China’s Nio to expand battery swap services to gain EV infra edge

Pictured here is a Nio battery swapping station in Haikou, Hainan province, China, on May 9, 2023.

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BEIJING — Chinese electric car company Nio has been expanding its battery swap partnerships in a bid to gain an edge on the infrastructure side of the EV ecosystem.

Since November, Nio has partnered with at least four Chinese automakers — Changan, Geely, Chery and JAC — for developing battery swap standards and expanding the network in China. Nio also announced agreements earlier this year to work with two local battery companies on battery swap services.

All these efforts are aimed at alleviating consumers’ anxiety about driving range. While having a large network of battery charging stations helps address those concerns, battery swapping is a faster method as it takes only a few minutes.

“Swapping right now is mainly driven by Nio. Of course, Nio found out this is an ecosystem,” CLSA’s deputy head of research Ding Luo said in an interview. “If only one player is trying to build up the whole ecosystem, it’s impossible for [them]. That’s why they’re thinking whether they can invite some partners.”

Battery swapping still isn’t mainstream because the car batteries need to be standardized, he added.

While a charging station resembles a typical gas station, battery-swap technology is housed in a shed-like structure. It uses machines to automatically exchange depleted batteries for pre-charged ones in compatible cars.

Nio said in mid-March that it completed 40 million battery swaps compared with nearly 37 million charges at its public stations — Nio consumers can also access third-party charging stations, or install one at home.

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“I think our outlook is very simple,” Shen Fei, senior vice president of Nio’s power division, said in Chinese translated by CNBC. “The first thing is to serve Nio’s users, and then provide a good battery charging and swapping experience, make charging more convenient than refueling, and at the same time help the company sell more cars.”

The company claims that with battery swap, drivers can get a fresh charge in three minutes, if they opt in for a paid battery service plan.

Shen said more car models will be added to Nio’s battery swap network, while adding that swapping can allow drivers to keep abreast with improvements in battery technology. He did not specify which automakers will likely be added to its network.

Power services and other products account for just about 10% of Nio’s total revenue. The company said that category of “other sales” for 2023 grew by 69% to 6.36 billion yuan ($895.9 million). Nio does not break out swap station revenue.

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