Another Try at Battery-Swap Idea, from Slovakia

By · November 07, 2012

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

The Renault Fluence ZE, the one and only electric car built with a switchable battery, is selling way below initial expectations, and it's more and more likely that Renault will give up the idea after that car's lifetime. The Renault Zoe does not have a battery-swap feature. That doesn't mean battery-swapping is dead. Some other people are working on it: Slovaks. But they are taking a very different approach than Better Place, which is currently looking for a $100 million investment. Slovak company Greenway is doing things on a budget, yet it is surprisingly effective. How about a nation-wide service of parcel delivery via electric vans? It could be fully operational in a few months.

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

It helps a lot that Slovakia is a small country, about half the size of Kentucky. Choosing to do things in the most simple way could be the key to success. Greenway didn't try to sign a deal with a car manufacturer, like Better Place did with Renault. Greenway bought some diesel Citroen vans and had them converted to an electric drive by EVC. This is the Czech company which converted the Skoda which I test-drove earlier this year. Batteries are LiFeYPo4; range is 75 to 100 miles; the motor makes 100 kW; and like the Skoda, the manual transmission has been kept. Because it was easier.

The big thing then, is the battery-swapping tech, but who needs automation? The Slovaks are doing it with rollers, a modified trolley and the driver. That's manual work, but the whole process takes only seven minutes, which makes it very cost-effective. The automatic battery-swapping station Better Place has built in Denmark probably cost around $1 million, and that's more than what a delivery route will generate in its entire lifetime in Slovakia.

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

An electric van with switchable battery by Greenway, in Slovakia

So the whole thing is low key, but it works. It didn't take millions to begin with, and it would not need much more investment to turn into a profitable business, which is another big difference with the Better Place venture. Greenway's plan is to rent electric vans, with users paying for actual miles driven in one single fee which includes everything from insurance to electricity, maintenance and online fleet monitoring as well. The plan is to use cheap night-time electricity, and the swap station is designed to accommodate six batteries. But for those who can't handle a long lead time, there's a fast 60-kW charger available.

Two battery swap stations are already operational, and they should have five electric vans on the road by the end of this year. Greenway already thinks about enlarging its network of battery swapping stations in neighboring countries like Austria and Hungary. Greenway's ambition is to be the leading electro mobility company in Central Europe, but it looks like their business model could also work in Western Europe. And who knows? Maybe even in America.

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