Stellantis makes a big bet on EV battery swapping in new deal with Ample

Stellantis struck a deal with California-based EV battery swapping company Ample to power a fleet of shared Fiat 500e vehicles in Spain. But the company says the deal could eventually expand to include personally owned EVs in Europe and the US as well.

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 in the near future, necessitating other solutions. Battery swapping could theoretically help EV owners power up and get moving without having to wait for long stretches at a charging station.

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

Stellantis will work 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 tiny EV won’t come to North America until next year.) Ample has four stations already in operation in the city and plans to build an additional nine stations in the months to come.

EV battery swapping is popular in China but has yet to gain much traction in other countries. There have been several attempts to build a swapping infrastructure in the US — most notably, Tesla half a decade ago — but little success.  

Stellantis will need to install modular batteries in the Fiat 500e in order to be compatible with Ample’s swapping system. The process works by driving the vehicle into a station, where it gets raised slightly. Ample’s robot arms remove the spent battery from underneath the vehicle, replace it with a fully charged one, and then lower the vehicle. The company says the whole process can take as little as five minutes.

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

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

Customers who buy cars that are compatible with Ample’s swapping system would then just subscribe to a battery, opening up a possible new line of revenue for Stellantis. “We believe that this is actually an infrastructure play that can and will scale,” Stamatti added.

In North America, unlike in China, EVs are still a small percentage of overall vehicle sales. Plug-in cars represent over a quarter of all vehicles sold in China, whereas, in the US, they are still under 10 percent. Because of that, the economics of EV battery swapping hasn’t really worked in the US.

Another challenge is the lack of battery standardization

Another challenge is the lack of battery standardization. Every automaker uses a different type of pack and varying chemistries. Ample’s stations can only swap 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 wouldn’t require “reengineering the vehicle itself.” The company was recently granted $15 million from the state of California to build a battery manufacturing facility for its swappable batteries.

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

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

Updated December 7th 11:55AM ET: Ample’s modular batteries are compatible with any EV, the company says. A previous version of this story misstated this.


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