Tesla shows off battery swap tech [video]

Electric car maker Tesla Motors (s TSLA) swapped out the batteries of two of its Model S electric cars on stage during an event at its design studio near Los Angeles on Thursday night. The demonstration was created to show that swapping out a battery of one of the Model S cars can take 90 seconds, or considerably less time than it takes to stop for gas in a gas-powered traditional car.

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During the event Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla plans to provide battery swap options at some point at its Supercharger stations, which will eventually be called “Tesla Stations.” The choice for the customer will be “free” (the electricity from the Supercharger is free) “or fast” (the 90-second battery swap), said Musk during the event.

While I wasn’t able to attend the battery swap demo in person, what isn’t clear about Tesla’s battery swap tech is how much it will cost to use, and how it will work since Tesla car owners own the batteries of their cars. Batteries are the most valuable part of the car, and degrade over time. If you have a new but discharged battery in your Model S, you won’t want to permanently replace it with a several year old, fully charged, battery.

This Forbes article has more information on the cost and process. The article says the swap will cost around the “price of about 15 gallons of gas at the going local rate,” and if you’re doing a return trip, you can do another swap on the way back for the same price and get your fully charged battery back again. If you don’t want to get your old battery back, then Tesla will bill you for the difference in value, or will transport your old pack back to you at a charge. It’s unclear how much those costs will be. The battery swap stations will each cost $500,000 to build.

Elon MuskStartup Better Place tried to make the battery swap car tech work in Israel but the company recently filed for bankruptcy, after failing to sign up enough customers to buy its cars and use its infrastructure. Better Place could only convince one car maker, Renault, to make a car with a swappable battery, and that car is the under whelming Fluence. Tesla’s business model, on the other hand, is more like Apple’s with the iPhone: sell a sexy car and offer the infrastructure along with it.

Tesla designed the Model S to have a swappable battery from the beginning if the company decided to use that option. We’re eager to hear more details about how the service and economics of Tesla’s battery swap system will work. Musk said that the battery swap tech uses the same technology that they use on the factory floor in Fremont to swiftly turn the bolts on the bottom of the car.

This article was updated at 2:29 BST with more information on the price and service.