Ample's operation is tiny compared with the 100,000 public EV chargers in the U.S. — not to mention the 150,000 gas stations running more than a million nozzles. Yet Ample's founders, Khaled Hassounah and John de Souza, are convinced that it's only a matter of time before the U.S. discovers that swapping is a necessary part of the transition to electric vehicles.
(Hassounah appears on this week's Shift podcast. Listen at autonews.com/ shiftpodcast.)
China has more than 600 swapping stations and is on pace to have 1,000 by year's end, according to a tally by clean-energy research group Bloom-bergNEF. "They've already made the determination that swapping has to be a significant part of the solution," says Hassounah. "We don't have enough deployment yet to realize that we need this in the U.S."
Even in China, however, where the swapping industry dwarfs that of the U.S., the technology is still only a small piece of the charging infrastructure.
In the U.S., most investment so far has gone into building faster plug-in stations and batteries that can accept power quickly without overheating. President Joe Biden has proposed a target of 500,000 public chargers by 2030. His plan, which calls for scaling and improving fast-charging networks, makes no mention of battery swapping. Yet plug-in chargers come with limits that can't be overcome just by adding more. They are a burden on the power grid, expensive to build and, even at their fastest, agonizingly slow compared with gas pumps.
Hassounah and De Souza founded Ample in 2014 and have raised about $70 million to date from investors, including the venture arms of oil and gas giants Royal Dutch Shell and Repsol SA. The founders spent the past seven years studying how to swap batteries in a cheap, vehicle-agnostic way and believe they've finally cracked it.
For now they are focusing on ride-hailing fleets. Late last year, Ample entered a partnership with Uber to help coordinate with the fleet management services that provide drivers with vehicles, insurance and other services.
On June 10, Ample announced a separate partnership with fleet management service Sally, which specializes in making EVs available to ride-hailing and delivery drivers. The two companies plan to work to deploy EVs and swapping stations in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Sally aims to have hundreds of Ample-ready Kia Niro EVs running in the Bay Area by the end of this summer and to begin offering swapping to drivers in New York by the fall.
Sally co-founders Nicholas Williams and Adriel Gonzalez say the company chose to work with Ample because plug-in fast-charging options degrade batteries, come with high energy costs during peak use and are too slow.
Drivers in San Francisco rent Ample-ready EVs from fleet management services, just as they would for a combustion-engine vehicle, and pay the fleet manager for their swaps at the end of each week. The fleets then pay Ample by the mile for the energy, with no upfront fees for installing stations. The energy cost for fleets, according to Ample, is typically 10 to 20 percent cheaper than gasoline.
"All the drivers that have used it have come over from gas vehicles," says De Souza. "This is the first time they're driving an electric vehicle."