On the swappable/modular battery for Tata Nexon EV & Altroz EV

Battery swapping has been common in the case of electric two-wheelers. However now, China’s Nio has gotten people talking about battery swapping for electric cars having performed over a million swaps. The Chinese company offers a fully-automatic battery swap (Nio Power Swap) in just three minutes, which, it claims, is faster than refuelling an ICE car. In India, many are wondering what Tata Motors thinks about offering battery swapping in Tata electric cars.

Speaking to PluginIndia recently, Anand Kulkarni, Product Line Director – EV & ALFA Architecture, Tata Motors (PVBU), talked about offering battery swapping service for Tata electric cars, potentially including the already-on-sale Tata Nexon EV and even the upcoming Tata Altroz EV. He indicated that technically, even though it may be more complicated than it may seem, it is possible to offer battery swapping in Tata electric cars.

Video Source: youtube.com/NIO

Kulkarni first explained battery structure briefly. He said:

You sort of assemble a whole lot of cells together to make a module, and then you assemble a whole lot of modules together to make a battery pack. So it’s not as if you could just remove certain modules or certain cells and reduce the capacity of the battery. You would need to reorganise the entire cells or the entire structure in multiple ways in order to achieve the same level. So that’s one difficulty, which means essentially what you’re then going to have is different packs.

Anand Kulkarni, Product Line Director – EV & ALFA Architecture, Tata Motors (PVBU)

Speaking further, Kulkarni talked about offering battery swapping to customers:

Let’s say that’s also technically possible, but then what happens is you need to store, you need to stack some of these batteries and be able to offer them to customers who may want to use it at any given point of time, and that’s where this entire thing starts to come on a swappable battery.

Anand Kulkarni, Product Line Director – EV & ALFA Architecture, Tata Motors (PVBU)

There are multiple challenges involved in rolling out a battery swapping service for Tata electric cars right now. Apart from the technical challenge involving the battery structure, there’s the issue of handling the swap. A 30 kWh battery weighs 200 kg, and so, it’s too heavy to be manually swapped. A mechanised swapping infrastructure is required, as the battery is very heavy and also because the swap has to be as less time consuming as possible.

Another challenge is that there aren’t enough models out in the market now that support battery swapping. There’s also the question of who’s going to invest in acquiring the extra batteries and storing them. If we consider swapping batteries of different capacity, be them higher or lower capacity than the original battery shipped in the car from the factory, there’s another issue that crops up. Some components of the vehicle could need to be repositioned and/or retuned, as that would affect the weight distribution, suspension performance, ground clearance, etc.

Perhaps Tata Motors will offer battery swapping in its dedicated EVs, which it could introduce around the middle of this decade. Shailesh Chandra, President at Tata Motors had said that there’s no plan to offer battery swapping service for any EV it launches as a derivative of an ICE model.

“When we transition to dedicated electric vehicles, there might be a possibility, but I don’t see that coming in for another four to five years,” Chandra had told Free Press Journal in December last year.

This implies the Tata Nexon EV, the proposed Tata Altroz EV, the showcased Tata Tiago EV and perhaps the electric car to follow based on the Tata H2X mini SUV will not get this feature that buyers with the notion of range anxiety prevalent in EVs had called for as a backup to a wide charging infrastructure to turn in their petrol cars. Battery swapping is named as the single feature that will cut charging times and accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in India where battery capacity will be limited to keep car prices approachable.

Volkswagen MEB platform image
Tata Motors will introduce battery swapping when its dedicated electric vehicle platform is ready. Currently it re-purposes petrol-engined cars to run on battery power. Image: MEB platform credit Volkswagen AG.

Currently global car companies Tesla, Nissan, Renault, Hyundai and Volkswagen have a dedicated platform for electric vehicles, the platform referring to the car’s technological backbone. Volkswagen in 2018 announced the MEB architecture which is envisioned to support 10 million electric cars across the group’s brands worldwide in the first phase.

The existing and proposed electric cars from Tata Motors are repurposed petrol-engined vehicles which swap out engine bay parts and exhaust system to make space for the motor, controller and power electronics and the battery placed underneath the car. Given the slow adoption of electric vehicles in India, it makes no financial sense for Tata Motors to invest in a pure electric platform at least for a few years.

Chandra also said there was a safety and durability issue with swapping batteries as the connectors would have to be plugged and connected during the process at the station. This, however, can be addressed with robustly-built hardware and well-trained technicians as well as prescribing secondary safety checks before releasing the vehicle back on the road.

Companies like the Bengaluru-based Sun Mobility (official video embedded above) and Gurgaon-based Exicom Power Solutions are those which are working on battery swapping, while the Revolt RV400 electric motorcycle that went on sale earlier this year also allows riders to visit swapping stations to load a fresh battery.

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