Living the battery swap experience: NIO opens 4th station in Netherlands

Chinese electric carmaker NIO has opened its fourth battery swap station in the Netherlands, on the outskirts of Utrecht on the A2 highway to Amsterdam. Swapping a 75 or 100-kWh battery underneath the car is a seamless, fully automated process, as we could experience ourselves test-driving the ET7 sedan at the NIO Power Swap station in Tilburg.

With the new station in Utrecht, the Netherlands takes the lead with four of eleven stations operational, next to Norway with three and Sweden and Germany with two. The Chinese carmaker has over 1 300 stations running in China and plans 120 of them in Europe by the end of this year and 1 000 by 2025. If it can keep up the pace; for 2022, twenty were initially planned, but only half of them were realized.

At hotel parking

NIO chooses convenient locations for its swapping stations, often at hotels with already existing charging infrastructure. In Utrecht, that location is the Karl Johan Hotel at the Floraweg 25. In Tilburg, the first swapping station to open in the Netherlands sits on the parking lot of the Van der Valk hotel, where Tesla has an elaborate Supercharger plaza too.

For us, the process starts when stepping into the car at the NIO headquarters in Amsterdam by asking the onboard digital assistant Nomi who sits with blinking eyes in the middle of the dashboard, to find a swapping station and make a reservation through the navigation software or the NIO app.

Making a reservation

The (four) locations in the Netherlands are shown on a map, indicating how many battery packs are available at the chosen location. In our case, five of six are available. By clicking on the map, the route is calculated, and the battery is reserved for you, waiting to arrive.

In Tilburg, at the Dokter Bloemenlaan, the Power Swap Station, the size of a double garage box, sits next to the Tesla Supercharger plaza with sixteen 250 kW chargers. You’re invited to park the car on the painted spot along the box and start the process with a push of the screen button.

Nomi invites you to let go of the car to park itself in the carwash-like box rearward without touching the steering wheel, throttle, or brake pedals. Once in place, the car is checked for software updates, and the process starts by positioning the vehicle sideward a few inches on the moving wheel paths to the exact position needed.

Invisible Chinese gnomes

You feel the car is lifted for a few inches on its air suspension, and then the actual work begins. Clicking and knocking noises underneath the vehicle indicate the swapping process started as if a legion of invisible Chinese gnomes were working on disconnecting the old one and replacing it with a new, fully charged battery.

You’re expected to stay in the car, as opening the doors would stop the process for safety reasons. But actually, when viewing from a distance, everything is shielded neatly during the whole process. The dash screens go dark for a while to light up again, showing the 100 kW battery is ready with a new 520 km range, and a green light indicates you can pursue your journey.

The whole swapping business took just under five minutes. The third generation of Power Swap Stations NIO will start rolling out in March in China and will do this in under 2,5 minutes.

Temporary human assistance

For the time being, NIO provides some human assistance to reassure people everything is under control. Shortly this battery swapping will be done entirely automatically without staff present.

The ET7 sedan we drove is offered on a monthly subscription base, and battery swapping is included. The first ‘subscribed’ one was delivered to a Dutch customer at the end of October last year. It’s offered at a monthly fee of €1 719,22, decreasing with the age of the vehicle and with the option to cancel with a two-week notice or even switch to another one.

You can buy the car – full option – at  €72 900 for the flagship without the battery, which costs about €12 000 for the 100 kWh version. You can rent the 75 kWh battery pack for €169 per month or a 100 kWh pack for €289. For the first months, a swapping service is included.







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