Just after revealing its electric vehicles are profitable, Stellantis continues to do things a little differently. The company just inked a deal with a company called Ample to use its battery swapping technology for the automaker’s Free2Move fleet of Fiat 500e EVs in Europe.
Stellantis plans to integrate Amples Modular Battery Swapping solution into its vehicles in Europe, specifically Madrid, next year. The process of changing out the battery takes about five minutes, according to Ample. The 500e is Stellantis’ bestselling electric vehicle around the world, and is a big part of Free2Move’s fleet.
The two companies are also in discussions regarding the expansion of the application of Ample’s Modular Battery Swapping Technology to meet Stellantis fleet and consumer demand across other Stellantis platforms and geographies. Neither Stellantis nor Ample, which is headquartered in San Francisco, suggested if the program could be implemented in the U.S. anytime soon.
“The partnership with Ample is another example of how Stellantis is exploring all avenues that enable freedom of mobility for our electric vehicle customers,” said Ricardo Stamatti, Stellantis senior vice president, Charging & Energy Business Unit.
“In addition to other projects we are focused on, Ample’s Modular Battery Swapping solution has the opportunity to offer our customers greater energy efficiency, outstanding performance and lower range anxiety. We are looking forward to executing the initial program with our stellar Fiat 500e.”
Not a new concept
Battery swapping isn’t new, but it’s never really caught on. Perhaps one of the biggest — failed — efforts was Israel’s Better Place. Founded in 2008, the company caught the attention of then-Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn.
The pair signed a deal for Better Place to become part of the auto conglomerate’s $5.2 billion electric vehicle strategy. However, Better Place never seemed to garner support from EV owners despite promises of five-minute battery swaps rather than the hours — high-speed chargers and vehicle technology weren’t ready yet — it would take to charge an EV.
However, Better Place spent hundreds of millions of dollars building its pricey battery-swapping stations – at about $500,000 a pop. The company ran into regulatory hassles in Israel and as of March, Better Place had only sold 750 cars in Israel and was losing some $500 million.
Efforts to expand to other markets failed and the company filed bankruptcy in 2013; however, it’s not really dead. In fact, Tesla demonstrated a battery-swapping concept, but gave it up instead going whole hog into its Supercharger network.
However, the current focus seems to be on commercial uses, such as the aforementioned effort by Ample. Chinese EV maker Nio rolled out battery leasing service, where owners could buy the EV without a battery, then you’d simply lease the battery on a monthly basis. The company called the program Battery as a Service or BaaS. For about $150 a month, you’d simply get new batteries as you needed them from drive up swapping stations similar to Ample’s.
The company had nearly 150 battery-swapping stations around China in 2020. Li said Nio was building a new battery-swapping station in China every week and planned to build 300 new stations in 2021. At the beginning of 2023, the number swelled to about 1,300, and is now past 2,200. The company planned to rollout the service in Europe, where it was already running a pilot program with 10 stations.
Fast like gas
Ample’s technology could solve a few problems currently plaguing EVs in the U.S.: time and convenience. The upstart’s batteries are drop-in replacements for the vehicle’s original battery, in this case the 500e. However, the company suggests they’re modular batteries could fit any electric vehicle. The entire process takes about five minutes — about the same amount of time to pump a full tank of gas.
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The other problems EV owners often face is finding public chargers. And once they do, there’s no guarantee they are working and charging at top speed. Ample’s service uses small, lightweight battery swapping stations.
The drive-in shops can be setup in three days, which means they can be scaled up quickly — much more so than installing a group of high-speed public chargers, which still require the driver to wait for at least 20 minutes to get a substantial charge.
How it works
When an Ample-enabled EV app
roaches the Ample station, the vehicle is immediately recognized by the station. Once parked inside, the driver initiates the battery swap from the mobile app resulting in a fully charged battery in less than five minutes.
Ample officials say its Modular Battery Swapping solution is “designed to be fast and cost-effective, thereby minimizing the time when electric vehicles are out-of-service, as well as the related financial impacts.”
The technology would be made available to EV owners through a subscription. This approach would reduce the upfront total cost of the vehicle, as well as allow the customer to benefit from always having the latest battery technology, effectively increasing the EV’s range and lifespan.
Thus far, Ample’s been testing out the technology in California on specially modified vehicles for a few years now, and partnered with Mitsubishi Fuso to use the service on the automaker’s eCanter panel trucks to see just how viable it is on a commercial basis.
EV startup Fisker is also planning to use the Ample system on its Ocean electric SUV in the first quarter of next year. It’s unclear if that plan is still in place given Fisker’s recent issues getting vehicles into the hands of its customers.