Stellantis to trial Ample swappable batteries
But analysts are concerned about the conglomerate's focus, or lack of it
Franco-Italian OEM Stellantis has signed a deal to use battery firm Ample's battery swapping system in its EVs. But the move, on top of a FCEV announcement earlier in the week, has raised question marks over whether the product of previous mega-mergers has a laser focus on its most pressing challenges.
Initially the two firms will trial the technology in Madrid, Spain in 2024 using a fleet of 100 Fiat 500e vehicles that are part of Stellantis’ Free2move car sharing service. Spain has likely been chosen as a potentially large BEV market that is currently lacking in charging infrastructure.
The companies are in discussions to subsequently expand the partnership to other Stellantis platforms and geographies.
"Ample’s modular battery swapping solution has the opportunity to offer our customers greater energy efficiency, outstanding performance and lower range anxiety. We are looking forward to executing the initial program with our stellar Fiat 500e," says Ricardo Stamatti, senior vice-president in the Stellantis charging & energy business unit.
Ample says its battery swapping stations can be deployed in public areas in as little as three days, allowing for a rapidly scalable infrastructure.
And the firm’s modular batteries are designed to be a drop-in replacement for an EV’s original battery — meaning Stellantis can integrate the technology without needing to re-engineer its vehicle platforms.
When an Ample-enabled EV approaches the Ample station, as in the video above, the vehicle is recognised by the station, helping reduce the time taken to carry out the swap to five minutes or less — significantly less than the 15 minutes that even the shortest charge would take on a non-swappable battery.
“The combination of offering compelling electric vehicles that can also receive a full charge in less than five minutes will help remove the remaining impediments to electric vehicle adoption," says Ample CEO Khaled Hassounah.
Ample says the technology reduces the upfront total cost of the vehicle, and allows customers to update their batteries as technology improves. And it sees its solution as particularly well-suited to high-utilisation vehicles that need to get back on the road quickly — such as ride share and delivery vehicles — and to those that don’t have reliable access to overnight charging.
The firm recently signed a deal with truck maker Mitsubishi Fuso to deliver its modular battery swapping technology to electric trucks in Japan.
Earlier this year Ample received a $15mn grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop its technology. The CEC’s Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Plan notes that battery swapping "has the potential to be grid-friendly and allows rapid and convenient charging for the consumer".
Chinese EV maker Nio has opened 30 battery swap station in Europe so far this year and plans to open 100 stations in the region by 2024. The firm has already opened 2000 such stations in China.
A study by researchers at the University of Indonesia found that battery-swapping technology was particularly well-suited to accelerating the rollout of electric motorcycles.
But not everyone is enthused by Stellantis dabbling in battery swapping, particularly as it comes just days after it inaugurated Europe's largest integrated fuel cell production site.
The SymphonHy facility, operated by the Symbio joint venture between automotive supplier Forvia, tyre firm Michelin and Stellantis, aims to expand fuel cell capacity from a current 16,000 units/yr to reach 50,000 units/yr by 2026.
And Stellantis plans to augment its existing FCEV offering in the European light commercial vehicle segment — where it sells the Peugeot e-Expert, Citroen e-Jumpy and Opel Vivaro-e models — to "include large vans with a mid-power architecture, a range of up to 500 km and a recharge time of less than 10 minutes".
It further plans to develop a hydrogen technology for its US Ram brand pickups, "in line with its aim of electrifying its portfolio of vehicles with a range of 320 miles ALVW or 200 miles GCWR and fast tank refilling, without compromising on payload capacity".
At least Stellantis seems to be steering clear of the folly that is FCEV passenger cars. But several analysts are frustrated that both battery swapping and FCEV suggest a lack of focus on its main challenge of producing a future range of chargeable BEVs across all segments.