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Global Economy

Advertise the replacement battery

There are already more than 1,000 of them in China: “Battery Swaps”, changing stations for electric car batteries. Such a change should take four minutes. The small, round on-board computer promises: "It's starting. It will jerk a bit, but don't worry." And indeed. A team from ARD convinced itself in January: the car automatically navigates to a changing station that looks like a small gas station. It parks accurately, with millimeter precision for a machine that pulls up from the ground and replaces the empty battery with a full one. It works.

Exchange stations on popular travel routes

This is the system of the e-car maker Nio – the company with headquarters in Shanghai that wants to compete with Tesla at some point. Nio's global design center is in Munich. Europe boss Zhang Hui recently announced the construction of the first Nio factory outside of China together with the Hungarian trade minister. The changing stations and other technology for charging are to be manufactured near Budapest. Goal: If the first Nios are sold in Germany by the end of the year, they should be able to change batteries.

This should be possible along main traffic arteries and around major cities, says Zhang Hui: "For Germany, you can certainly count on several battery-swap stations." What customers find particularly good are changing stations along the most popular travel routes: "For example – at some point we will probably build from Munich to Lake Garda."

Is Europe ready for the single battery?

But can such an investment in Europe pay off for a single manufacturer? Zhang Hui is confident – and emphasizes his own flexibility: "I said that Nio is very open to partners who also want to offer this technology." But will Nio actually find a partner?

"It could work if all vehicle manufacturers took part and said: Yes, we're going to take part and have a standard battery," says Jochen Siebert, an automotive expert with a focus on China. "But of course all manufacturers are against it because nobody wants to give up their design sovereignty."

Tesla is still keeping the competition at a distance

In China, the exchange system is apparently successful thanks to state aid. And e-car drivers like 35-year-old Zhai Manhua are satisfied: "I get four changes a month for free. I'm talking about trips to work. The four free changes are enough for that. That's why I almost never have to go to the socket at home load."

Nevertheless, Nio cannot currently compete with Tesla in China either: the bestsellers among expensive e-cars are two Teslas. There are also three Nio models in the "Top Ten"; but the best ranked sixth. And of the Germans, only the BMW iX3 is among the ten most popular electric cars.

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