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Makers Show Off Battery-swapping Tech for Commercial EVs at Japan Mobility Show

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A battery-swapping station developed by Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. is seen at the Japan Mobility Show at Tokyo Big Sight in Koto Ward, Tokyo.

Commercial vehicle manufacturers exhibited quick-swap EV battery technologies at the Japan Mobility Show, recently held at Tokyo Big Sight in Koto Ward, Tokyo.

The switch-out tech is expected to help delivery firms improve operational convenience and efficiency by slashing charging-related downtime.

However, if a large number of companies are to adopt such technologies, it is essential to develop rules for battery swapping and standardize EV batteries across the industry.

Increased efficiency

“If we can separate a battery from a vehicle and charge it in an optimal time, it will help increase operational efficiency,” said Isuzu Motors Ltd. President Shinsuke Minami at the Japan Mobility Show venue. The company demonstrated how automated battery swaps can be conducted for batteries installed on the side of a truck body in about 150 seconds.

The technology is primarily aimed at delivery companies, which lack battery-charging time because their delivery trucks are always traveling back and forth between delivery centers and destinations. Isuzu Motors says it is also developing a simple version of the equipment for companies with small premises.

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. unveiled a battery-swapping station developed by U.S. startup Ample. The system automatically swaps out batteries located under truck floors. The firm plans to conduct a demonstration experiment in Kyoto as early as this winter.

Ample Chief Executive Officer Khaled Hassounah said the technology can be applied to vehicles other than trucks, too, adding that he is keen to see the extent to which the system can spread in Japan.

Reasonable prices

If battery switching becomes popular, EV prices could fall. Addressing decarbonization, Koji Toyoshima, chief product officer at Hino Motors Ltd., said at a press conference, “We want customers to be able to purchase battery-less EVs by having batteries be a shared social commodity, rather than the property of individuals.”

Battery swapping allows batteries to be charged effectively at various times and for batteries to be used until they reach the end of their functional life.

At the show, Honda Motor Co.’s MEV-VAN concept, a commercial minivan using swappable batteries, attracted attention. The vehicle’s eight batteries weigh only about 10 kilograms each, and can be swapped out easily. The automaker began a demonstration experiment with Yamato Transport Co. this month.

Honda utilizes swappable batteries in a range of electric scooters launched earlier this year as well as in electric micro excavators developed in conjunction with major construction machinery maker Komatsu Ltd.

Some startup EV makers are considering using Honda’s swappable batteries. There is also scope to use such batteries for vehicles other than cars.

Challenges to be faced

Swappable batteries have many advantages. However, rules and systems for wider adoption have yet to be developed, such as for who should bear the costs related to batteries and battery-swapping stations. Furthermore, it is unclear whether EV batteries can be standardized, and so Japanese truck manufacturers and others have no plans to market their swappable batteries.

Meanwhile, firms in other countries have been moving forward in the battery realm, with Chinese EV maker Nio taking the lead by widely rolling out EVs with swappable batteries, and battery-swapping stations. Japanese companies must act quickly if they are to catch up.

Sanshiro Fukao, senior research fellow at Itochu Research Institute Inc., said: “The popularization of swappable EV batteries depends on whether the batteries can be standardized across companies. To this end, it is necessary for the government to encourage all stakeholders in Japan to work together to develop the necessary environment.”