Chinese electric vehicle start-up Nio is in talks with several other automakers over licensing the battery-swap technology that is central to the group’s strategy to win over gasoline-powered motorists in Europe, said one of the company’s top executives.
European President Hui Zhang said the company is in talks with Chinese and international auto groups to open its network of charging stations, which the company expects will grow from 800 to 5,000 worldwide by the middle of the decade.
It is targeting expansion into Europe, one of the world’s most competitive markets for electric cars, which is likely to become a testing ground for the adoption of battery technology.
The group, which went public in 2018 and has sold 180,000 electric models in China, aims to have 1,000 exchange stations outside the country by 2025. These will be spread across Europe and the United States, which the company should target after Europe.
“We want to be a well-established player in the premium segment [in Europe] by 2025,” Zhang said.
While around 50 companies are working on battery swapping in China, Nio is the only one to market the system for cars so far.
The company wants to sell its battery swap system to other groups to broaden the use of the technology, which it says offers a way to overcome worries about chargers due to limited numbers and time needed to power a car that is deterring many consumers from switching to electric vehicles.
Nio’s system, which involves unscrewing the bottom of the car and replacing the battery through a hatch in the station’s floor, takes about five minutes.
Its first European site in Norway, the region’s top electric car market due to its subsidies, is placed next to the superchargers used by Tesla, in part to demonstrate how much faster the system is than even the fastest chargers. , which charge quickly but take up to an hour to fully charge an empty battery.
The company started deliveries in September in Norway. It will launch in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark this year, and is expected to launch in the UK, where it has a development base, later in the decade.
The battery-swap technology, which companies including Tesla tested and abandoned, worked in Nio’s domestic market due to the high urban density and scarcity of driveways.
Automakers who purchase the system must use the same batteries as Nio, in order to swap them out at swap stations, where they are switched into a dedicated robotic bay.
The company must tackle the problem of expanding its battery swap operation, as each site requires a dedicated grid connection of 650 MW, the size of a small power plant. This is used to charge up to 13 batteries on site.
Because the station’s batteries need to be able to adapt to any car that comes along, another automaker that uses Nio’s technology will have to build their vehicles using the company’s platform, as well as the proportion and the specific design of its batteries, Zhang said.
Several automakers have sought partnerships to help recoup investments in new technologies they believe will give them a competitive edge in electric cars. Volkswagen is licensing its MEB electric car production system to Ford, while Renault’s Alpine sports car brand is sharing new electric technology with Geely’s Lotus.
Nio believes battery swapping will reduce the cost of accessing electric vehicles by eliminating the battery, which accounts for more than a third of a vehicle’s cost, from the original price.
Currently, electric cars are losing value because financial companies are unsure of the health of a car battery after three years. By removing the battery from the cost of the car, Nio hopes customers will be able to access vehicles at a lower cost.
The company also refuses to disclose the cost of individual redemption stations or if it ultimately loses money from the service.
Zhang added, “The origin of the idea is that it really makes your [battery] very free to use, it is not for Nio to make an additional profit.