Now You Can Recharge a Tesla Faster Than You Can Fill a Gas Tank

In my road-trip review of the Tesla Model S, the world’s best electric car, I mentioned that the company was working on a way to quickly swap out the car’s battery so you don’t have to wait 45 minutes for it to recharge.

On Thursday night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk demonstrated how this battery-swapping system works. Basically, you drive the car over a machine with robotic arms that pluck the battery pack from the bottom of the car and hoist in a new one. Then off you go. You never have to get out the car, and as Musk proudly pointed out, you can do it in half the time it takes to fill up at a gas station. You can see it in action in the YouTube video below, or watch Tesla’s official version if you prefer the full effect of Musk’s showmanship.

The plan is to install the battery-swap stations alongside Telsa’s Supercharger ports at rest stops around the country, beginning with I-5 in California.

Whereas Tesla offers its charging service for free, it plans to automatically bill customers $60 to $80 for a battery swap. Musk boasted that the only choice customers will need to make when they arrive at a Tesla station is, “do you prefer fast or free?” In fact, though, if they opt for the battery swap, they’ll also have one more decision to make. They can either stop by the same Tesla station on their return trip and reinstall the original battery for the same price; pay to have their original battery shipped to another service center; or pay an as-yet-unspecified price to keep the new battery.

The scheme isn’t without its complexities, but the central fact is that drivers will soon have the option to get their car fully recharged in under two minutes. Even Michael Granoff, a key investor in the failed electric-car battery-swapping startup Better Place, was shocked by how fast Tesla managed to make the procedure. If it succeeds, that will be yet another obstacle removed from the path to the ultimate replacement of gasoline-powered cars with electric ones.