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Battery swapping boosts Chinese electric truck market

14 August 2023
China is widely known as the world’s largest market for electric cars and buses, but did you know that it’s also leading in the race to electric trucks?

Indeed, based on data from EV-volumes.com, in 2022, China sold 36,000 electric trucks, 91% of the global total. And no country except China has ever sold more than 1,000 new electric trucks in a single year.

In recent years, China gradually shifted its vehicle electrification policy efforts to trucks, which are responsible for a disproportionate share of nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the nation’s vehicle fleet.Besides various fiscal and non-fiscal incentives offered to electric trucks, support for battery swapping is playing a key role.

The Chinese national government and several local governments have encouraged battery–swapping technology since 2020 and the share of swap-capable vehicles in China’s electric truck sales has been increasing.In 2022, 49.5% of the electric trucks sold in China were swap-capable. These swap-capable electric trucks are mainly used for short-haul applications at ports, mining sites, and in urban logistics. They are typically equipped with a 141 kWh or 282 kWh battery and have a typical one-way trip length of less than 100 km.

Compared with today’s plug-in charging technologies, the key advantage of battery swapping is the short time required to recharge. With plug-in charging, it usually takes 40 minutes with DC fast charging or several hours via regular charging to recharge an electric truck.In contrast, battery swapping only takes 3–6 minutes. This speed can be appealing for truck owners because trucks are used for commercial purposes; faster charging leaves more time to deliver goods and generate profits.

To collect firsthand information, we visited several battery–swapping stations for electric trucks in China this summer. We saw that electric trucks usually pulled into the battery–swapping station with a battery state of charge (SOC) of 20%–30%.

A robotic arm reaches down from above, takes out the depleted batteries—these weigh approximately 3 tons and are stored behind the driver’s cab—and puts them into storage for recharging. Then the robotic arm takes out fully charged batteries stored by the station and inserts them into the vehicle. After that, the vehicle can drive away and return to operation.

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