Stellantis is making a big bet on EV battery swaps in a new deal with Ample

Stellantis struck a deal with California-based electric battery swapping company Ample to power a fleet of shared Fiat 500e vehicles in Spain. But the company says the deal could eventually be expanded to personally owned electric vehicles in Europe and the US.

By becoming one of the first Western automakers to embrace battery swapping technology, Stellantis is betting that EV charging infrastructure in Europe and the US will remain a barrier to adoption for the foreseeable future, requiring other solutions. Battery replacements could theoretically help EV owners charge up and get moving without having to wait long at a charging station.

Stellantis partners with Ample to launch a battery swapping system for a fleet of Fiat 500e vehicles

Stellantis will partner with Ample to launch a battery swapping system for a fleet of Fiat 500e vehicles as part of a car-sharing service through its Free2move subsidiary. The service will first appear in Madrid in 2024, where the Fiat 500e is already available. (The small EV won’t come to North America until next year.) Ample already has four stations in operation in the city and plans to build nine more stations in the coming months.

Swapping EV batteries is popular in China, but has yet to gain much ground in other countries. There have been several attempts to build an exchange infrastructure in the US – most notably Tesla half a decade ago – but little success.

Stellantis will have to install modular batteries in the Fiat 500e to be compatible with Ample’s swap system. The process works by driving the vehicle into a station, where it is lifted slightly. Ample’s robotic arms remove the dead battery from under the vehicle, replace it with a fully charged battery and then lower the vehicle. The company says the entire process can take as little as five minutes.

“Our system knows how many batteries are in the Fiat 500e, knows how to take out each of those modules and how to put them back in the same arrangement,” Ample CEO Khaled Hassounah said in a briefing with reporters.

By starting with a small fleet of shared vehicles in one city, Stellantis can see how well Ample’s system works and whether it can be scaled to new markets and include private vehicles. If the company decides to expand its partnership with Ample, the Fiat 500e will likely be the first vehicle to support the technology, said Ricardo Stamatti, senior VP of charging and energy at Stellantis.

Customers purchasing cars compatible with Ample’s swap system would then simply subscribe to a battery, opening up a potential new revenue line for Stellantis. “We believe this is essentially an infrastructure play that can and will scale,” Stamatti added.

In North America, unlike in China, electric vehicles still make up a small percentage of total car sales. Plug-in cars represent well over a quarter of all cars sold in China, while in the US this is still less than 10 percent. Therefore, the economics of EV battery swapping in the US haven’t really worked.

Another challenge is the lack of battery standardization

Another challenge is the lack of battery standardization. Each automaker uses a different type of packaging and different chemistry. Ample’s stations can only swap out their own modular batteries, but the company says these batteries are compatible with any EV. The modular batteries are configured on an adapter plate that is a drop-in replacement for the original EV battery.

Hassounah said it would not be necessary to “redesign the vehicle itself.” The company recently received $15 million from the state of California to build a battery manufacturing facility for its interchangeable batteries.

Stellantis thinks the future is bright for battery replacement, but Stamatti said the “devil is in the details.”

“2030 is about electrifying the world, and bringing mobility to everyone,” Stamatti said. “This accelerates that. It is a catalyst.”

Updated December 7, 11:55 a.m. ET: Ample’s modular batteries are compatible with any EV, the company says. An earlier version of this story misstated this.

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