicles who can’t wait the half-hour it takes for an 80-per-cent recharge at the company’s growing network of supercharging stations.

The story behind the new swapping stations reveals a head-spinning side of the electric vehicle business. It won’t affect a lot of people, here or anywhere else. But it’s another example of the lunacy of some government efforts to boost alternative vehicles.

Here’s how it unfolded:

As California is a huge market, and has North America’s toughest emissions rules, it sets the standard for carmakers? fuel economy efforts. And one of them promised a big benefit to Tesla.

The state requires that a certain percentage of each manufacturer’s sales ‘ just 0.29 per cent now, but three per cent as of 2015 ‘ be zero-emission vehicles. The rule gave birth to the term “compliance vehicles,” those a company builds just enough of to meet the minimum standard. Honda’s Fit EV, the Fiat 500e and Toyota RAV4 EV come to mind.

Carmakers exceeding the minimum get credits they can sell to those that haven’t met the standard. It’s the same principle that?s given us the trade in greenhouse-gas and acid rain emissions credits.

As all Tesla vehicles are zero-emission EVs, the company already earns bushels of credits. The price of credits is market-driven ‘ that is, it depends on the level of desperation of non-compliant carmakers. Tesla sold $68 million (US)-worth last year, helping to turn what would have been a loss into an $11 million net profit.

But there’s more: The regulations have many twists and turns. In particular, they award bonus credits for vehicles with special features.

One of these ” and it’s quite generous ” is considered key to Tesla’s battery-swap story. It goes to makers of zero-emission vehicles that can refuel quickly.

The requirement varies. For example, a car capable of travelling 160 kilometres between fuel stops must be able to refill from empty back up to 150 kilometres of range within 10 minutes. A 480-kilometre vehicle must refuel to 455 in less than 15 minutes.

The bonus was intended to reward fuel-cell cars that can swallow hydrogen as quickly as an internal-combustion vehicle fills with gasoline.

Tesla?s fast-chargers aren’t fast enough to earn the quick-refuelling bonus. But under the current regulation, swapping stations would be, creating a revenue stream to offset the substantial expense of building them and supplying enough batteries for peak demand.

Alas for Tesla, the California Air Resources Board has proposed excluding battery swaps from the bonus. It’s to decide the matter this fall.

Tesla plans to charge $60 per swap. But that income is uncertain: The bonus wouldn’t be.

So the outcome in California could seal the fate of battery swapping, once and for all.

EVs on track

Electric-vehicle racing is on its way. But not to Canada ‘ at least, not now.

Berlin signed on last week, filling the 10th and final spot on a calendar that starts in Rome in September 2014 and concludes the following June. Races will also be held in Bangkok, Beijing, Buenos Aires, London, Los Angeles, Miami, Putrajaya (Malaysia) and Rio de Janeiro.

Ten teams will participate, each with two drivers, each with two open-wheel cars. The race, over downtown courses, will last an hour, with drivers pitting for cars with fresh batteries at the halfway mark.

While brief, the contests should be exciting: The cars are said to go zero to 100 kilometres per hour in three seconds and hit 220 on the tight urban circuits.

Vancouver was the lone Canadian city discussed for the initial season. Organizers haven’t said whether it might be considered later.

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