VW says battery-swapping stations are a pipe dream, not an imminent reality

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTE
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

If you’ve been following the development of electric vehicles for long enough, you’ve undoubtedly seen videos of futuristic robots that remove a car’s depleted battery pack, install a fully charged replacement, and send it on its way in a few short minutes. It’s quicker than brimming a tank of gasoline. In theory, this solution eliminates range anxiety once and for all. In application, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Volkswagen’s top electric car expert said we shouldn’t expect to see this technology pop up on American highways anytime soon.

“From an engineering standpoint it’s clear: Don’t do it,” Christian Senger, Volkswagen’s head of e-mobility, told Digital Trends.

He explained making the battery removable creates a long list of structural problems. In a long-range electric car, the pack is a roughly 1,000-pound part usually sandwiched right under the passenger compartment. It helps keep the car together, in other words, so engineers can’t merely attach it to the chassis with four screws and call it a good job well done. It needs to be integrated into the platform to provide an adequate level of passive safety.

“It’s like windows. In the old days, we embedded a windshield in a rubber part. Nowadays, a windshield is glued in and it helps support the whole structure. The same is true with battery packs,” Senger pointed out.

It’s not just about safety. Volkswagen wants to avoid making a mess — literally. Most modern electric cars use a liquid-cooled battery pack. Swapping it would consequently require temporarily disconnecting the coolant system without spilling half of it. It’s doable, but it causes an additional set of issues that need to be solved before battery-swapping stations merge into the mainstream. Spending money on faster chargers and improving battery technology to give electric cars more range makes more sense in the long run.

With that said, the company could make one significant exception: China. Battery-swapping stations are gradually popping up across China as a way to sustain the growing, government-backed electric taxi industry. Nothing is set in stone yet, but Volkswagen’s Chinese division hasn’t ruled out jumping into the sector.

“The [Chinese taxi industry] now has this battery-swapping system. It’s a clever concept; sometimes it’s housed in shipping containers. The car drives in and gets a new battery pack. It’s extremely flexible. We are looking at how relevant this is for our market success in China, but I don’t see it for the rest of the world.”


Volkswagen prepares its electric ID R race car for its toughest challenge yet

The Volkswagen ID R electric race car will head to the Nürburgring to set a lap record. With Romain Dumas at the wheel, the ID R will try to become the fastest electric car around the grueling, 12.9-mile long track.

AMD's upcoming Navi graphics cards are incoming. Here's what to expect

AMD's Navi graphics cards could be available as soon as July 2019 — as long as it's not delayed by stock problems. Billed as a successor to Polaris, Navi promises to deliver better performance to consoles like Sony's PlayStation 5.

Tesla will have ‘autonomous robotaxis’ in 2020, Elon Musk says

Tesla will deploy self-driving cars in a "robotaxi" service in 2020, CEO Elon Musk said at the automaker's Autonomy Investor Day. Musk has promised autonomous Tesla electric cars before, but will he finally deliver this time?

Electric car buying guide: What you need to know before you buy

EVs are better than they've ever been, but buying your first battery-powered car can be an intimidating experience. Digital Trends has compiled a comprehensive guide that walks you through the process of buying an EV.

Tesla Model S and Model X charge faster and go farther with the same battery

An all-new drivetrain for the Tesla Model S and X enables the EVs to travel farther per charge than the previous design. Tesla Model S Long Range sedans have a 370-mile range and Model X Long Range SUVs can travel 325 miles per EPA cycle.

2019 Ford F-150 RTR gets a light dose of off-road, style upgrades

Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s RTR Vehicles is turning its attention to the 2019 Ford F-150 pickup truck. RTR gave Ford's bestseller new suspension components and tires, as well as more extroverted exterior styling.

Electric truck maker Rivian scores $500 million investment from Ford

Alongside Amazon, Rivian can now count Ford as one of its backers. The Blue Oval will invest $500 million in Rivian, and will use the company's "skateboard" chassis as the basis for a future electric vehicle.

The best diagnostic adapters monitor your car so you don't have to

Sometimes called dongles, the best car adapters will tell you what's wrong under the hood while help you keep tabs on your family and routine maintenance.
Emerging Tech

Japanese taxis will use facial recognition to target you with ads as you ride

A Japanese startup is trying to reinvent in-taxi advertising by using facial recognition technology to identify the key characteristics of riders and then presenting them with appropriate ads.

Nvidia agrees with Tesla’s take on self-driving cars, but corrects specifics

Nvidia vice president Rob Csongor agreed with broad statements by Elon Musk at Tesla's April 22 Autonomy Investor Day. Csongor then took exception to what he termed were inaccuracies about Nvidia's self-driving car chip.

Stop backing into your neighbor's car with the best backup cameras

The right backup camera will allow you to better avoid vehicles and other obstacles without taking your eyes off the road, rendering "sorry, I hit your car!" notes a thing of the past. Here are our current favorites.

Waze vs. Google Maps: Which map app should you be using?

Waze and Google Maps are two of the most popular apps for those looking for turn-by-turn navigation, yet there are some notable differences to point out. Here, we examine both to decide which offers the best feature set.

Tesla posts $702M Q1 loss as deliveries fall sharply; Musk promises turnaround

Tesla lost $702 million during the first quarter of 2019 as deliveries fell sharply, and demand for the Model X and the Model S flattened. The company predicts it will again lose money in the second quarter.

Ambitious but not rubbish: The best Top Gear episodes

Since its relaunch in 2002, Top Gear has become required viewing for any serious gearhead. The great moments from this show may seem too numerous to count, but we've managed to pick some of the highlights from the first 26 seasons.