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Stop ‘n swap: Tesla confirms swappable battery packs for Model S

Tesla Model S Alpha Model Front AngleTesla Motors is moving ahead with it plans to introduce swappable battery packs for its electric cars with typical theatricality. Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced via Twitter Tuesday that the company will demonstrate a battery pack swap live tonight.

“Live pack swap demo on Thurs [sic] night at 8 p.m. California time at our design studio in Hawthorne. Seeing is believing,” Musk tweeted.

Tesla has hinted at swappable battery packs a few times over the past few months. The company mentioned that it planned to implement the technology, without giving a specific timeline, in a May 10 filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission.

Swappable battery packs would be a major coup for Tesla, and electric cars in general. They have the potential to negate the inconvenience caused by most EV’s relatively short ranges and long charging times.

The concept of the battery pack swap as the same as any other battery swap: the depleted battery comes out, and a fresh one is put in. However, unlike the AAs in your flashlight, car batteries will be recharged and rotated back into service.

When a car is equipped for swapping, the process takes minutes. That means drivers won’t have to deal with hours-long charging times (Tesla’s Supercharger can impart an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes, but only if you can find one) and, if swapping stations become plentiful enough, the dreaded “range anxiety.”

Better Place, the only company to implement battery swapping so far, used service stations to replace batteries. Customers bought plans similar to cell phone service plans, which granted them access to the charging network and was bundled with the purchase of a compatible car.

Tesla is rumored to be working on service stations of its own, but the company hasn’t confirmed that. It also hasn’t confirmed exactly how it will remove the Model S’ battery pack, which covers the entire area under the floor inside the wheelbase. Moving such a large item should make for quite a spectacle, though.

We’ll learn more when Tesla’s big demo happens this Thursday at 8:00 p.m. PST. Check back here for more updates.

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