By Robert Schoon ( | First Posted: Jun 21, 2013 09:19 PM EDT

(Photo : Tesla Motors, Inc.)

One of the biggest drawbacks for Tesla Motors to make its all-electric cars acceptable to the general public is the option for long car trips. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, Inc., took another step on Thursday night towards that goal, introducing "battery swap" for the Tesla Model S sedan.

Battery swap is Musk's answer to the problem of charging the Model S battery on the go, and at a swanky event at Tesla's design studio, Musk announced the innovation. Musk said it would be an option for Tesla drivers, in addition to the supercharging stations that he introduced last year in October.

"When you come to the Tesla station," said Musk on stage, "you have the choice of the Supercharger," the Telsa's battery charging station, "which is and always will be free." Musk continued, "Or, you have the choice of the battery pack swap, which is faster than you can fill a gas tank."

"So, the only decision you need to make, when you come to one of our Tesla stations, is do you prefer faster or free?" said Musk to applause. He then demonstrated, on stage, how technicians working in a pit under the Model S can swap out the battery for a fully-charged replacement in just over 90 seconds. On the big screen, Musk had a video of a person filling up the gas tank of his sedan, which took approximately twice as long. By the time the video was over, two Tesla Model S cars had already driven off to the side of the stage, fully charged battery installed and ready to go, to much applause.

While most people don't drive hundreds of miles per trip every day, it's been axiomatic that, for an electric car to really become an ordinary car for American life, it has to be able to take us across the country.

In fact, the vast majority of trips people take with their cars range less than 20 miles, according to a 2009 survey by SAE, a U.S.-based professional association and standards organization for automotive engineers. The EPA has officially rated the Model S with a fully-charged 85 kWh Li-ion battery for 265 miles.

(Credit: SAE International)
(Credit: SAE International)

In October, Musk introduced the Tesla "Supercharger," which promise to provide charging stations for the company's electric cars. Currently, there are only a few charging stations, but Telsa is planning on installing them across the country in a few years' time.

The drawback with Tesla's supercharger is that, even with its advancements in charging Tesla cars' batteries, it still would take a 30-minute stop to fully charge the battery. Perhaps that would be a good time to grab some food, and Tesla owners would have a little extra money, because charging stations are free to all Tesla owners. Still, the idea of having to wait for 30 minutes for a charge can turn off drivers who know they can pop into a gas station for 5 minutes and drive out.

Musk said that the cost of swapping out the battery pack in a couple minutes' time is roughly equivalent to filling up a 15-gallon gas tank. That's about $60 to $80. According to Reuters, drivers could return to the station on their way back and reclaim their original battery, or pay the difference in cost for a new pack.

Red dots indicate a Tesla charging station available now or soon, and the gray dots are planned stations (Credit: Tesla)
Red dots indicate a Tesla charging station available now or soon, and the gray dots are planned stations (Credit: Tesla)

Right now, Tesla's stations are only in some major metro areas and both the charging and battery swap options depend on more and more stations opening up, so don't expect Tesla to become the new Chevy just yet.

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