In China, MIIT released the global auto industry's first standards for swapping technology last year. They went into effect in November, specifying safety requirements, test methods and inspection rules for EVs with swappable batteries.
The ministry aims to have more than 100,000 battery-swappable vehicles and more than 1,000 swap stations, in total, in 11 cities by 2023; stations in the bigger cities will accommodate both passenger and commercial vehicles, while outlying provincial cities will focus on electric heavy-duty trucks.
Yet a key uncertainty for China's ambitions is whether enough carmakers adopt standardized batteries, an obstacle that scuttled attempts at battery swapping in the last decade — yet, if overcome, could propel the technology to a viable scale.
There's a long way to go. Even the swapping option offered to customers by Nio uses the company's own batteries, thus limiting the service to people driving Nio cars equipped with the company's proprietary batteries.
CATL, which helped Nio develop swappable batteries, has signed up China's FAW Motor as the first customer for its new Evogo battery swapping service and expects to extend the service to other Chinese automakers.
CATL wants domestic firms to accept its standard battery design so its stations can service models from multiple brands, according to a person close to the company who declined to be named due to commercial sensitivities, adding that it expected more car brands to adopt its standardized designs.
The company is "the biggest game in town" for EV batteries, said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights.
"They can offer a large footprint for swapping stations and a low cost to use those stations," he said.
Meanwhile, among those Chinese companies building out swap station networks, Shanghai-based Aulton New Energy Automotive Technology has said it is working with automakers to develop standardized batteries, and with Sinopec to install stations at 30,000 Sinopec gas stations in China by 2030.
Aulton didn't respond to a request for comment.