How a Taiwanese scooter startup finally made battery swapping for electric vehicles work

  • Battery swapping is a concept that has failed in the electric vehicle industry.
  • But one startup in Taiwan has been making it work with scooters for years.
  • Now, Gogoro has announced a joint venture with Hero that will bring its tech to India.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Since the start of the modern movement to replace gas- and diesel-powered cars with electrics, concerns over how to quickly charge the hulking batteries that power Teslas and their ilk have played a significant role in hampering the technology’s adoption. And for about as long, people have wondered if the answer isn’t to skip charging the battery in the car, and instead pull it out and slot in a fully powered one. 

None of those people, however, have managed to make battery swapping workable for cars. And it’s looking grim for those still enamored of a concept that would work wonderfully — if it weren’t so unworkable. 

“I’m not enthusiastic about battery swapping,” John Loehr, a managing director at Alixpartners, told Insider. “And the reason for that is when you look at the evolution of an EV, you want that battery to be low in the car, kind of integrated into the floor pan of the car.” Which is to say, it’s not the kind of thing that’s easy to replace, certainly not on a regular basis, not least because these batteries typically weigh about 1,000 pounds. 

The failure of the concept is epitomized by Better Place, a much-hyped Israeli startup launched in 2008. It pulled in nearly $1 billion in funding to make the idea work, only to go bust in 2013. Ever since, any proposed battery swapping scheme has been all but dead on arrival. 

Except that one startup has made it work. That would be Taiwan-based Gogoro Global, which side-stepped the issue of car architecture by applying the concept to electric scooters instead. Rather than relying on heavy machinery to remove and replace huge batteries, a Gogoro scooter rider pulls out a battery no heavier than a bowling ball, pops it into an empty slot at a charging station, and pulls out a fresh, fully charged one. 

Since launching in 2015, Gogoro has opened more than 2,000 charging stations and is now clocking over 200,000 battery swaps a day. 

Now, it’s expanding in a big way. Gogoro has partnered with Indian motorcycle manufacturer Hero Motorcorp, the companies announced this month. This joint venture, in which Hero-made two-wheelers will have access to Gogoro-developed swapping stations, will give Gogoro a beachhead in a nation home to over 225 million gas-powered two-wheelers. 

“The Gogoro-Hero partnership is really a response to the challenges India and the world face in transforming transportation systems to electric,” Horace Luke, founder and CEO of Gogoro, told Insider. “A major challenge is urban electric refueling, and Gogoro’s battery swapping platform provides an innovative ‘swap&go’ experience that doesn’t have the same wait times and parking challenges that plugin charging presents.” 

Although Gogoro has worked with companies like Yamaha and Suzuki before, the venture with Hero is more significant, with both companies committing to the expansion of an already successful swapping network.

“With this new partnership, we commit to introduce a sustainable mobility paradigm, first in India and then in other markets around the world,” Hero chairman and CEO Pawan Munjal said in a statement. “This partnership will strengthen and expedite the Indian government’s electrification drive and will have a significant impact on India’s energy and mobility future.”

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