Based on his comments at a Tesla technical demonstration in California last night, Elon Musk doesn't just want the act of recharging his cars to be like filling up a gas tank. He wants it to be better.
At its design studio near Los Angeles on Thursday, Musk showed off the company's new battery-swapping technology, which they claim switches out the depleted battery on a Model S for a fully charged one in a mere 90 seconds.
Say what you want about Tesla, but that's fast, and certainly quicker than the 30 minute charge time at a Supercharger station.
Ever the showman, Musk showed that two Model S-es can be battery-swapped in the same amount of time it takes to put gas in a competing Audi A8, which, to be fair, has a massive gas tank at 23.8 gallons.
Musk said it will be like driving in to a car wash, where the driver never has to step out of the car. He said it gives the customer two choices when they pull into a Supercharger station — which he says should just be called a "Tesla station" — you have the choice of Supercharger, which will always be free, or the battery swap station.
"The only decision you need to make when you come to one of our Tesla stations is, do you prefer faster or free?" Musk asked.
Forbes said that if owners opt for "faster," it will cost about the same as 15 gallons of gas, depending on the local rate. You pay using a credit card Tesla keeps on file.
If you want to keep the battery that was swapped in, Tesla bills you for the difference because the pack is newer. And if you return home on the swapped pack, Tesla sends you your original back and charges you a "transport fee."
More on how it works from TechCrunch:
It’s not exactly a secret that the Model S’s battery pack can be switched out as needed, but the company saw fit to keep the details under wraps until today. For the process to run that quickly, you’d expect some technical wizardry to come into play and Tesla certainly delivers. Once a Model S owner parks the car on a designated spot, a platform raises from the ground to disconnect and grab hold of the depleted battery. The platform then descends back into the ground, dumps the battery, retrieves a fresh one, and rises once more to connect it to the car.
They reported that the first battery swap locations will be at Supercharger stations along California's I-5, and later on the East Coast.
Obviously, it's going to be a tall order to retrofit all those Supercharger stations — about $500,000 each, according to Forbes. Each station will have about 50 batteries on hand and reservations will not be required.
As we noted when this was announced earlier this week, the concept is similar to now-dead Israeli startup Better Place, but their business model is so different I'm not sure it's fair to compare the two companies. Plus, at the moment, Tesla is doing stronger than Better Place ever did.