Swappable batteries for EVs were famously tried by Tesla, but they flopped. I ask Steve Gilbert, Chairman of the Board for Sun Mobility if Tesla and Elon Musk got it wrong or if they were just too early.

Gilbert explains his EV work in India with Tuk-Tuks, why the way we think of city vs cross-country travel will change in the future, and how an entirely new market of vehicles will likely emerge. With luxury EVs hitting the market hard, this is a pivotal point in EV tech.

 

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Steve Gilbert, Chairman of the Board for Sun Mobility

Steve Gilbert is Chairman of the Board for Sun Mobility and Gilbert Global Equity Partners, L.P., a billion-dollar private equity fund. He is also Vice Chairman of the Executive Board of MidOcean Equity Partners, LP, Co­ Chairman of Birch Grove Capital, and formerly Senior Managing Director and Chairman of Sun Group (USA).

 

Why EV Tuk-Tuks?

85% of people in India don’t have personal transportation, and Tuk-Tuks are the transportation of choice. Tuk-Tuks are a cross between a three-wheel motorcycle and car. They are quick, and perfect for India’s heavily traveled roads, but there’s a problem—they pollute… a lot.

Sun Mobility's battery swap vending machine pictured alongside Tuk-Tuk and moped
Sun Mobility’s battery swap vending machine pictured alongside Tuk-Tuk and moped.

Currently, India is home to 3 of the 6 most polluted cities in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. That’s why new laws in India have mandated all Tuk-Tuks in the future must be electric. It’s great for the environment, but charging them all poses a problem. It requires time people don’t have and space that isn’t available.

Gilbert explains why charging these Tuk-Tuks can take over 1 hr, and why swappable batteries were the solution. Sun Mobility has a cross between a redemption center and a battery vending machine. Because Tuk-Tuk batteries are only 30lbs, drivers can place empty batteries in the machine, and grab a new one. This process takes less time than filling a tank of gas.

 

What About Larger EVs?

I think most people see the value of swappable EVs for smaller vehicles, but how would anyone swap a 1200 lb battery like the one Tesla uses? Gilbert had an answer I wasn’t ready for. Most of us are in the mindset that a single-vehicle, like a car or truck, is multi-purpose. Uber drivers and someone who travels a lot use the same vehicles. But that future will change as EVs become tailored to their specific tasks.

Honestly, I’d never thought about that reality, but Gilbert makes a strong case. Another big selling point is lower-cost vehicles due to cheaper batteries.

 

Sun Mobility Links

  • To learn about Sun Mobility go here.

 

 

 

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