When we talked with Nio about swappable battery pack standards, the Chinese automaker told us it was willing to share the technology with other competitors if there was a strong commitment to the idea and “large scale synergies among different manufacturers.” An unknown Chinese company may have just achieved that with two-wheelers.
Meet Shenzhen Zhili Energy Technology Co., Ltd. Its website also uses the name Smart-BMS, which is on its logo as well, so it is probably the way the company wants people to know it by. Colin Mckerracher, head of transport analysis at BloombergNEF, calls it simply China Tower.
This company started making money with towers that deliver swappable battery packs for electric bikes in Shenzhen. Instead of buying them with battery packs, customers buy just the vehicles and use the units stored and recharged at these battery totems provided by Smart-BMS. For the record, Moneyball calls the company CN Tower.
We got in touch with the company to learn more about the business and its true name. Sadly, it is improbable that we’ll ever get any answer: most Chinese companies, apart from the ones with international ambitions, never reply to messages from abroad.
Despite that, there are more than 10,000 swappable battery towers in more than 100 Chinese cities. That’s what allowed SF Express – the second largest courier service in China – to buy 30,000 electric bikes without battery packs and still make sure that all its delivery personnel always have a charged battery pack to go a little further.
It is not clear if the swappable batteries would fit in scooters and motorcycles, but that is probably not an issue. They may use two instead of only one due to these two-wheelers' higher weight and performance requirements.
If Smart-BMS, CN Tower, or whatever it is called manages to expand internationally, that may show that the idea of having swappable batteries for cars would also work as well as Nio has already demonstrated. It is just a matter of all manufacturers to agree with a standard. Ironically, that may be a bigger obstacle than any technical difficulty that still lies ahead of electric vehicles.